“This is federal government business,” said Spencer Balentine, “so as long as we don’t offer a tasting, we are perfectly legal. But, it took me three years to get that. It’s a whole file full of papers and explanations, and then you sit and wait around on the results and you get the whole thing back, stamped ‘REJECTED’ in big letters.
They don’t tell you why; you have to figure that out all by yourself and try again. I almost gave up every time, but then, I decided I wouldn’t quit. I just had to pick up all the papers scattered all over the floor where I’d thrown them. But, here we are!
“I didn’t go into this to be a success story,” said Balentine. “I just wanted to see if I could recreate the recipes from the family business that existed in the former Between the Rivers area from Grand Rivers to Clarksville, Tenn. The recipes were written down, along with some ideas of what worked and what didn’t. The family traveled up and down the Silver Trail, which is still visible in some areas, and we still use some of the original equipment.”
The original still, one of which is on display in front of The Hitching Post in Aurora, is of square design, and Balentine and Jay Rogers, who labels himself as “Second Distiller,” use the older square version once or twice a week”
“The older square version takes three and a half to four minutes to run a gallon, and the larger, more modern round version takes longer. Both, however,” said Rogers, “take about 8 hours the night before to complete the processing for a ‘run.’”
The square design,” said Balentine ruefully, “was also easier to break down and load into a wagon—fast. It was perfectly designed to fit into the wagon bed, and once the other two pieces were removed, it all fit together—nice and tight. Speed was, sometimes, a necessity,” Balentine said with a grin.
Speed is of no necessity now, except to keep up with the demands of his distributor in Louisville.
Since Balentine cannot legally sell it, it must be picked up by his Louisville distributor and then dispatched to a worldwide market, not to mention several of the local Kentucky counties. The barrel in the corner of the office that rests near the display in tribute to his father has been autographed by visitors from around the world who have visited the tiny processing facility just west of Aurora.
Baletine’s journey has been featured in a Discovery Channel documentary and reviewed by several worldwide publications. In tribute to his father and the family, the bottle features not only a 1947 map of Golden Pond, but also the front of his father’s car. The design on the cap is a tire wheel from the 1950s.
“All of that is for them, because it was their recipe and their hard work on the road,” he said. “They charged $75 along with room and board for three days, all along what is now known as ‘The Trace’ and 100s of other roads. I just wanted to see if I could do it,” said Balentine.
“We had the recipe, and I wanted to see if it would work. When people tell me they like it or it has a good taste or it’s a great business, then that’s fine, and I appreciate it, but I just wanted to see if I could do it.”
Not only has he “done it,” but also has received several awards, most recently the “LBL Moonshine” brand won the 2012 SIP Awards Gold Medal for the second year in a row, along with the 2013 SIP Gold Medal for flavored moonshine which is labeled “Apple Sin”—a concoction of apple cider, apple juice, and locally produced cinnamon, along with locally grown corn.
“Finding just the right corn was probably one of the most difficult parts,” explained Balentine.
“I wanted to use local growers, but most of them have genetically altered varieties which wouldn’t work. So I got on the Internet to find some corn I could use, and that’s another story. There was a place in Canada, but there was one other place—right down the road in Trenton. When I called them, during the conversation, we discovered that they were, more than likely, the same suppliers for the Between the Rivers brew so many years ago.”
In the coming months, Balentine will open a Silver Trails museum in a former bank building in Aurora in response to the growing number of visitors who are attracted to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky and are intrigued to find historical Kentucky moonshine, still being brewed from the original recipe.
The little town of Aurora may find itself, once again, on the map, covered in history, yet looking toward the future