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September 04, 2013 10:10 PM

Moonshine Offers Taste Of South Dakota

Sturgis, SD

Most people associate moonshine with prohibition and backwoods distilleries. But for brothers Paul and Michael Lewis, owners of Black Hills Dakota Distillery, their libation goes much deeper.

"It's a moonshine. It's a product called Sturgis Shine. It debuted about a week before the rally of this year," Michael Lewis said.

"It's very exciting and it's very fulfilling because it brings our Irish heritage together along with a link to South Dakota," Paul Lewis said.

Sturgis Shine started with a trip to Ireland where the Lewis brothers tracked down some long-lost relatives and started asking questions.

"It spawned a lot of research that we went through going back to John James Naughton, who was a young man about 16-years of age, who fled Ireland from the potato famine, came over on a cattle boat and with him he brought the recipe for potcheen, which is Gaelic for "pot-stilled," and that is the basis for our recipe that we use today," Paul said.

"Traditional moonshines are corn-based, so they have more of a bite and they have a corn aftertaste. Using the honey, sugar, and barley that we have in our moonshine, it has a sweeter flavor. You do taste the barley coming through," Michael said.

"I think it was strong, but you can really get a lot of the flavors that they're talking about. They honey comes through for me, and the barley," Danica Rodarmel of Rapid City said after sampling the moonshine.

At 100-proof, Sturgis Shine delivers a kick, something that the Lewis brothers say can be tempered by adding a touch of water or their favorite, sweet tea.

"You could really taste the alcohol, but when they mixed it with water it wasn't so bad. Once it was with the sweet tea it just tasted like sweet tea, you couldn't even tell there was the moonshine in there," Whitley White of Rapid City said after sampling the moonshine.

There are about 270 craft distilleries around the country and three in the state of South Dakota. But don't just go out and buy a still, there's a whole lot of licensing that goes along with making liquor.

"The making of distilled spirits is an illegal act unless you have a proper license. You can do beer at home, you can do wine at home, but distilled spirits you cannot," Paul said.

Since becoming fully-licensed, Black Hills Dakota Distillery is also working to make its moonshine a little differently with the spirit of South Dakota in mind.

"The honey that we get comes from the Box Canyon Honey down in Hermosa, the barley we use is from a farm around Watertown, the water we use comes from a well we have here on-site," Michael said.

"It's good to see that there's not everything from out of state, you're using your local economy," White said.

"Hopefully people will want to try it more because of that, and pay attention to it, and try it even though it's moonshine," Rodarmel said.

And the brothers aren't stopping there.

"We want to have unique flavors for folks to have: South Dakota raspberry, South Dakota jalapenos. I know that's hard to believe but they're made and grown right here in the state. Raspberries, strawberries, all these things bring out the unique flavor of South Dakota," Paul said.

The Lewis brothers are even working on a schnapps that's distilled from beer ingredients. It's a taste of South Dakota that they're hoping resonates with everyone.

"It's a real effort. We're trying to use as much South Dakota products as we possibly can to basically give the consumer a taste of South Dakota in a bottle," Michael said.

Right now, Sturgis Shine is sold at a handful of liquor stores around the Black Hills but the brothers say they hope to expand soon. To learn more about Black Hills Dakota Distillery visit its Facebook Page.

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