Christine Bossey is getting a kick out of her moonshine cocktail, but she has a serious question between 50-proof sips:
“Is it gluten-free?”
So asks Bossey of Joe Cunha, co-owner of Twin Stills Moonshine in Riverhead, who is mingling with guests at the bar.
After Cunha explains that moonshine’s main ingredients are corn and barley, and that he would get back to her about the gluten content, Bossey seems satisfied. She goes back to sipping her o’Oldtymer, a cocktail made with 50-proof apple pie moonshine drizzled with caramel sauce.
“It’s delicious,” says Bossey, who is here with her husband, Keith, and lives down the road in Aquebogue. “It’s like drinking an apple pie.”
BRAKING FOR MOONSHINE
The o’Oldtymer is the best-seller at Twin Stills, which opened in mid-March selling a high-octane beverage better known in the hills of Appalachia. The cocktail menu also includes The Bootlegger, which adds strawberry moonshine and 100-proof whiskey to the mix, and a tea concoction with a shot of honey moonshine and a twist of lemon. Less adventurous drinkers can refresh themselves with a glass of local tap beer.
It’s the long, slim bottles of moonshine, however, that have been drawing thirsty and curious locals and out-of-towners to the roadhouse on the outskirts of wine country.
“People slam on their brakes as they go by,” says Dan Paulos of Baiting Hollow, who is tending bar this Sunday afternoon in early April. “Everyone who comes in here thinks it’s a great idea,” he adds.
Among those surprised to find moonshine of the North Fork are Rhonda Craft, her sister, Darla Muffie, and daughter, Autumn, all from the Pittsburgh area. They’re here picking out a gift for her son Clint, of Plainview, who just turned 39. Clint, an engineer, says he’s fascinated by moonshine’s “allure,” explaining, “The old moonshine back in Prohibition Days had that rebellious tone to it.”
A FLAVORSOME DRINK
This particular watering hole’s origins are actually of recent vintage — and have little to do with Mason jars full of hooch.
Cunha, 47, who runs the tasting room with his wife, Patty, 52, formerly owned a concrete construction company in Manhattan. His children, Nicholas, 19, and Eric, 17, also pitch in part time. Distilling is a tradition in his Portuguese family, which he decided to carry on after a death in the family.
“Grandfather passed away, and we were running out of grappa,” Cunha says, taking a guest on a tour of the backroom where corn mash is fermenting in big blue plastic barrels. Guests compare his version of moonshine to cognac and rum.
In May, Cunha plans to introduce a new flavor: pumpkin spice moonshine. He’s also putting the finishing touches on an outside patio with a small deck for musicians to perform while guests imbibe.
Inside the tasting room, Pete Cusack, who lives in East End, has ordered a “flight” of three kinds of moonshine ($9). The portions are served in ¾-ounce clay pottery tasting cups, which the Cunhas imported from Portugal.
Says Cusack, a retired law-enforcement officer, “It’s an old-fashioned thing that’s been historic in the country for years, and now you can actually get it legally.”