PUBLISHED MAR 06, 2020 6 mins read
PUBLISHED MAR 06, 2020 6 mins read
Arlon Casey Jones’ granddaddy is a legend in the world of moonshine.
Nobody built better stills. And every bootlegger in the Bluegrass State had to have one of his.
Growing up, Arlon, better known as AJ in the craft spirits community, learned every trick of the trade from gramps.
To this day, AJ continues to make every batch of moonshine by hand. And he does it at an independent distillery named for his notorious grandfather, Casey Jones.
Using secret family recipes handed down through generations, AJ is resurrecting Prohibition-era flavors with a range of authentic moonshines from Casey Jones Distillery.
Located in scenic Hopkinsville, Kentucky, just a short stretch from the Golden Pond area where his grandpa Casey Jones once built his copper stills in secret, the distillery that bears his name is now a very welcome part of the local community.
And that’s all thanks to AJ.
A hardworking man who stitched together skills from past careers to assemble this monumental tribute to his family’s remarkable legacy.
“I worked in construction with my dad and grandfather from the time I could pick up a hammer,” AJ recalls.
“I became plant manager at a caster factory. And then when it closed, I moved to a continuous roll pipe factory.”
“I flipped houses. And when I met my wife, who owned a furniture store and needed some IT help, I went there as a part-time worker. I went on to manage that retail furniture store for 19 years.”
“Then, when my grandfather’s still showed up, professional direction changed again.”
This was no ordinary still. It was the last one Casey Jones ever made. And the only one he ever legally built.
And there’s quite a story behind why it was made, how it came to be in AJ’s possession, and the role it would play in the establishment of Casey Jones Distillery.
You see, the peninsula between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake is an area known as the Land Between the Lakes.
Over 170,00 acres of open forests and wetlands.
And during the 1920s and early 1930s, its vast, undeveloped landscape made it perfect for moonshiners and still builders like Casey Jones to operate undetected.
AJ reckons that Casey Jones likely built stills in every hollow of the Land Between the Lakes before the law finally caught up with his grandfather. Resulting in a two-year stay at Mill Point Federal Prison.
Then, years later, an unexpected twist in 1967.
Long since having retired from the still-building business, Casey Jones is contacted by the Federal Government. The U.S. Forest service, to be specific.
It seemed they were interested in constructing a display for the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area’s Visitors Center.
A display designed to celebrate the long history of moonshining in the region.
And they wanted Casey Jones to build one of his famous copper stills as part of the exhibit.
From federal prison to a federal commission. Casey Jones’ still-making journey had certainly brought him from one side of things to the other.
“In 2007, the still was taken out of the Land Between the Lakes Visitors Center. Where it had told the story of Casey and his still-building legacy for 40 years,” AJ says with pride.
“And after a year of asking, the managing agency of the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area called me and told me I could come and get it.”
AJ smirks, “So, I jumped in my pickup truck, and what is typically about a 40 minute trip took about 20.”
For AJ, it was worth the possible risk of a speeding ticket.
“I had my grandfather’s last and only legally-built still.”
Now in possession of his grandfather’s famous still, AJ set to work replicating it’s unique design.
“Our still design is an original concept developed by Casey Jones during his illegal still-building days,” AJ discloses.
“It uses a box, or ‘coffin’ pot, a lead pipe with a proportional length and reduction, then a condenser like no other ever conceived or used for moonshines.”
In the old days, makers of moonshine often fussed over the fact that the coil condensers of the day couldn’t produce enough whiskey to meet customer demand.
Enter Casey Jones.
Who developed a cylindrical condenser capable of producing higher-proof, better tasting whiskey. And in half the time.
The ability to produce quality craft spirits in a shorter span of time is important to AJ.
Because as it turns out, there is quite a demand for his product in the local Hopkinsville area.
“I wondered how, what is sometimes thought to be an ‘outlaw’ business, would play out in Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky,” admits AJ.
But his apprehension was quickly mollified.
“The local support has been simply overwhelming. Seems like almost everyone is fascinated and happy about being able to continue a family tradition - legally - like I am.”
“After five years, the community support is stronger than ever.”
Moonshine is simply whiskey that hasn’t been aged.
So, it’s able to be enjoyed almost immediately after it’s been distilled.
It’s a versatile craft spirit. One that plays nicely with other flavors.
Take Casey Jones Distillery’s Peach Cut Moonshine, for instance. It mixes smooth, flavorful shine with the ripe sweetness of 100% peach juice.
And the Muscadine Cut Moonshine is packed with all the robust flavor of wild muscadine grapes.
Total Eclipse Moonshine, with its mash bill of sugar cane and sweet Kentucky corn, was created to commemorate the solar eclipse of 2017.
The recipe for Casey’s Cut Moonshine has been in the Jones family for generations. And its name is a reference to how Casey Jones accepted payment for building his bootlegging buddies their stills.
He charged $20 cash. Plus a gallon or two of their finished product. That was Casey’s cut.
Now, Casey Jones’ Barrel Cut Moonshine is an exception to the moonshine model.
Produced in extremely limited quantities, this moonshine is allowed to mellow and age in charred oak barrels. Resulting in smooth, rich, sweet oak and caramel spice flavors.
AJ understands, “Independent and small businesses are the genesis and generators of all business. I’ve been there.”
“I know it is where innovation, creativity, jobs and passion come together. And results in great outcomes for business, personal and professional development.”
For AJ, the most rewarding aspect of running his independent distillery is the people he gets to meet. It’s all about, “Telling and sharing my family history. And my team making new history.”
Moonshine is in AJ’s blood.
“My grandfather was Casey Jones. A local still-building legend.”
What sets the craft spirits being made at Casey Jones Distillery apart from what you’ll find on the shelf at the local liquor store is authenticity.
It’s doing things like Casey did.
“Being able to use the same still design. Buying our corn from the same seed company. Using the same great limestone water. The same yeast.”
Family recipes. Cooked in a family still.
It doesn’t get more authentic than that.