The Spirit of Popcorn Sutton
PAYING HOMAGE TO THE MOST FAMOUS BOOTLEGGER
by Matt Jackson
Arguably the most famous of the bootleggers, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was never a man to mince words. He referred to the fruits of his distilling labors as his “likker,” yet today the bottle that bears his name calls its contents “Small Batch Recipe.” While technically neither a whiskey nor a moonshine due to modern liquor labeling requirements, Popcorn Sutton’s Original Small Batch Recipe (SRP $24.99-$27.99) is most certainly not losing any sleep over the issue and is being made using the same recipe today as when Popcorn was making it in the backwoods of Tennessee.
The legend of Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton is a well-documented one. De ant by nature, and con dent that his trade was his birthright, Popcorn filmed home movies of his life as a bootlegger and of his distilling process that are readily accessible. In the seven years since his death, the business of Popcorn Sutton’s spirit continues to grow. “Our goal is to establish a long-lasting and forever brand throughout the United States,” says Bill Eason, Regional Sales Director for Popcorn Sutton Distilling.
While Popcorn drank his “likker” straight or with the occasional medicinal infusion, Eason believes that the versatility of the spirit will be key to its longevity and success in an already whiskey- and moonshine-saturated market. “Versatility is our key message for 2016,” Eason says. “Popcorn is smooth, with a really nice, neutral corn backbone. At 88 proof, it works well in any traditional whiskey drink, like a Manhattan, and it works incredibly well in gin drinks like The Last Word.” Eason gets feedback continually from bartenders all over the country who are in love with Popcorn Sutton’s versatility and drinkability and who love the Popcorn lore.
Gabe Fuenmayor, owner of Bar Sovereign in Nashville, Tennessee, is one such bartender. He agrees that Popcorn Sutton’s many uses are a major asset to his cocktail list. “We’ve been using it in Juleps and Flips, and we’ve been experiment- ing with the new barrel finished spirit in Old Fashioneds,” Fuenmayor says. Only open since Christmas of 2015, Bar Sovereign itself is a newcomer to the ever-expanding Nashville bar scene. Fuenmayor, however, has been behind the bar for over 12 years. “I started bar-backing at 18 and launched a number of pop-up bars in Berlin with Pret A Diner.” Fuenmayor, a Cartegenan by birth and whose former eld of study was international relations, points out that Nashville is growing exponentially. “Over 100 people move here a day. We call it crane city.” The growth of the city is concurrent with the growth of Popcorn Sutton, and the two seem to be keeping up with each other. Popcorn Sutton boasts the third largest distillery in Tennessee, and its proximity to Nashville provides a great deal of local pride associated with the brand.
Popcorn Sutton Distilling launched their new Barrel Finished (SRP $ $49.99) spirit on March 1. “Popcorn used to do his own barrel-aged versions of the spirit for Christmas and special occasions, but it was never commercially released,” Eason explains. With three years in oak and coming in at 92 proof, it’s been received with open arms by the cocktail community, according to Eason. “It’s got unbelievable character, and every distributor wanted more than what they got. It’s moving at a pretty good clip.” It’s a Limited Edition, so it’s a hot commodity.
According to both Eason and Fuenmayor, it appears that the general public has a misconception of what Popcorn Sutton’s Small Batch really is. Eason points out that “most think it’s moonshine, that it’s ethanol, that’s it’s hot.” Eason’s experience in sharing the spirit with bartenders and shop owners has revealed that almost everyone he encounters has the same reaction to tasting Popcorn Sutton. “Almost to a person the reaction is, ‘wow . . . this isn’t what I thought it was,’” Eason explains. Fuenmayor agrees, “If I had to define it, I’d say it’s versatile; it’s got that allure, and it stands up nicely.” Bar Sovereign’s favorite use so far is in a traditional Flip featuring Popcorn Sutton. “We use the clear spirit, Green Chartreuse, St-Germain, fresh lemon and egg white. It blends in a really nice way. It’s a really cool cocktail,” Fuenmayor explains.
Aptly named for its individuality and unlimited potential, Bar Sovereign shares these qualities with the man Popcorn Sutton. “He was a tragic hero,” Fuenmayor says. Popcorn Sutton’s Original Small Batch Recipe is one that was passed down for three generations over the course of 100 years. “Whatever you call it, call it,” Eason says. With that kind of history in a single bottle, one thing is for sure: No matter what the label says, it’s uniquely Popcorn Sutton.