Moonshine – a name hinting of quicksilver shenanigans – still packs a punch on Prince Edward Island. An island wedding, for instance, is considered incomplete without traditional moonshine punch. The same can be said of wakes, funerals, family reunions and some house parties.
Perhaps the rebellious view of hooch can be partly explained by the fact that PEI was under Prohibition for 15 years before other provinces adopted the act, and it was also the last province to ease the liquor laws in 1948 – giving Islanders plenty of time to work on perfecting their illicit craft in backwoods stills.
Moonshine, even the legal kind, is still alive and well.
As Ken Mill, one of the co-founders of Myriad View Distillery, says, “What teenager didn’t slip some of the old man’s shine into a Mason jar and sneak it out the back door on a Friday night? Whose wedding didn’t feature a moonshine wedding punch? We are Islanders and shine is what we drink.”
So in 2006 when Paul and Angela Berrow decided to open an artisan distillery, Ken and his wife Danielle Mill joined them. They were determined to “produce spirits with a history and heritage unique to Prince Edward Island and the Maritimes.” In addition to gin, vodka, rum and whisky, they also began to make a legal – and Javex-free – version of the backcountry spirit. (Some of the more unscrupulous moonshiners in decades past were known to use bleach to speed up the distilling process.)
The province’s liquor control commission started carrying Myriad View’s Strait Shine in 2007; it is now also available in some independent stores in Alberta. Myriad’s Dandelion Shine, made with PEI dandelions, came out last summer. “Sales of shine have doubled since we began,” says Mr. Mill. “We just launched a 50 ml bottle of Strait Shine two weeks ago. We call them ‘spark plugs’ and they’re flying off the shelves.”
Unlike a grain or cane sugar spirit, moonshine is made from a molasses or brown sugar mash starter, and is classified as a non-standard spirit, meaning that it does not fit into any of the excise department’s definitions for spirits. Smoky with a hint of caramel, the taste is similar to that of a young tequila. Moonshine didn’t get the nickname “white lightning” for nothing. A straight shot of the stuff is like a haymaker to the head.
Distilled in a copper still, each bottle of Strait Shine is 50 per cent alcohol (rum or vodka are typically 40 per cent). Myriad also offers the high-octane Strait Lightning, a raw, un-aged shine, at 75 per cent alcohol. Because of the strong alcohol content – this is not an easy sipper – Islanders mask the sting by turning it into a cocktail, with three preferred mixes: apple juice, Pop Shoppe Lime Ricky or Kahlua and milk.
Luckily for tourists and locals, Some bartenders have begun to elevate the moonshine cocktail with creative pairings and local ingredients.
At the Merchantman Pub in Charlottetown, Brigitte Burke serves Strait Shine shaken with pineapple, cranberry and lime, garnished with fresh mint she brings from her garden. The sweet drink is tempered by the tart cranberry and citrus notes from the lime. The shine comes in at the end with a slight burn.
And at the Inn at Bay Fortune in Fortune, PEI, known for its elegant menu featuring local ingredients, chef Domenic Serio uses Strait Shine for an inspired take on the mojito. He adds sweet and tart lime bar mix to give a hint of lemonade taste, and infuses his simple syrup with nasturtium petals.
With the heat from the shine, it makes for a refreshing and unique summer drink. Introduced this month, new cocktail has been popular with his customers and he plans to keep selling it as long as the nasturtiums in the inn’s garden hold out.
Here is chef Domenic Serio’s recipe for his Garden Nasturtium and Strait Shine Mojito
Nasturtium Simple Syrup
1lb fresh nasturtium flowers, washed
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 tbsp ascorbic acid
In a pot bring to a simmer the water and the sugar, add flowers and ascorbic acid and allow to steep for 1 hour.
Strain and cool completely, reserve in fridge until ready.
For the Drink:
1 oz nasturtium syrup
1 oz Straight Shine, or white tequila
2 oz bar lime mix
2 tablespoons of chopped nasturtium leaves
Soda water to top
Mix all ingredients in a bar shaker with ice. Strain and top with soda water, and then garnish with a nasturtium flower and baby nasturtium petal.