Commonly, we think of Murphy’s Law as the adage, “If something can go wrong, it will”; however, when it comes to Moonshine and getting it right, just turn to Murphy’s Law Distillery in Elmira Ontario, and ‘Murphy’s Law’ gets a whole new meaning.
Right next to Jack Daniel’s Honey in the LCBO, you’ll find a mason jar and in it resides Murphy’s Law Apple Pie Moonshine, with 22 per cent alcohol. If you’ve never tried Moonshine, this is a darn good introduction.
Ben Murphy was a really good cross-country runner, so good that he earned a scholarship to a good Christian university in West Virginia in the heart of the Appalachians. It was there that he was introduced to the “traditions” of the region, which included the honourable – but illegal - private production of corn liquor – in other words, “Moonshine”. Including his “apprenticeship”, Ben now has seven years’ experience in the craft.
Ben, who has a degree in Psychology, had intended to enter police services, but the accidental loss of hearing on his right side took away that option. Eventually he decided to fall back on the “avocation” he had acquired at school, and now 3 years after graduation, he has been operating for the past two years– legally - the only distillery in Ontario totally devoted to the production of Moonshine.
To do that he has had to secure three licenses: one with Canada Revenue, one with the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission, and one with the LCB0.
How well is he doing? Let’s just say that at the 2016 New York International Spirits Competition, Murphy's Law was named the Canadian Moonshine Distillery of the Year, and his Apple Pie Moonshine took a bronze medal, this in a competition that included 600 entrants.
Moonshine is un-aged 100 per cent corn liquor, and it is the only spirit produced by the Murphy’s Law Distillery.
In addition to his straight White Lightnin’, Ben produces a number of flavoured examples, of which the Apple Pie on the LCBO general List is the most readily available. Ben explained that this is produced with the introduction of apple cider, primarily from Royal Gala apples, and the flavour is true and delicious.
With a business that has been going for just a year or two, and using equipment that he has been able to cobble together, Ben has scrambled to get things up and running, including buying apple cider off the shelves for his Apple Pie Moonshine.
A little while ago he was explaining to a man at one of the public shows how he was using Cider from Martin’s Family Fruit Farm in the St. Jacob’s area, buying jug after jug after jug to meet his needs. The man handed him his business card – he was President of Martin’s.
He told Ben, “You know, you are right across the road from where we press our apples. Why don’t you just bring over your vats and we will fill them – you don’t have to be clearing out all our jugs!”
Ben, half-laughing, said, ”We may even get to the point where we will just run a pipe across the road!”
As to the size of production, Ben indicated that in the past three weeks, he had sent two consignments each of 1,000 jars to the LCBO, and one of them had already sold out. In addition to the LCBO, Murphy’s Law also sells to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.
All of the Moonshines produced by Murphy’s Law are very clean, and smooth. The flavoured varieties are subtle, but satisfying, and come across very much like eau-de-vies as opposed to sweet liqueurs. They are easy-sipping and very pleasurable.
While I enjoy sipping, Ben shared the Appalachian approach – “Shine, not Wine – Knock it Back and You’ll be Fine!”
The Apple Pie retails for $30 for a 750 ml jar. In addition, other ‘Shines include Peach Pie, Cherry Bomb, Sweet Tea and Caramel, with Firewater, a cinnamon product, a new addition to the line-up.
His pure, unflavoured White Lightnin’, is also $30 a jar. It has a touch of sweetness on the palate, a natural characteristic of corn liquor, and just one taste is enough for you to understand why Moonshine might be so popular in Appalachia.
A short while ago the LCBO put out a call to the Ontario Craft Distillery Association for a caramel flavoured “white lightning”, and Ben has come up with a winner.
With the Caramel example, Ben suggested breathing out after you swallow it, and that really increased the “butterscotch” impact. This is one of the ‘Shines that Ben intends to have available in select stores: this will depend on the decision of the store manager to carry it.
Elmira is an important Ontario hub for Maple Syrup, and so one of Murphy’s Law spirits is Lady Maple, which retails for $27.50 for the half-bottle. Here the Maple flavour is intentionally heightened. While I might not put it on my pancakes, I would be very happy to sip a glass…maybe even after breakfast!
One other product that Ben is involved in is called Moondance. While not strictly a Murphy’s Law product, it is distinct, in that it is a “pre-Bourbon distillate – a blend of 3 grains: corn, barley and wheat, and the difference is evident in the taste. You start to get more of the flavours we associate with whiskies, but as with all the Murphy’s Law ‘Shines, it is a nuanced experience. It retails for $40 for 750 ml.
Along with the Caramel, Moonshine, Ben hopes to have both “White Lightnin’ and Moondance available soon in select LCBO stores as well.
Otherwise, contact Murphy’s Law Distillery at 519-669-2500 to learn about how you might acquire some excellent ‘Shine. If you live in the region, you can visit the Distillery at 90 Earl Martin Drive in Elmira. They are open Wednesday through Sunday - from 1 to 9 through Friday, 11 to 8 on Saturday, and Sundays from 2 until 6 p.m.
Just this week, the provincial government announced the dedication of $4.9 million dollars over three years to support the fledgling cider and distillery industry in Ontario – similar to its support of micro-breweries. Ben thinks this is a step in the right direction.
Ben has already ordered new stills which will increase his output, and if current production and calibre of product are any indication, we can expect Murphy’s Law to rule for some time in the realm of moonshine north of the 49th Parallel.
South Africa continues to provide us with good wines at great prices. In the past, I have recommended Boschendal’s ‘The Pavillion’ Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend at just $10.90. Recently I tried the companion red blend, ‘The Pavillion’ Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $11.95. This dark purple wine shows some spice on the nose, good dark fruit, and a definite tannic burr on the finish. It would match up well with grilled meats, so think of it when you’ve been able to dig your barbecues out of the snow. There’s a lot of ‘oomph’ at play here, so give it a try if you can. In the Sault and North Bay you might have to have it ordered in, but you won’t be disappointed if you do.
Bellingham’s Big Oak Red 2015, also $11.95, provides a lesson in contrast. A similar blend, it also contains some Malbec. Slightly lighter in colour, this blend carries just slightly more residual sugar, and it seems to have a softening impact. Mid-weight and tasty, this is easier-going over-all and would be a good sipper for social gatherings. The “Big Oak” refers to a tree, not to the style of wine, so expect gentle, smooth, and flavourful.
March 18 Vintages Release
There’s an interesting selection of Sauvignon Blancs on this release, beginning with the Pérez Cruz Reserva 2015, $14.95, from Chile’s Casablanca Valley. This is a new listing, and perhaps a new wine to the Pérez Cruz stable, as they don’t even mention it on their website. Vintages only suggests that the long growing season common to the region allows for ripe flavours and “balancing vibrancy and freshness.” Considering the breadth of styles world-wide, this could be worth checking out.
South Africa’s Rustenberg Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $14.95, earned an 89 from robertparker.com which remarked on the “crisp entry with white peach and passionfruit notes, a fine line of acidity, and a lively lightly spice finish.”
The Wine Enthusiast gives its approval with a 90 to Eradus Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $18.95 from New Zealand. They say it has the leafy herbal character typical of the region, the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, with that character balanced by melon and fig. It is “verging on full-bodied, even a touch oily in texture, with a long vibrant finish.”
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014, $22.95, hails from the Napa Valley, and is made in a style that Mondavi popularized by introducing judicious oak aging which, along with the slight addition of Semillon softens the ultimate impact. The nose has all the hallmarks of Sauvignon Blanc with a nuanced muskiness, but in this style the deep flavours are harmonized, with the finish bringing more herbal overtones rather than in-your-face acidity. This is seriously good.
Switching varietals, Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2014, $18.95 from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench is lovely from the first sip with fine balance and flavour. It pulls all elements of flavour, weight, and acidity together with some apple and toast notes, as well as minerality discernible on the finish.
From Italy comes Piedmont Wine Project Asinel Bianco 2013, $15.95. This is an intriguing blend of Cortese, Arneis, and Moscatel Secco, with the wines brought together from various producers, almost in an “Assemblage” style, and then blended and aged on its lees for about four months. Flavours of orchard fruits such as peach, pear and apple, along with a slight herbal note can be detected. Alberto Cordero di Montezemolo of Barolo fame is behind the project, seeking to make wines that are “accessible, aromatic, seductive and youthful.”
Australia’s Zonte’s Footstep Avalon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $17.95, should be impressive. Tastings.com calls it “exceptional” and gives it a 95. Among the many descriptors given are “mocha, caramelized roasted nuts…spiced craisins and blueberries, chocolate cherries, sun dried tomato…A fine savory cabernet for the table.”
From the southwest of France we have Domaine Lafage Tessellaae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2014, $17.95. According to robertparker.com, “It offers tons of black raspberry and black cherry fruit, licorice and dried spices to go with a super sexy, heady seamless style on the palate that keeps you coming back to the glass.” 92.
There are many fine Italian reds in the $17 range on this release. Campomoro Barbera Piemonte 2013, $16.95 is “pliant, intense and rich – but never heavy according to vinous.com. Antonio Galloni calls it juicy and indicated that “sweet floral notes add freshness to the red cherry and plum flavours.” 92
For Ripasso lovers, Storia Antica Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2014, $17.95, should bring much pleasure. Natalie MacLean calls it a great wine, “savoury, dark and delicious.” 91
If you want to give yourself a treat, then try a bottle of Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel 2013, $39.95, from the Napa Valley. From a special site on Zinfandel Lane, the wine is made from vines 31 to 86 years of age. Ravenswood calls it its most elegant single vineyard zinfandel, and I can believe it. It is a deep garnet in colour, and on the nose you can detect both spice and the heady alcohol – it is 14.9 per cent. But it is the way it unfolds on your palate that can mesmerize you. When you take the wine into your mouth, it is very quiet, seamless and pure. Then, as you swallow, the flavours roll out, deep, rich and long. Only on the finish do you detect the lovely tannins, and all you want is another sip. And another sip. And another sip. Go for it.