Running moonshine is in Royce Neeley’s DNA. His 11th-great-grandfather, James John Neeley, brought copper stills with him when he emigrated from Ireland. By the time the family arrived in Kentucky, they’d had plenty of experience making moonshine, eliminating rivals (often violently), and building their business. By the time Royce was in college, he’d tried his hand at the still and started wondering if he could take the family legit. So in 2015, he and his father started Neeley Family Distillery. Two years later, they opened in Sparta, where they apply tricks of the moonshiner’s trade to bourbon. Here, bourbon is triple-distilled in pot stills and aged in barrels with a much lighter char and in a much smaller rickhouse than the big bourbon producers. Once you’ve seen the whole process and met distillery cat Thumper, you’ll get a chance to taste the dizzying selection of moonshine, including an orange moonshine cream. The single barrel bourbon’s toasty vanilla notes make it very sippable, while both rye offerings are much smoother than most. You can buy bottles, cocktails, and T-shirts in the gift shop, along with beef from Whobrey’s Farm, which is fed exclusively on the distillery’s sour mash.
Neely Family Distillery, 4360 KY-1130, Sparta, (859) 394-3258
Click on the images below to see more of the Neeley Family Distillery. Photographs by Catie Viox.