My first experience with moonshine was at Asheville Distilling Co., where I met Troy Ball, the first legal female moonshiner in North Carolina since Prohibition ended.
So, it was with eagerness that I recently drove past York County’s Bald Hills Distillery on the way to take my kids to their outdoor adventure club at Gifford Pinchot State Park.
I knew I had to return and sample their wares because a fine moonshine greets the drinker with a smooth, embracing comfort, and it had been quite a long time since I last had that kind of caress.
Having lived in York County for the majority of my 37 years, I felt some surprise that I’d never heard of the Bald Hills region before.
After setting my mind to thinking about it for a bit, I realized that York countians unfamiliar with my little town of Seven Valleys likely never knew that the section of road one drives on when heading north on Route 616 is what we locals call the Hollow.
It’s fascinating to think how young the nonindigenous relationship is with this American soil and yet how intimately our few generations have come to know, love, bleed, feed and weave itself into the land.
There are microcosms of community that have settled with deep roots that don’t spread far, but maintain fierce loyalty to their local lores and traditions.
Bald Hills was so named for the eruptions of rounded red shale emerging from barren (or bald) elevation in Newberry Township, according to the “History of York County, Pennsylvania,” compiled by historian John Gibson in 1886.
The neck of the woods around Bald Hills and the Conewago Mountain area near Dover was no stranger to the scent of moonshine mash; an Aug. 11, 1933, story in “The News-Comet” talks about a 100-gallon still that was destroyed in the vicinity.
Suffice to say, there’s a storied history in this cranny of York County as it pertains to the moonshining business.
The co-owner and head distiller of Bald Hills Distillery, James Runkle, is carrying on that family tradition today, in a time when concealing the craft is no longer necessary.
And I’d have to say the community is all the better for it.
The building is right outside Dover, and it’s easy to find. A large parking area ensures you’ll likely not have trouble finding an open spot, and there are even spaces just for motorcycles.
Formerly a greenhouse, the hooped framework outside offers a respite from both the sun and the rain. Come prepared to play cornhole or wear your dancing shoes for one of the many music nights featured at the distillery.
The atmosphere was immediately welcoming for this country girl, like walking into a close friend’s living room. Wood-paneled walls covered the interior, and the bar hooked in an L-shape, leading to a short hallway to the restroom and with plenty of view to the still itself.
If you’re at all interested in learning more about a moonshining operation, you’ll get to see it in action at Bald Hills Distillery, and Runkle himself was happy to share information and answer questions about the process of making moonshine in his stunning, shining copper still.
I found it to be a welcoming and down-to-earth atmosphere, and Runkle was extremely approachable.
Come hungry because there are food truck options on-site featuring a variety of pub-style food as well as crabs.
The three main small-batch moonshine offerings at Bald Hills Distillery are Jimmy Jaxx, Pappy’s Peach and Lightning Shack.
Jimmy Jaxx is made with cracked corn, and the menu board says it’ll be the one most like whiskey or tequila.
It was exceptionally smooth heart runnings; “heads,” “tails” and “hearts” are three stages of distilling, with the “heart” whiskey the best — the one you want to drink.
It had little to no burn as I sipped it on the rocks.
There was a dry woodiness to it, corn sweetness and marshmallow smoothness. This moonshine was 90 proof.
Pappy’s Peach is dedicated to Runkle’s father-in-law, the late Charles “Charlie” Pechart, and the recipe was developed between the two of them, a sweet nod to those tight-knit familial bonds.
It was 40 proof and the flavor was intensely peach-forward with sweet vanilla and cinnamon, although it wasn’t so sweet that it came across as cloying in any way. It was bright and exciting on the rocks and would make for a delightful mixer in cocktails, too.
Lightning Shack is another 90-proof moonshine, but this one’s made with cane sugar. If you prefer vodka or white rum then you may find yourself enjoying this on the rocks because its flavor profile is cleaner and more neutral than the Jimmy Jaxx.
That said, my favorite was the first I tried; Jimmy Jaxx offered loads of character and interest to my palate.
Order moonshines on the rocks, in cocktails or even in a selection of dessert drinks.
There’s also a selection of beer and wine. Rotating moonshine flavor options included Autumn’s Apple, Blackberry, Salted Caramel Chocolate, Cherry Bombs, Root Beer and Pickle.
Contact Amber DeGrace with comments and questions at email@example.com and find her on Twitter at @amberdegrace.