The first lazy weeks of winter are holy, in a way. Punctuated by hangovers and cold toes, we take comfort in knowing that the holidays and all their associated stressors have finally abetted, leaving our heads sore and our collective reserves of Christmas cheer and New Year’s resolutioneering depleted until next year.
I may be projecting a bit, though, because despite having grown up in a fairly religious Catholic family, for me, family gatherings and all of their trappings have always distilled down to one cardinal element: booze. When I was little, I remember domestic beer flowing like wine, resulting in cherished memories like the time my whiskey-fueled dad hung his ass out the side of a pickup truck window to moon my uncle as we sped down the highway. Imbibing at family parties is a Kelly family tradition, right up there with doling out guns as gifts and complaining about taxes.
Now that I’m grown, my dad and I stop at the liquor store on the way to grandma’s house before Christmas every year -- a ritual that’s become our version of midnight Mass -- and make sure to get enough fortifications to withstand the chaos. I steer clear of hard liquor on these trips, though, because I know that as soon as we get back to his house, my dad will break out a jar of the real good stuff: moonshine.
Despite its small-batch, handmade, ultra limited character, the whiskey my dad makes has never seemed like a “craft” liquor; it’s just an open family secret. Living in Brooklyn (I know) has given me a far different perspective on that particular nomenclature, stemming back to the point when hipsters ruled the borough and every new product was branded “craft” this or “artisan” that. That early 2000s surge in bespoke, single-origin, high-priced opportunities for consumption has continued without abatement, but has since settled into a more mellow omnipresence; “craft” doesn’t signify specialness anymore, it just means that whatever you’re buying is going to cost at least 5 bucks more than it should.
I was raised on bourbon in the backwoods of rural South Jersey, and my loyalties lie to a much different kind of craft whiskey than what you’d see on a fancy liquor store’s shelves. There are a wide array of laws on the books regulating the distillation, production, and sale of alcohol; none of them are of the slightest interest to my dad, who may or may not keep a still somewhere out back and may or may not share the fruits of its labor with his gun club and, when I time my visits properly, me.