Appalachian Travel: New Straitsville Embraces its Heritage as Ohio’s Moonshine Capital

The Southeast Ohio town celebrates its corn whiskey heritage with an annual spring festival and more.

Steve Stephens
Columbus Monthly
Fourth-generation moonshine distiller Missy Mullins checks the proof of moonshine at Hocking Hills Moonshine in Logan, Ohio.

Moonshine, a high-alcohol corn whiskey usually made illegally, is as much a tradition in Ohio’s hill country as biscuits and gravy. And the heart of Ohio moonshining was (and perhaps still is) in New Straitsville.

The town’s days as a coal-mining center ended after a mine fire was started by protesting mine workers in 1884. But the smoke and smell from that underground fire, which is thought to be still burning on a small scale, helped hide the telltale signs of corn whiskey production from revenuers and other lawmen. During Prohibition, New Straitsville was said to churn out more moonshine than any other place in America. The local brew became known far and wide as “New Straitsville Special.”

The town’s high-octane heritage is celebrated at its annual Moonshine Festival, set for May 26–29 this spring. Legal moonshine is also available just down the road from New Straitsville at Hocking Hills Moonshine in downtown Logan, where Missy Mullins works as a distiller. “I guess it’s in my blood,” says Mullins, who also gives distillery visitors an entertaining history lesson about local moonshine-making and her own family. “That family has been making moonshine for four generations, but only one legally,” says distillery owner Brian St. Clair.

Special moonshine offerings at Hocking Hills Moonshine

Among the historical items on display at the distillery are several original stills, including one used in New Straitsville by Mullins’ great-grandfather Frank Saulbeamer. Mullins was, herself, a Miss Moonshine festival queen, as was her daughter. But it was Saulbeamer who was the family’s first moonshine maker, and who also helped start the Moonshine Festival in 1971, Mullins says.

Saulbeamer was the first person to demonstrate the festival’s own working display still, Mullins says. But the moonshine made at the festival can’t legally be consumed and must be dumped immediately after production. “Grandpa Frank did that for 10 years, but he finally had to quit because he couldn’t stand pouring it out any more,” Mullins says.

The stuff Mullins makes these days doesn’t get dumped. Modern distilling and testing equipment ensure that the product is consistent, while still capable of quenching a powerful thirst.

Hocking Hills Moonshine offers a variety of spirits including bourbon, flavored moonshine and the traditional stuff in proofs ranging from 90 to 151 (a tongue-tingling and belly-warming 75.5 percent alcohol).

Despite today’s availability of legal whiskey, illegal moonshining probably still goes on in Ohio’s Appalachian region, Mullins says. “Not that I’d know for sure,” she adds, more or less convincingly.

A bill recently introduced in the Ohio Senate would legalize homemade moonshine (and other liquors) for personal use, much like home-brewed beer. But the region’s illicit moonshiners—as tenacious as the most stubborn mine fire—will likely keep on cooking. 

This story is from the Appalachian Spring feature package in the April 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.