FORT WORTH, Texas -- Sherman Owen's moonshine odyssey started at 19 when he set out to distill "ultra-clean" vodka.
Bored with just pure spirits, he started "chasing flavors." Now 47, his specialties are homemade French Caribbean-style rum and all-grain corn whiskey.
It's illegal, but that hasn't stopped alcohol aficionados like Owen who say a small but growing number of foodies, vintners and home brewers across the country are quietly distilling liquor for their own consumption.
"It's all about making something of extremely high quality. We're striving to make something exceptional," says Owen, an electrical engineer and computer programmer from Shepherdsville, Ky.
It's not like moonshine has gone mainstream, but in barns, basements and back rooms across America, people are distilling all manner of whiskies, rums and brandies, says Matthew Rowley, the author of Moonshine!, a home-distillation guide published in 2007.
"I honestly believe that there is not a settled patch of North America that doesn't have a still running in it," said Rowley, who splits time between San Diego and New Orleans. But what he's encountering isn't the throat-searing "white lightning" produced by the bushy-bearded hillbillies of moonshine lore.
"That rotgut is still out there, but what we are seeing now -- what you weren't even seeing 10 or 20 years ago -- is people putting their all into making the best spirits they can," Rowley said. "There just aren't any figures about it. What I know, see with my own eyes, taste with my own mouth, it really is everywhere."
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