CARBON HILL - A Discovery Channel show Tuesday night will feature a competition among "moonshiners" - and a Carbon Hill man will be one of those featured, vying for a marketing contract. James …
CARBON HILL - A Discovery Channel show Tuesday night will feature a competition among "moonshiners" - and a Carbon Hill man will be one of those featured, vying for a marketing contract.
James “Jimbo” Bray Jr., 50, actually is not on the run. He actually has a federal permit to own and run a small distillery, and local law enforcement says it checks out, although he cannot sell it. The process uses a small still tucked away in his front yard shed.
"I call it the Shine Shack," Bray said of his structure.
Bray, who was once a councilman and a mayor pro temp on the Carbon Hill City Council before resigning due to health problems, said Friday he does have lineage to the old days of moonshining.
"My grandpa got busted three times years ago trying to support all the kids. It was a way for them to supplement their income to provide for the kids," he said. "I guess you could say it is in my blood from heritage. I just started fooling with it and liked it."
He has now been doing it for a number of years, and found out about contest being held by the Discovery's "Moonshiners" series.
"A subculture of distillers across America carries on the backwoods tradition of moonshining," Discovery's online program guide says for an episode of "Moonshiners" Tuesday night called "Master Distiller," set for 9 p.m. CDT. "Now, judged by legends Mark, Digger and Tim, America's top legal and outlaw shiners go head to head to see who has what it takes to be called Master Distiller."
Bray said he sent a sent in a promotional to them and he heard back from producers two or three times.
"They had several thousand people they entered into it," he said. "I got picked as one of the contestants to go up against some distilleries that are 10 or 12 generations old," he said. "It's going to be a real good show."
Bray indicated many people enjoy watching "Moonshiners," now in its eighth season. "You wouldn't believe the number of people who watch that show," he said.
Ratings show 1.3 million people watched as late as February (although ratings have been dropping steadily each year from the high of 3 million viewers during its second season), and one spin-off show, "Moonshiners: Whiskey Business," based on a successful episode, was started in March.
Bray will be one of three distillers featured prominently in the show, Bray said.
He said the show will be considered a pilot for a future competition show. "This will show how we make it, showing us running it, flavoring it some and then running our own signature mash," he said.
Viewers will see the process from start to end, which has not been shown on "Moonshiners," he said. Some of the footage for the show was even made with his still.
"The winner of it will be named Master Distiller," he said. The prize will be the marketing of their product by Sugarlands Distilling Co. in Gatlinburg, Tenn. (The company is marketing a Talladega Superspeedway 50th anniversary "limited edition corn whiskey" and has links to "award-winning moonshine.")
Bray knows how the show and competition went, but he can't say until the show airs due to legal obligations. However, he will tell you quickly that his speciality is pineapples, which requires him to go to a farmers market to find.
"True moonshine, it comes out clear as water," he said, noting his pineapple flavor does as well. "You make your mash out of the fruit, and I put my fruit in each jar," as well as mash barrels. Fruit can be diced up to put in jars.
The jars are set up above a still that sits in a shed in his yard.
"As it comes up through here, it infuses into each jar. Then it comes out your worm," he said. "It smells good when it is coming out of there.
"Any kind of fruit that is about to rotten, it ferments easy. That is what you use, because you want your mash to ferment. I can gather up fruit off the trees that has hit the ground and use them for mash to ferment. You are still going to have that taste there. The fruit may not be edible but that doesn't matter, because when you make a mash out of it, it is going to ferment and rot anyway. That is what people have a misunderstanding about it."
Bray noted he gets a large quantity of free corn from farmers, as the corn is not suitable to feed their cows, and because it has abundant husk in them. The corn is used to make mash.
The still itself includes a 60-gallon pot, and noted he made the still himself. "A lot of people I've seen on the internet run probably about 15 gallons or so," he said.
Bray installed a pressure valve and a vacuum valve, as well as the "Tennessee Thumper Head" - the jar system - which he got from Tennessee Thumpers Stills in Georgia. He said Rick Gibson of that company did an excellent job building that and the condensor for Bray.
He notes that his wife, Shannon, also helps some in the process.
The still itself is more modern and air tight, so that there is no way for it to leak. "I've got the option to run it off propane or electricity," he said.
While he cannot sell it - there is no state license - he noted he can - and has - run his product in his vehicles. "I can actually take this finished product, proof it down a little bit, and run it in my truck, my lawnmowers, motorcycles, golf cart - I can run it in all those," he said.
While the contest outcome is a secret, he is open about his plans to open up his own legal distillery in Walker County, possibly in Jasper or Carbon Hill. He thinks that might can take place by the first of the year.