CARBON HILL - James "Jimbo" Bray Jr. of Carbon Hill won the Master Distiller competition on the Discovery Channel's "Moonshiners" series Tuesday night, getting his own limited label.The show, which …
CARBON HILL - James "Jimbo" Bray Jr. of Carbon Hill won the Master Distiller competition on the Discovery Channel's "Moonshiners" series Tuesday night, getting his own limited label.
The show, which taped starting in March and concluded about April or May, can be streamed on Discovery.com. The episode is called "Master Distiller" The 41-minute show, with advertising, will be unlocked for viewing online for another 26 days.
Bray, 50, said the limited label will be marketed by Sugarlands Distilling Co. in Gatlinburg, Tenn. He is planning to open up his own legal distillery in Walker County, possibly in Jasper or Carbon Hill, possibly by the start of the new year.
Bray said Thursday by phone, "It's a life changing experience. People try forever to get their liquor on the market, and I'm going to be able to get mine there quick, hopefully within the end of the month or sometime during next month .... It's going to change a lot of things in my life."
The show, which Bray said was considered to be a pilot for a spin-off show, usually is seen about about 1.3 million, according to national ratings. It is now in its eighth season.
Besides Bray, Royce Neely, 27, of Sparta, Kentucky, was competing, who works at Neely Family Distillery, and Austin Adamson, 30, of Denver, Colorado, who works at Denver Distillery.
"I'm up against two great competitors," Bray said on the show. "Both of them have worked in distilleries. I've not. I work in the backwoods."
The episode showed his residence and shack ("Welcome to the Shine Shack," he said to the camera) with "Carbon Hill, AL" shown as a location.
"When I was 12 years old, I went into the woods with my grandpa learning how to make (moonshine) the right way," he said. "I'm a backwoods guy. I'm not used to being around a lot of people." (He actually has a federal permit to own and run a small distillery - his still - at his residence.)
The competition, overseen by regulars on the show and held in Tennessee, first involved using identical basic stills to make moonshine. Bray noted on the show he was "very nervous," and he came out last as he turned in the wrong jar, allowing Neely to come in first.
Once that happened, Neely was able to go first to pick out parts in a backroom to put together his own still. When Bray's turn came, he found Neely had picked up an extra thumper to put on his still, leaving Bray, coming in third, to not have any. As a result, he had to improvise, although successfully, as an old-fashioned backwoods moonshiner might have done.
"He did that on purpose, is what they said," Bray said Thursday. "I don't know. They boy offered it to me. You know, they made him out to be a bad guy. I can tell you the boy did offer to take his still part and give it to me, to give me the thumper. I told him, no, he came up with that design, just to go ahead and run it. But they didn't show that."
As it turned out, Neely's still was somewhat top heavy by using both of thumpers anyway, while it was noted Bray was using an "old school" configuration.
Once the stills were completed, the contestants were taken in the night to the Apple Barn and Cider Mill in Sevierville, Tennessee, to pick out ingredients. It appeared the business was closed at night, and the contestants went in with flashlights in the darkened business to find what they needed.
"They made like we raided the place," he said, although he said the flavoring was good.
In the end, Bray used cherry apple cider, lemon extract and honey. Adamson used oranges, cherry apple cider, orange cider spices, and honey. Neely went for apples, peach cider, apple cider and honey.
One of the judges said in the end, "Jimbo, you had the simplest operaton, like you would in the backwoods. I think you've go the best tasting jar on the table." Adamson was criticized for using orange peels, and Neely was sent home for having a flat-tasting moonshine.
As a result of the win, Bray got to take parts of Neely's still - including the thumper.
Then the two remaining contestants used ingredients brought from home to make a moonshine, with Bray bringing five pounds of pineapples. His wife, Shannon, some time ago wanted a pineapple moonshine, and they worked together on a recipe, called Pineapple Express.
Adamson - who prided himself on different flavors, particularly from Japan - went for Chocolate Koji Shine, which involved chocolate-malted barley and Koji inoculated rice from Japan.
Judges were interested in Adamson's brew, which seemed to have chocolate and coffee flavorings, but in the end those flavors didn't show up. Bray got an early sample.
"That's unique," he said, somewhat struggling while the judges chuckled.
Judges inspected Adamson's still and found scorch, which they seemed to detect in the moonshine instead of flavor.
"We found absolutely nothing pleasant about this liqour," one judge said.
A little high alcohol smell was found in Bray's brew, and one suggested taking out rye he detected. However, Bray said Thursday others have liked that touch of rye, as it gives a little hot taste to it, and that he was pleased with it.
Still, overall the judges said the simplest still made the best moonshine and one said, "You hit your flavor profile through and through." Bray agreed Thursday that perhaps having the best flavor come out of a still that had to be adjusted, much like the old days of moonshining, may have been good for his image.
He said people are already approaching him for his autograph and for selfie photos.
As for the wrong jar, he said, "I had about six jars sitting on my table. I had set my good jar down and I picked some other jar up. The time was running out and I reached and grabbed the jar to run up and set it up" on the judges table within the time limit. "I grabbed the wrong jar. The good jar was sitting on my table."
He noted he had showed it to one of the judges, and he could see on Bray's face that he realized he had put down the wrong jar. During the announcement of the judging, Bray admitted as much on the show.
"If it hadn't been for that, it would have been a landslide," he said, noting he won all the other challenges.
He said he encouraged people to go on social media and tell others they enjoyed the show and want to see it. When the moonshine is ready to be marketed, Jimbo's Pineapple Express Moonshine will be announced on TV to be available from Sugarlands and through state stores, he said.