By Alexander Learned
In the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of Kiln, a certain individual has solved the elusive mystery of time travel. No, Matt Crittenden hasn’t remodeled the DeLorean DC-12 as made famous in the movie “Back to the Future.” However, since June 2016, the distillery bearing his name does have the ability to bring back fond memories, tastes, smells, and ambiance reflective of generations past.
Raised in Kiln, Crittenden knew early on the production of moonshine had a large impact on the town and the people inhabiting it. Different areas of the state were known for other commodities, such as seafood along the Gulf Coast or cotton in the Delta. Kiln, and really the entirety of the Bay St. Louis area, was known for moonshine and bootleggers. Most everybody in and around town were either involved in the business or knew someone who was.
“You grow up with that romance—the romance of making moonshine,” Crittenden said.
Despite the love affair between Kiln and moonshine, the path to eventually opening up his own distillery was not as clear-cut as one might think. Crittenden set off for Ole Miss in January 2006, where he would earn both his bachelor’s degree in accounting and his law degree. Though an impressive feat, he was not satisfied with the direction his life was going. He knew that deep down the corporate world of desk work, monotonous tasks, and the absence of physical gratification was not a recipe for long-term happiness.
“I wanted to do something that was hands-on and rewarding in and of itself. When you do accounting and law, to a certain extent, you’re really just pushing paper. I didn’t find either of the two to be very rewarding,” Crittenden said.
Concerning his accounting and law degrees, they certainly did not go unused in the process of bringing his distillery to life. There were legal obligations and necessities that needed to be addressed Crittenden was able to satisfy using his law degree. On the money side of things, having a background in accounting and numbers helped his business thrive.
“I was able to leverage my accounting and law degrees to help establish my business. For example, they helped me obtain the liquor license for the distillery,” he said.
The main product the Crittenden Distillery produces is a pure grain alcohol referred to as “Kiln Shine.” Despite its resemblance to moonshine in both name and color, the product in the jug-like bottle is actually whiskey.
In contrast to the homemade, bootlegged moonshine of old that was made almost entirely from fermented sugar, Kiln Shine is made from an all grain mash. The lack of sugar in the Kiln Shine allows for a smoother finish, while the lack of aging gives the Shine its clear complexion. The bottle and the branding of the whiskey pays homage to the culture of the region and aims to keep a rural, small-business feel.
“The bottle is reminiscent of an old moonshiner’s jug. For the label, we were going after a rustic look and tried to have it resemble a paper bag.
We wanted the logo to even further the rustic look, making it appear to be stamped as if it were produced in the backwoods somewhere. It was made to look like you got some moonshine in an old paper sack from somebody, but we were proud enough to put our name on it,” Crittenden said.
The distillery also serves as a gathering place for the community. Crittenden said he does tours by appointment, and also takes reservations for an entertainment room that holds up to 100 people.
For more information visit Crittenden Distillery’s Facebook page. Kiln Shine is sold at Star Package—located at 308 Jackson Ave. East in Oxford—for $20.81 plus tax.