Tennessee whiskey legend, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was known throughout the south for making the best liquor anyone had ever tasted. He was a rebellious third generation moonshiner who lived on his own terms, distilling his whiskey in Cocke County, Tennessee. In March of 2009, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for not paying taxes on his whiskey, and instead of serving time behind bars, he took his own life. In the midst of his impending prison sentence, Popcorn ensured that his whiskey-making ways would continue by passing on his tradition to his apprentice and trusted friend, Jamey Grosser.
Sutton was given the nickname of “Popcorn” after damaging a bar’s faulty popcorn vending machine with a pool cue. Image courtesy of Popcorn Sutton Distilling LLC.
Master distiller and co-found of Popcorn Sutton Distilling LLC, Jamey Grosser met Popcorn in 2007, after he became curious about the history and heritage behind moonshine. Grosser set off to the mountains of east Tennessee, where everyone pointed him in Popcorn’s direction. After tracking down Popcorn’s probation officer, Grosser got a hold of his phone number and went to his house to meet him.
“We hit it off immediately, and I soon found myself heading up to see him or speaking on the phone for hours whenever possible,” Grosser said. “He began to teach me his craft, and we decided to go legal, so, as he would say, ‘the law won’t bother him no more.’”
According to Grosser, Popcorn refused to cut corners and took the time to make his whiskey right. Faithfully following in his footsteps, Grosser is proud to say that he now makes some of the best white whiskey out there.
“Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey is remarkably smooth for 93 proof and it has a great mouth-feel,” Grosser said. “It heats you up a little as it goes down, then dissipates fast. It’s one heck of a mixable product, for sure, and I make all sorts of great cocktails with it,” he said. “I think it’s really the most interesting, great tasting white spirit available today, and it’s truly the only authentically American white spirit our country makes.”
Popcorn Sutton Distilling LLC owns a distillery in Nashville that produces about 1,500 cases of white whiskey a month, which, according to Grosser, limits the number of markets he can enter. But on the fifth anniversary of Popcorn’s death, the distilling company that bears his name began production of Popcorn’s prized white whiskey in his hometown of Cocke County.
The new 46,000-square-foot-facility will have far greater capacity since it’s one of the largest craft distilleries in the country. Every step in the production process from mashing to distilling to bottling will all take place where Popcorn’s story began. Right now, the distillery is producing enough whiskey to meet demand, and tours of the facility will be hosted later on. Over the next few years, the facility will also create about 36 jobs.
“This is what he first envisioned when we decided to go legal,” Grosser said of making Popcorn’s dream of operating a distillery in Cocke County come true. “He is a true American rebel and hero and I’m proud to have been his friend.”
Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey is currently available in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas and soon-to-be Indiana.
Originally written for Chilled Magazine.