Moonshine Mixology

What to make when you don’t want to drink it straight.

Spicy Spiked Cider

Photos by Joey Wharton

 “We’ve found that most folks don’t have a lot of experience mixing drinks,” says Brandon Day, the director of marketing at Belle Isle Moonshine in Richmond. “Even more folks have no idea what to do with moonshine. … So in our attempt to talk about our spirit, we’ve had to talk about what it takes to make a great cocktail.” Here, Day distills Belle Isle’s experience into six simple tips for us.

Brandon Day

1. Swap your vodka.

If you already have a favorite vodka cocktail recipe, try making it with moonshine instead. The ratios should be right, and you’ll get a similar cocktail—and, depending on the moonshine, it might even be better. Belle Isle distills its moonshine to create a smoother taste with very little ethanol “burn.”

2. Master the golden ratio.

Don’t have a favorite vodka cocktail recipe? No problem. Belle Isle offers its “golden ratio” as a starting point: 2 ounces spirits, 4 ounces mixer or juice, and ½ ounce citrus or bitters. Day says this ratio will help you create a “sessionable” cocktail—one that tastes delicious but isn’t so boozy it knocks you flat or so sweet it give you a headache. 

3. Keep your ingredients simple.

Day recommends beginners use ingredients that are widely available and inexpensive, such as lemonade, orange juice, club soda, ginger beer, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and flavored seltzer. Pair them with fresh lime and lemon juices and Aperol or Campari. Or, steep herbs in your cocktail instead of adding citrus or bitters. 

4. Make a big batch cocktail.

To serve a crowd, just scale up the golden ratio: a 750-milliliter bottle of spirits contains about 25 ounces, or 12 cocktails’ worth. Pair it with 50 ounces of mixer and 6 ounces of bitters, and mix with a spoon. Add a little ice to the vessel, and provide extra so guests can serve themselves. “If you’re using fresh herbs, let them sit a little longer in the batch vessel than you would in a glass or shaker,” notes Day. The big batch exception? Cocktails with carbonated mixers like soda will go flat if they are premixed. Day suggests combining the spirits and other ingredients in the vessel, then letting guests add soda separately. 

5. Presentation is everything.

Use attractive glassware and add a garnish or accessory like fruit skewers, candied ginger or citrus peel, fresh herbs, edible flowers, hay straws, or even a classic umbrella. “It’s a really simple way to transform your cocktail from just three ingredients to something that’s fancy,” says Day. The same idea applies to batch drinks: Use “a really cool container or pretty punch bowl,” he says, and add sliced fruit or herbs to add interest, communicate the drink’s theme, and avoid having to garnish every glass.

6. Continue to learn and experiment.

Try substituting similar flavors: pineapple for lime or orange for lemonade. Riff on classic recipes using spirits you already own. Scan the cocktail menu at bars and restaurants for ideas. Look to the food world for inspiration; spicy-sweet is a classic flavor pairing that works well in cocktails, too. Finally, says Day, think about the golden ratio in terms of flavors: something boozy (spirits), something sweet (mixer), and something sour (citrus). Swap out one ingredient at a time to see what happens. Or, invert the ratio and use something bitter, like coffee, for the mixer and pair it with something sweet instead of a citrus. The balance of bitter and sweet should create a delicious cocktail.


Get started mixing with these seasonal recipes from Belle Isle Moonshine.

Spicy Spiked Cider

A delicious, versatile cider recipe with a kick using Belle Isle Honey Habanero.

2 ounces Belle Isle Honey Habanero

4 ounces spiced apple cider

1 cinnamon stick 

Pour moonshine and cider into a glass or mug, stir, and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Serve

hot or over ice.

Ultimate PSL

Ultimate PSL

Adding a shot of Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee makes your Pumpkin Spice Latte a whole lot better!

2 ounces Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee

1 ounce milk or cream

5 ounces freshly brewed coffee

1 ounce pumpkin spice syrup (Torani makes a nice one. Or make your own at home!)

whipped cream

pumpkin pie spice

Add the first four ingredients to a cup or mug and stir. Top with whipped cream and garnish with a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice.

This article originally appeared in our Drink 2019 issue. To read more about moonshine, click here. For more moonshine cocktail recipes, click here.

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Virginia Living Museum

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum