The Bondurant Brothers Distillery has gained a lot of attention across Southside Virginia since it opened three years ago. Now, a new show on the Discovery Channel, “Moonshiners: Whiskey Business,” a spin off of the popular “Moonshiners” series, will give the rest of the country a look at a small distillery with a long and rich his- tory. The show stars popular Moonshiners star Tim Smith and features a crew of experts who give small distillers a hand with their business.
The four episode season debuts March 13 on the Discovery Channel and will fea- ture four small distilleries. Bondurant Brothers in Chase City will be featured this season.
Speaking this weekend, Robert Bondurant, owner and operator of Bondurant Brothers, said that he had been surprised when he was contacted about possibly being featured on the show.
“The production company sent me an email, said Bondurant. I kind of forgot about it until they called and asked me a lot of questions. They contacted me again and a couple of them came by one Sunday afternoon and looked around. They called me and told me they had picked me as one of the four distilleries to be featured on the show.”
Robert also said that he was pleased to have been selected.
“I think the avenue they’re coming in on is they know it’s hard for small distilleries to expand so it’s like ‘what can we help you with?’ That all happened when I was just starting to do bourbon so we kind of went that route. They did a little facelifting here, changed things up a bit, changed some branding stuff a little.”
Robert admitted that Tim Jones, a marketing specialist, brought marketing exper- tise that he lacked and the team’s engineering expert designed the new mash cooker needed for the production of bourbon.
“I’m working on the bourbon now,” said Robert. “I’m probably going to run some next week because it has to age for two years; a minimum of two years according to the government,” said Bondurant. “You can hold it as long as you like so we’re probably going to do a four year and a six year bourbon but we’re going to start with a 90 proof, two year bourbon.”
Although there are several differences between moonshine and bourbon, Robert explained that one of the biggest is that in moonshine, added sugar produces the alcohol.
“In other whiskey like bourbon, there’s no sugar allowed. It has to come from the grains used which is why you have to cook the mash.”
The new bourbon will use Robert’s own recipe, much like his grandfather and grand uncles developed their own recipe for moonshine.
While Robert said that he did not know Moonshiners star Tim Smith, the two were aware of each other and had a lot in common.
“I didn't know him,” said Robert. “I’d met him a few times, seen him at some shows and stuff and we talked a few times and we know a lot of the same people. His family was from Franklin County and my family was from Franklin County. His family was illegal and my family was illegal. We both jumped the fence to the legal side.”
Robert added that Smith, who has friends in Chase City, had stopped by the distillery a “couple of times” but that he had been out. Nevertheless, he said, he had been impressed with Smith, saying he seemed like “a good guy.”
The show, said Robert, had been a good experience for him and he hoped that it would be good for his business.
“It was pretty cool,” said Robert. “Usually it’s just me here and it’s hard to do everything by yourself and stay on top of things. It’s always nice to talk to some- body like Tim Jones who does marketing for a living. I could sit here and think of something and think it’s the greatest idea in the world when it’s not,” laughed Robert. “They thought we should play more on the outlaw history of the family and I think they’re right.”
The original Bondurant Brothers, Jack, Howard and Forrest, were some of the most famous moonshiners of the Prohibition period. An ongoing war between the brothers and crooked officials in Franklin County led to violence and bloodshed. There was a battle at the Maggodee Creek Bridge in which Jack was shot in the chest. Forrest was shot in the gut. At one point, Forrest had his throat slit. All survived and, in a way, got their revenge on the crooked law enforcement officers.
In 1935, after an indictment of Franklin County offi- cials, the brothers testified against them in a trial that came to be known as The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935. The trial lasted two months and resulted in 30 defendants found guilty. The trial propelled the Bondurant Brothers story into national news.
Like many news stories, the public was fascinated for awhile and gradually lost interest. In time the story was largely forgotten.
In 2008, Matt Bondurant, grandson of Jack, wrote a historical novel documenting the famous moonshiners. The book was purchased and made into the movie “Lawless,” introducing a whole new generation to the story of the Bondurant Brothers.
Today, Robert is well aware of the history of his bootlegging ancestors and their place in history. He is also looking to the future and branching out into a bourbon style whiskey.
“We’re going to keep on making the same moonshine the family has always made,” said Robert this weekend. “But we’re making brandy and now starting a bourbon. We’ll see how it goes,” said Robert with a smile.