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The City Journals

Murray man makes masterful moonshine

May 04, 2021 11:33AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Jason Sanders (second from the left) stands with the judges of Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners: Master Distiller.” (Photo courtesy of Jason Sanders)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

When you think of moonshine, you typically think of the backwoods of Kentucky and a long-bearded, toothless man operating a still that looks more likely to explode than produce gin.  However, Jason Sanders from Murray recently took top honors in the Discovery Channel’s reality show “Moonshiners: Master Distiller” for his gin brew.

“I have been brewing beer for roughly 15 years or so. I have won a few medals here and there in local brewing competitions,” Sanders said. “I always like to have five or six hobbies going at the same time, so at some point, I started thinking about distilling. So, I built a still and made a little corn liquor. My friends seemed to like it, so it sort of spiraled a bit. I always loved to drink gin, and as a chef, I saw gin as a challenge to make something palatable. The first gin I made is the same recipe I used on the show. Everyone loved the flavor and style. It became the gin for people who don’t like gin.”

If it were not for the pandemic, the world might have never known his talents for distilling. Sanders graduated with a culinary degree from the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2007 but was laid off as a chef when his restaurant was shut down in 2020.

“Covid has been a very crazy experience. I always thought that being a chef was kind of a bulletproof job. Everywhere you go, there are restaurants or food services of some type. I had never, ever considered the thought that restaurants could be closed in a health crisis. It was very disheartening to realize that I had no control over any of this,” Sanders said.

After a long career in the food industry, Sanders found that he had few options as an unemployed chef.

“Working in the restaurant industry for 25 years makes it really hard to find a position outside of the industry,” Sanders said.

With free time on his hands, Sanders fine-tuned his spirit-making—away from his home. Due to federal law, distilling in residences, making gin or high-proof liquor is prohibited. The main reason is the explosive nature of alcohol used to create such concoctions.

With his recipes perfected, Sanders was invited to compete on “Master Distillers.” 

“Reality TV is very interesting,” Sanders said. “Nothing moves quickly in the TV world. From the time I applied for the show to the time they accepted me was roughly six months. Then it went from zero to 60. I flew out two weeks after they called me to Tennessee. We were on set 10-14 hours a day for five days. It was August in Tennessee. The sets are hot; lots of lights and tons of people running around. It was a lot more work than I had anticipated, but I loved every minute of it.”

Still, with his little bit of fame, Sanders keeps things in perspective.

“The show hasn’t changed much, honestly. I have been recognized here and there, which is strange for me. It’s strange to see yourself in commercials, newspaper articles and a TV show,” Sanders said.

Sanders’s employments hopes are picking up now that the pandemic is quieting down, but returning as a chef might take a back seat.

“I currently am working on a few different positions that are opening up, but my true goal at this point is to acquire financing for a distillery. I would love to put a distillery in Murray,” Sanders said. “My family and I love living in Murray. I can’t think of another place I would rather live.”