The art of distilling Ozark Highlands spirits in the region has been a part of the culture and the economy for more than 200 years, since the first European settlers arrived in the region in the 1700s and early 1800s. Early settlers were pioneers who came west from the Southern Appalachians, descending from English and Scots-Irish immigrants, and were followed in the 1840s and 1850s by Irish and German immigrants.
In fact, an expedition by the US Topographical Engineers in 1819 first gave us the name, the Ozark Highlands, when they applied the name Ozark to the highlands of Missouri and Arkansas. Today, the Ozark Highlands remains the official name used by the U.S. Geological Survey, the USDA, and the U.S. EPA to refer to the region.
The Ozark Highlands spirits made in the region went by various names including Moonshine (made at night), White Lightning (made during the day) and White Mule (made so remotely that a mule was needed to haul it out).
After World War I ended, and Prohibition took effect, distilling increased across the region. This was done in secret, and supplied the rural communities with alcohol. In fact, during prohibition it was rare to find a house in the Ozark Highlands that was not producing alcohol.
Since 2000, the distillation industry has seen significant growth. Prior to 2000, there were only 7 distilleries in the Ozark Highlands. Today, Missouri is home to 51 distilleries, with 27 of them located in Missouri's Ozark Highlands.
In 2022, the Missouri Legislature established the Ozark Highlands spirits as a protected class of alcohol in Missouri law. This 'first of its kind' law in the United States protects the long history of spirit production in the Ozark Highlands and ensures that consumer and rural community interests in the quality and sustainability of this alcohol category are protected long term.
In order to receive certification as an Ozark Highlands spirit, a product must meet the following standards:
Today, the Ozark Highland Distillers Guild promotes all distilleries within the Ozark Highlands, while also supporting the State of Missouri Ozark Highlands certification program.