Las Vegas born-and-raised Brendan Gaughan hails from a family who has been in the casino industry here since the 1940s, but Gaughan has made a name for himself in two dream jobs: He has raced in NASCAR for two decades, and his Las Vegas distillery, 17Astillery, produces whiskey right here in the Las Vegas Valley.
Gaughan, in an interview Nov. 8 at 17Astillery, discussed 17Astillery, City Lights Shine, Las Vegas and more:
Tell me about City Lights Shine.
I’ve been racing in NASCAR for 20 years, and there was a NASCAR official in North Carolina who made moonshine. We’d been friends for a long time. I’ve had all the famous people’s moonshine, and they all think that theirs is the best.
About three years ago, we did a test run with some friends and decided to start a distillery. My distiller left North Carolina and moved out here, and we became the first legal distillery in Las Vegas. There’s not many of us in Nevada, maybe seven in the state, and only two or three in all of the South now.
It’s a cool opportunity. Our distiller is just an old Southern moonshiner. We’re trying to make it work. The good news is that it tastes good. We wanted to make sure that it mixes well. Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits has some of the best mixologists in the world — they can make cat piss taste good! They create an outstanding margarita with my strawberry moonshine.
How did you overcome the stigma of moonshine?
Moonshine absolutely has a stigma. We tried to call it whiskey, but old laws from the post-Prohibition days, the way they do things, they made certain that moonshiners could not call their stuff whiskey.
Ours is a whiskey mash. It’s an easy-drinking whiskey that we flavor — six flavors — to be sweeter. It’s only 80 proof, not 120 proof. We have great bartenders at South Point, plus Southern Glazer’s, who have created great cocktails from City Lights Shine.
What have been the bestselling and most popular flavors?
Our two most popular just became available for commercial sale: cherry lemon and salted caramel. They’re the best tasting. Cherry lemon is the reason that we started City Lights Shine. It fits our style, which is really exciting. The salted caramel came about because mixologists wanted something in that flavor profile.
Las Vegas loves to support Las Vegas products. This is a real Las Vegas whiskey. It’s made by Las Vegans in Las Vegas. My family has been here since the 1940s. It’s distilled and made in Las Vegas — it is born and raised in Las Vegas just like me.
How did you come up with the name?
It’s a cool story. 17Astillery is the name of the distillery, the company. Our distiller, when he was a NASCAR official, that was his radio designator. City Lights Shine, we wanted to come up with something catchy, but we didn’t want to say “moonshine.” City Lights is for the lights of the City of Las Vegas.
You’ve raced cars for two decades, and you now run a distillery. That’s two dream jobs.
(Laughs) I’ve always been fortunate. I’ve been in the casino business with my family since I was a little boy and love it. I race cars for a living, and it can’t get any better. Now I’m suddenly making whiskey. It’s where life takes you, and I believe in the entrepreneurial spirit. This is a real Las Vegas product.
Where is the best place to enjoy CLS and purchase it? It started at South Point and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The only retail location right now is the South Point gift shop. Hopefully that will change very soon. The two biggest places are the PT’s Pubs and Sierra Gold, along with South Point and the Speedway. Our Shine-arita is the most popular drink out there.
What is your favorite CLS drink?
I’m torn right now. I do like the Shine-aritas, but now that we have the cherry lemon available, I’m sorry, I can do it straight because it’s that good or as a cherry Diet Pepsi. That cherry lemon to me is unbelievable.
More: Facebook.com/CityLightsShine + BrendanGaughan.com
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