Mountain Dew And Bourbon Is The Unexpected Duo That Shines In Appalachia

The marriage of Mountain Dew and Wild Turkey bourbon seems an unlikely alliance on so many levels. One is a sugary canned soda and the other is a renowned bourbon carrying the exclusive distinction of a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Whoever dared to pour them into the same glass must have been very brave or desperate for a cheap mixer, but there's more to that story. 

First, the Mountain Dew name didn't originally refer to an early-morning dewy mist nostalgically settling in the Appalachian Mountains. It's a slang term for moonshine, a whiskey made from illegal distilling deep in the mountains, creekside hallows, and hidden bogs of the Deep South, including those in Tennessee and Kentucky. When two Tennessee siblings created their new Mountain Dew carbonated bottled soda in the 1940s, it was reportedly intended as a mixer for inexpensive bourbon whiskey. And that's just what it became. 

Yet somehow, by 2017, the mixture was unfathomably trending as a craft cocktail with the moniker of Turkey Dew. If you think it got a fancy upgrade with added ingredients, think again. Some variations have emerged in other parts of the South, including North Carolina where it was known to include a dash of powdered orange-flavored Tang drink mix. But at its core, the concept drink in Appalachia still requires only two things: Mountain Dew soda and bourbon.  

Matthew McConaughey and the Turkey Dew

A once-obscure, low-brow, regional moonshine drink appearing on cocktail menus across America is quite likely humorous to longtime Appalachian communities. But here's how the lime-green soda and its mountain moonshine compatriot made its way from hillbilly potion to trendy craft cocktail: It seems to have started in 2009 when a circulating YouTube video of an Appalachian folk song was reaching millions of viewers. The song, performed by The Stanley Brothers, centered on the soda and its connection to whiskey, with a continuing refrain of "I'll hush up my mug if you'll fill up my jug, with that good ole' Mountain Dew." Then in 2015, PepsiCo released a DEWshine soda featuring the long-retired Willy the Hillbilly mascot.

However, the PepsoCo campaign isn't what elevated the drink to craft-spirit status. That came from the Turkey Dew trend taking off at a 2017 Kentucky bartender retreat, Camp Runamok. The drink craze apparently sprang from a Matthew McConaughey and Wild Turkey bourbon advertisement, released around the same time as the retreat, in which the actor's renowned drawl and casual persona inspired a YouTube commenter to declare: "Y'all need to try some Wild Turkey mixed with Mountain Dew. I call it a Turkey Dew. Trust me you will like it." 

From there, we're talking pop-up Turkey Dew events, challenges, and a whole lot of non-Appalachian folks drinking it. Back in the mountains, it may not be called a Turkey Dew, but you can bet they're still chasing and mixing it up like they've done for generations.