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Sugar Whiskey Sis opens in downtown Covington; Agave & Rye owners bring moonshine to mainstream

By David Holthaus
NKyTribune reporter

Moonshine has gone legit, emerging from the backwoods and into mainstream bars and restaurants. 

A look at the interior of Sugar Whiskey Sis in Covington, which had its official ribbon cutting on Friday (provided photos).

Kentucky was once known as a haven for the illicit stills of yesteryear, now downtown Covington has a lawful establishment serving up dozens of varieties of the now-trendy liquor.

Sugar Whiskey Sis recently opened at 633 Madison Avenue and held its grand opening celebration Friday night. It’s run by the same folks who operate Agave & Rye, which opened on Madison a year ago. 

“We fell in love with the city so much that we wanted to expand a bit,” said owner Yavonne Sarber. 

A year ago, Agave & Rye opened on Madison Avenue, with its emphasis on signature tacos and tequila.

Moonshine, white lightning, white mule – whatever you call it – is essentially unaged whiskey. “Sugar Whiskey” is another name for the brew, and Sarber calls it “whiskey’s hotter sister.” Hence the name “Sugar Whiskey Sis.”

“It’s a heck of a lot more fun than whiskey,” she said. “That’s where ‘whiskey’s hotter sister’ comes into play.”

It also appears to be whiskey’s zestier sister, as about 60 flavors are available, including peach cobbler, key lime, blue flame, apple pie and for the traditionalists, good old-fashioned white lightning. 

SWS also carries a menu of craft libations, including one called “Jesus Juice,” which the proprietor says contains seven ounces of alcohol, including moonshine, vodka, rum, gin and tequila. Seeing Jesus after drinking one is not guaranteed, but it certainly appears within the realm of possibilities.

Boozy shakes, craft beer on tap and in cans, and a menu of wings, sandwiches and desserts round out the fare.

While Sarber said moonshine can be found in strengths ranging from 40 to 198 proof, her bar stocks nothing stronger than 140 proof. (By comparison, a typical bottle of Kentucky bourbon is 80 proof, at most 100.)

Sarber sources the swill from eight or nine distilleries in the region, including Villa Hillbillies.

Moonshine emerged from the woods in 2010, when it became legal and authorities figured out how to tax it. The first legal moonshine distillery opened in Tennessee in 2010 and was followed by others in Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama. 

Sarber is an interior designer by training but a restaurateur by trade as she operated a number of bars and restaurants in Columbus, Ohio for about 20 years, including deNOVO, which first opened on South High Street.

She worked for six years for Hartmut Handke, a certified master chef, in Columbus.

Handke was formerly the executive chef of The Greenbrier in West Virginia and the former owner of Handke’s Cuisine, a fine dining establishment in Columbus. 

Sugar Whiskey Sis is open Sundays from noon to 10 p.m., Mondays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to midnight, Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Saturdays from noon to 1 a.m.

Contact the Northern Kentucky Tribune at news@nkytrib.com

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