Pure Heart:
A Spirited Tale of Grace, Grit, and Whiskey by Troy Ball with Bret Witter

Book Review
“Moonshiners” conjures images of rugged men, shotguns at the ready, tending their stills deep in mountain forests, but not a moonshining mother, age 48, who dedicated twenty-four years to caring for two special-needs sons. And any moonshiner worth his mash knows that “the good stuff” consists of the head, the pure heart, and the tail combined. (The head and tail are the gases and chemicals produced as the still heats up and cools down.) Only a woman would think she could succeed by separating the pure heart from the head and tail! But then everything about Troy Ball’s background and goals contradicted moonshining’s traditions.

Following her beloved father’s example, Ball had decided, by age ten, to become a successful entrepreneur. Two years later, she began working at his businesses and, after college, managed his sand mining operation. After marrying Charlie Ball, they moved to Austin, Texas, where “. . . for a brief moment everything was perfect.”

Marshall, their first baby (1988), began having seizures five months after his birth. Coulton, born two years later, started seizures at four months and was eventually diagnosed as severely autistic. The boys could not talk, walk, control their legs and arms, or sit up without help. Their diagnosis was “genetic metabolic disorder” with “symptoms probably the result of a cluster of undiagnosable conditions.”

She writes, “All the ambition I had to be an entrepreneur, all my ambition and drive, went into my boys.” Ball researched endlessly, and consulted specialists in Texas, across the country, and around the world. Determined to give them life’s best, Ball read, sang songs, planned outings, played classical music, and developed a diet that greatly reduced their seizures.

“I throw away the light poisons of shortcuts and half-truths. I throw out the heavy poisons of anger, fear, and resentment. I try to do what’s right, because when you are drinking (and thinking) from a pure heart, you’ll never regret your actions the next morning.”

Marshall rewarded her diligence when, at age four, he indicated that he could communicate through writing. He pointed to letters on a board that Ball transcribed into wise thoughts and gentle wisdom. She eventually consulted him on familial and business matters. When asked if they should adopt an infant, he replied, “Mama needs a good baby” and suggested that they name him Luke. (They adopted the baby a week later and named him Luke.) After conferring with Marshall, she named her company Troy & Sons because “. . . that meant something to me . . . My boys are the reason for everything I do.” Marshall’s book “Kiss of God: The Wisdom of a Silent Child,” was a New York Times bestseller (1).

Despite her best efforts, emergency trips to the hospital occurred frequently, especially in the fall, because the boys’ could not process the allergens in Texas. Seeking cleaner air, the family, in 2003, moved to Asheville. Since her mother and sister, who helped with the boys, also moved to Asheville and the boys qualified for professional care assistance through the Community Alternative Program of Disabled Adults (CAP/DA), she had time to start her business. And she already knew her product.
Ball first encountered moonshine through Forrest Jarrett, a dear friend and local celebrity (2). Moonshine’s lore, history, and marketing possibilities fascinated Ball. Following her belief that “successful people find the best experts and ask for their assistance,” she asked to meet a moonshiner. Jarrett replied, “I can’t do it. It’s not my place.” He was the first in a long line of potential advisors to discover that Ball never gives up. Ever!

Six months later, he introduced her to Jerry, a moonshiner living outside of Asheville. Clyde, her second contact, agreed to a meeting after four months if she promised not to film above his boots. Ball deduced from her lessons that to reach her goal of a “traditional heirloom North Carolina whiskey” she must revive the methods of the early Scots-Irish immigrants. They had patiently separated the pure heart but, to meet Prohibition demands, their descendants bottled the entire run.

“Summer of 2009 was my summer of whiskey,” she writes. In a still fabricated from a pressure cooker, gauges, copper pipe, and PVC, Ball practiced distilling for fourteen months before producing a reliable recipe.

Ready to start her business, Ball called Pat, her “best expert” for business advice, but he didn’t have time. At their first meeting, hundreds of phone calls later, he asked to see her business plan. Business plan? As entrepreneurs, she and her father had taken “advantage of whatever the day threw at them and avoided new dangers at every turn.” Ball exited Pat’s office with samples of business plans and a directive to, “Come back when you’re finished.”

When her goal of a downtown Asheville distillery and tasting room proved too expensive, Oscar, another prominent businessman sold her half of his warehouse and “put together a small investment group to offer significant backing” which enabled her to borrow money at a reasonable rate.

Basics in place, Ball tackled the questions and quandaries that could make or break her business even before opening her doors. The labels she designed printed beautifully, but the machine applied them haphazardly. The sleek bottles held different amounts because the “interiors . . . [were] inconsistent.” Then came the day when the corks popped off twenty-four bottles in the trunk of Ball’s car. Should she rent or purchase a pallet mover? How many employees should she hire and who? Would the German Kothe industrial distiller fulfill the manufacturer’s claims? And she had to be licensed on the state and federal levels.

Ball’s federal license made her North Carolina’s first licensed woman to distill hard liquor and the fourth woman in the United States. Ball’s superb presentation to North Carolina’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC), along with a taste of her moonshine, resulted in a state license and quandaries anew. Unlike beer and wine dealers, liquor distillers cannot sell from their tasting rooms, and every bottle must be transferred to Raleigh to be shipped from there to the ABC stores, bars, and restaurants.
Ball, focused on fulfilling her first order, resolutely solved each dilemma. Her focus changed drastically the day Charlie announced that they were broke. Without consulting her, he had used their personal funds, including savings, to satisfy the debts on his Whisper Mountain development. Troy & Sons became the sole means of saving her family.

Troy Ball succeeded in her business and in saving her family because, as she writes in her introduction, she “incorporated a [pure heart] concept into my daily life.”
First, with the honesty that makes her story credible. She admits that she was disappointed when she couldn’t return to work after having a family. Her anger about the Whisper Mountain bailout almost sizzles off the pages, yet she claims partial responsibility for the bailout.

She honors the history that went into making Asheville a city where concert-goers make front-row room for strangers with two special-needs children. Ball recognizes people on both sides of moonshine’s legality including Zeno and E. Y. Ponder, Popcorn Sutton, and Jesse James Bailey. Most importantly, she gives due credit to family members, moonshine consultants, and the business people who helped her make Troy & Sons successful.

Ultimately, though, the diverse aspects required to establish a moonshine business needed Troy Ball’s energy, focus, and pure heart approach to be distilled into success. Her story is that of a woman who considered contradictions as merely a starting point.

1. Ball, Marshall Stewart. Kiss of God: The Wisdom of a Silent Child. (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc. 1999).
2. McCredie, Roger. “A Visit with the Earl of Leicester.” Capital at Play. August, 2014.

Written by Mary Ickes