Moonshine: If you live in the U.S. and haven’t heard of it, you may have been living under a rock. But, while the name is familiar, many haven’t seen or tasted this infamous elixir..
Moonshine is clear, unaged whisky. Otherwise known as ‘hooch’ and ‘white lightening’, the beverage is known for its high proof, notable ‘kick’, and popularity with bootleggers during prohibition. It is typically made from corn so has a similar taste to a young bourbon whiskey. It’s also typically bottled at a higher proof, about 50%, so may seem ‘stronger’ than other spirits.
The legend behind moonshine has weaved its way throughout history and into modern times. By legal definition, moonshine is simply an illicitly distilled liquor. However, the history of moonshine in the United States is one of tradition, and how it’s maintained relevancy over hundreds of years is a story worth exploring.
A Brief History of Moonshine
The origins of moonshine can be attributed to the Irish and Scottish farming settlers of Western Pennsylvania and Appalachia. They utilized the corn and grain they were already growing along with sugar, yeast, and water to ferment and distill into their liquor. The homemade booze was legal and untaxed until 1791, following the revolutionary war. Alexander Hamilton instituted the distilled liquor tax to aid in efforts of repaying American debt accumulated by the war. This sparked the whisky rebellion, a violent uprising of moonshiners against tax collectors in a fight against taxed liquor.
It was then moonshiners and their operations had to retreat to the shadows, which is where the liquor got its name. To avoid being caught by authorities, they were forced to move their moonshine operations to the nighttime. They hid the smoke of their distillers within the darkness, working under the light of the moon.
Moonshine and Prohibition
During the 1920s and prohibition, Moonshine rose to popularity. The beverage was a favorite of bootleggers because of its high alcohol proof and its easy and cheap manufacturing. Prohibition acted as a renaissance for moonshine, with people experimenting with different flavors by fermenting with different fruits and spices.
Dangers of Moonshine
Although properly made moonshine is safe to drink in moderation, there are risks involved with inexperienced moonshining. Cases of blindness and even death have been recorded from drinking bad batches of moonshine. Blindness can occur from failing to fully distill the liquor, resulting in fatal amounts of ethanol being left in the batch. People have also suffered fatal lead poisoning from moonshine, due to some moonshiners utilizing lead-contaminated radiators to distill their liquor.
What Does Moonshine Taste Like?
People generally gravitate towards moonshine for its potent alcohol content, and the associated kick; the alcoholic percentage of moonshine today can range from 40-80%. An acquired taste, moonshine’s famous burn is accompanied by hints of corn and mild sweetness. It has been said a ‘good batch’ of moonshine is reminiscent of grappa and has a flavor strictly of its own.
Does Moonshine Taste Like Whiskey?
Moonshine is often compared to whiskey or bourbon, and for good reason; the recipe is almost identical, and the process is where it differs. Sometimes referred to as ‘whiskey without the wood’ or bourbon without the barrel’, moonshine is simply a .. simpler of the two goods.
Making your Own Moonshine
The ‘do it yourself (DIY) movement, along with programs like Moonshiners featured on the Discovery network has brought along a new generation of moonshiners, and those curious to give it a try. The process of making your own moonshine is simple, and with mindful research and proper materials, a fun and safe hobby to embark on.
Traditionally, moonshine is made with a blend or ‘mash’ of cornmeal, yeast, sugar, and water, however, any fermentable good can be used. Barley, wheat, rye, and fruit are also popular ingredients of moonshine. the ingredients are then put into a sealed jar and are left to ferment for five days to two weeks. The liquid then goes through a distilling process to separate the alcohol from the other chemicals produced during fermentation and filtered into the finished product.
You can read more on how to make your own moonshine here!
Moonshine Market and Today
Today, the ‘moonshine’ market looks a lot different. Although not technically ‘moonshine’ due to its legal legitimacy, the ‘unaged white whisky’ of today is safe, regulated, and comes in a variety of flavors and blends.
Today, the moonshine market is rapidly growing and offers a variety of brands and flavors.
One of the fastest-growing U.S. spirits companies, Old Smokey Distillery, recently surpassed 1 million cases of moonshine in 2021 resulting in a 48% increase in moonshine sales than previous years. Old smokey offers over 20 flavors of moonshine including apple pie, key lime, peach, and cinnamon.
Does Moonshine Taste Like Tequila? What About Vodka?
For those looking to experiment with moonshine, you may consider swapping your favored tequila or vodka for moonshine to add a nice added kick to your preferred cocktail. For the more adventurous, moonshine cocktails have been gaining traction in recent years. Tennessee Shine Co. recommends pairing moonshine with citrus, like grapefruit juice, lemonade, or orange juice. Next time you’re looking to mix something up for yourself, you may even consider trying an apple pie moonshine cocktail, or a coconut sunrise moonshine.