Moonshine is a corn-based whiskey made illegally in homemade stills. It is generally made in Appalchia, in the south. Moonshine provided an alternative revenue for many people in the hills who had few other choices to make money. It also took advantage of corn, a relatively inexpensive product by turning it into alcohol, a relatively expensive product. Of course, the ATF (or the "Federal men") were always in pursuit of illegal distillers, so one couldn't make moonshine in the open. Generally, you made it at night hidden in the middle of the woods, hence the name "moonshine."

Moonshine is homemade so there isn't a single definite product. However, a few things stay constant. It is always made with corn. Rarely are other grains involved. This had nothing to do with flavor; it was because corn was the least expensive grain. Moonshine is also rarely aged, and is clear, unlike bourbon, which is aged in charred oak and becomes a red-brown color because of the oak. Otherwise, it's a very close cousin to bourbon. Before bourbon is aged, it tastes much like moonshine (particularly if it is made from pure corn mash). Moonshine is usually made in less than a month, so any real moonshine you come across should be fresh. Even if it's not fresh, it's usually around 160 proof (80% alcohol), so it's not going to go bad.

Good moonshine is smooth and potent. It has more burn than whiskey, but it does not set your mouth on fire. It tastes slightly like whiskey and nothing like rum. If it tastes like rum, the distiller used too much sugar. It should also have little aftertaste and burn, less than whiskey. Sometimes you find birch-flavored moonshine, but I know of only one person who makes birch-flavored moonshine. This tastes more woody, but the rest of the qualities are still there. Other people put oak coals in their moonshine. This makes it taste like very potent bourbon. The best way to learn to judge moonshine is to taste several different people's moonshine, and there are very few occasions for this, unless you happen to find a party full of moonshiners.

Moonshiners come in all colors but most inherited the tradition from others in their family. Moonshiners are not looked down upon; it is not uncommon to see politicians and gentlemen sharing their moonshine. When coal was the only job opportunity, moonshine helped people make ends meet. However now, as with many mountain traditions, moonshining is a disappearing art. Most people who make moonshine now only make small batches for themselves and friends, and don't sell it. I been given moonshine as a gift several times. It usually came in a mason jar or a used milk jug. I have also been to parties where local government officials brought the best moonshine in the county and shared it. Then they play farm craps. Good clean fun for all.

Making Moonshine

What you were all waiting for! Of course, there is a HUGE amount of variance in the recipe due to a million factors, so every batch is different. I will give you the basics and let you invent your own if you so choose. Moonshine is made the same way any other high proof alcohol is: first you brew a batch of weak stuff, in this case called mash. Mash has about the alcohol content of beer, and tastes horrible. You then distill the mash by separating the alcohol from the mash in a still. The result is moonshine.

First, you need to make your mash. First make the malt by putting corn into a barrel or tub and setting it in the sun or otherwise keeping it warm, stir it every so often. In about five days it will have sprout. Grind that up and that's the malt. You mix the malt, grain, and yeast together with water in a barrel. You can use pure corn or pure sugar or any point in between. Most people run the center and use 50%/50% mix, but leaning towards the corn side is better. Put all this stuff in a barrel or other container and insulate it and seal it tight. Then insulate it by wrapping house insulation around it or by covering it in leaves if you want to say with tradition. The barrel is set aside to ferment for about six days. It's done when there is no foam head nor bubbles in the mash.

Now you need to distill it. Distilling is the hardest part of moonshining, as it is the easiest part to get caught doing. Basically, you will use the still to boil the mash and separate the water out from the alcohol, because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. As you run through a barrel of mash, the first quart will be nearly 200 proof (and not a lot of taste, like GNS). The last quart will be around 90 proof. You know when to stop the still when the shine is no longer flammable. Now mix the quarts together for the final batch, and you have made moonshine. So go git ta drinkin.