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What is Moonshine Whiskey: A Guide to the Illicit Spirit

thewhiskylady - 2023-08-03
What Color is Bourbon
Top 7 Bourbons for the Perfect Kentucky Mule Cocktail
What is Moonshine Whiskey: A Guide to the Illicit Spirit

Moonshine whiskey is a term that has been around for centuries, and yet many people are still unsure of what it actually means. In short, moonshine whiskey is a type of whiskey that is produced illegally, often in rural areas where the production of alcohol is not closely monitored by the government. The term “moonshine” is believed to have originated in the United States during the Prohibition era, when people would produce and distribute illegal alcohol under the cover of darkness to avoid detection.

The process of making moonshine whiskey typically involves fermenting a mixture of grains, fruits, or sugar to create a high-proof alcohol. This alcohol is then distilled to remove impurities and increase its alcohol content. Unlike commercial whiskeys, which are aged in oak barrels to give them a distinct flavor and color, moonshine whiskey is typically clear and unaged. This is because the production of moonshine is often done quickly and without the same level of care and attention as commercial distilleries.

What is Moonshine Whiskeyphoto credit: www.istockphoto.com

History of Moonshine Whiskey

Moonshine whiskey has a long history in the United States, dating back to the early days of the country. The term “moonshine” originally referred to any type of illicitly produced alcohol, but it has become most closely associated with whiskey that is made without a license and sold on the black market.

Prohibition Era

During the Prohibition era, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, the production and sale of alcohol was illegal in the United States. This led to a surge in the production of moonshine whiskey, as people turned to illegal sources of alcohol to satisfy their cravings. Moonshine was often produced in rural areas, where it was easier to hide from law enforcement.

Prohibition also gave rise to a new type of criminal enterprise, as organized crime groups began to produce and sell moonshine on a large scale. These groups often used violence and intimidation to protect their operations, and many people were injured or killed in the process.

Modern Distillation

Today, moonshine whiskey is still produced in some parts of the United States, although it is illegal to do so without a license. However, in recent years, some distilleries have begun to produce legal versions of moonshine whiskey, often marketed as a novelty item.

These legal moonshines are typically made using the same methods as traditional moonshine, but they are produced in licensed distilleries and are subject to government regulations. They are often flavored with fruit or other ingredients to appeal to a wider audience.

Despite the availability of legal moonshine, the production and sale of illegal moonshine whiskey continues in some parts of the country. Those who produce and sell illegal moonshine face steep fines and possible jail time if caught by law enforcement.

Production Process

Production Processphoto credit: www.istockphoto.com

The production process for moonshine involves several steps, including the selection of ingredients, distillation, and aging.


The first step in making moonshine is to select the ingredients. The main ingredient is corn, which is ground into a fine powder and mixed with water to create a mash. Other grains, such as rye or barley, can also be used in the mash. Some moonshine makers also add sugar or honey to the mash to sweeten the flavor.

Yeast is then added to the mash to begin the fermentation process. The yeast consumes the sugars in the mash and produces alcohol as a byproduct. The mash is left to ferment for several days until the alcohol content reaches around 10-15%.


Once the mash has fermented, it is ready for distillation. Moonshine is typically distilled using a pot still, which consists of a large pot or kettle and a condenser. The mash is heated in the pot, and the alcohol evaporates and rises through a tube to the condenser, where it is cooled and condensed back into a liquid.

The first distillation of moonshine produces a clear, high-proof alcohol known as “white lightning.” This alcohol is typically distilled a second time to increase the alcohol content and improve the flavor. The second distillation produces a smoother, more refined spirit that is ready to be aged.


Moonshine is traditionally aged in charred oak barrels, which impart flavor and color to the spirit. The longer the moonshine is aged, the smoother and more complex the flavor becomes. However, some moonshine makers prefer to skip the aging process altogether and bottle their spirit immediately after distillation.

Characteristics of Moonshine Whiskey

  • Color: Moonshine whiskey is clear in color, unlike other types of whiskey that are aged in barrels and develop a brown color.
  • Alcohol content: Moonshine whiskey is known for its high alcohol content, which can range from 40% to 60% ABV (alcohol by volume) or even higher. This makes it a potent drink that should be consumed in moderation.
  • Flavor profile: Moonshine whiskey has a distinct flavor that is often described as harsh, raw, and fiery. It has a strong corn flavor with hints of sweetness and spice. Some moonshine whiskey makers may add flavors such as apple, peach, or cinnamon to their product.
  • Production method: Moonshine whiskey is typically made in small batches using traditional methods. The process involves fermenting corn mash, distilling the liquid, and then bottling it. Due to its illegal nature, moonshine whiskey is often made in secret locations and distributed through underground channels.
  • Legality: While moonshine whiskey was traditionally made and distributed illegally, it is now legal in many parts of the United States. However, it is still subject to regulations and must be produced and sold in accordance with state and federal laws.

Legalities and Regulations

United States

Moonshine whiskey is illegal to produce in the United States without proper permits and licenses. The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA) prohibits the production of distilled spirits for personal consumption, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires a permit to produce distilled spirits for commercial purposes. Punishments and enforcement of illegal moonshine production vary by state, but penalties can include fines and imprisonment.

In addition to federal regulations, each state has its own set of laws and regulations regarding the production and distribution of alcohol. Some states allow the production of small amounts of alcohol for personal consumption, while others prohibit it entirely. It is important to research and understand the laws in your state before attempting to produce or distribute moonshine whiskey.


The laws and regulations surrounding moonshine whiskey production vary widely from country to country. In some countries, such as India and Nepal, the production and consumption of moonshine is legal and widely accepted. However, in other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, the production and distribution of moonshine is strictly regulated and can result in fines and imprisonment if done illegally.

It is important to research and understand the laws and regulations in your country before attempting to produce or distribute moonshine whiskey. In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain a permit or license to produce and distribute alcohol legally.

Popular Moonshine Whiskey Brands

Moonshine whiskey is a popular spirit that has been around for centuries. While it was once considered an illegal drink, it has now become a legal and regulated product. Here are some of the most popular moonshine whiskey brands available in the United States:

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine is one of the most well-known and widely available moonshine whiskey brands. It is made in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and is available in a variety of flavors, including original, apple pie, and peach. Ole Smoky also offers limited edition flavors, such as pumpkin spice and peppermint.

Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon

Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon is another popular moonshine whiskey brand. It was created by former NASCAR driver Junior Johnson and is made in Madison, North Carolina. Midnight Moon is available in a variety of flavors, including apple pie, cherry, and strawberry.

Sugarlands Shine

Sugarlands Shine is a moonshine whiskey brand that is made in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It is available in a variety of flavors, including apple pie, butterscotch, and hazelnut rum. Sugarlands also offers a line of moonshine whiskey cocktails, such as margarita and lemonade.

Troy & Sons

Troy & Sons is a moonshine whiskey brand that is made in Asheville, North Carolina. It is made with heirloom white corn and Appalachian spring water, giving it a unique flavor. Troy & Sons is available in two varieties, Platinum and Oak Reserve.

Climax Moonshine

Climax Moonshine is a moonshine whiskey brand that is made in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It is made with a blend of corn, rye, and barley malt, giving it a smooth and balanced flavor.

How to Drink Moonshine Whiskey

Moonshine whiskey is a potent and flavorful spirit that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Here are some tips on how to drink moonshine whiskey:

Straight Up

Drinking moonshine whiskey straight up is the traditional way to enjoy this spirit. Pour a small amount into a glass or shot glass and savor the flavor. Moonshine whiskey is typically high in alcohol content, so take small sips and enjoy the burn.

On the Rocks

If you prefer a milder taste, try moonshine whiskey on the rocks. Fill a glass with ice and pour the moonshine whiskey over it. This will dilute the spirit and make it easier to drink.

Mixed Drinks

Moonshine whiskey can be mixed with a variety of mixers to create delicious cocktails. Cola is a popular mixer, as it complements the flavor of the whiskey. Other mixers that work well with moonshine whiskey include ginger ale, lemonade, and fruit juices.


For a more complex drink, try making a cocktail with moonshine whiskey. There are many recipes available online that use moonshine whiskey as a base. Some popular cocktails include the Moonshine Margarita, the Apple Pie Moonshine Cocktail, and the Peach Moonshine Cocktail.

Food Pairings

Moonshine whiskey pairs well with a variety of foods, including barbecue, smoked meats, and spicy dishes. The bold flavor of the whiskey can stand up to the strong flavors of these foods and complement them nicely.

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes moonshine whiskey from other types of whiskey?

Moonshine whiskey is typically unaged and produced in small batches in homemade stills. Unlike other types of whiskey, moonshine whiskey is not aged in barrels, which gives it a clear color and harsher flavor. It is often made from corn, rye, or wheat and can be flavored with fruits, spices, or other botanicals.

Can moonshine whiskey be legally produced and sold?

In the United States, it is illegal to produce or sell moonshine whiskey without a license. However, there are some legal distilleries that produce moonshine whiskey using traditional methods. These legal distilleries are subject to regulation and inspection by the government.

How is the alcohol percentage of moonshine whiskey typically measured?

The alcohol content of moonshine whiskey is typically measured using a hydrometer, which measures the specific gravity of the liquid. The specific gravity is then used to calculate the alcohol percentage by volume (ABV). Moonshine whiskey can have a high ABV, sometimes as high as 190 proof.

What are some common flavors or ingredients found in moonshine whiskey?

Moonshine whiskey can be flavored with a variety of ingredients, including fruits, spices, and herbs. Some common flavors include apple pie, peach, and cinnamon. Other ingredients, such as honey or maple syrup, can also be added to give the moonshine whiskey a sweeter taste. However, it is important to note that not all moonshine whiskey is flavored, and some purists prefer their moonshine whiskey unadulterated.


Moonshine has a rich history in the United States, with its origins dating back to the 18th century. It was often produced in rural areas where it was difficult to transport crops to market, and it became a popular form of currency during the Prohibition era. It is typically made from corn, rye, or wheat and is often flavored with fruits, spices, or other botanicals. Moonshine is produced in small batches in homemade stills and is considered to be a very high-quality spirit.

While moonshine has a reputation for being dangerous, it is important to note that it can be made safely if proper precautions are taken. The distillation process requires careful attention and knowledge of the equipment being used. It is also important to ensure that the final product is free from impurities and contaminants.

Moonshine is a unique and potent drink that has a rich history and cultural significance in many parts of the world. While it may not be for everyone, it is worth trying for those who are interested in exploring different types of whiskey.

Today, moonshine is still produced and enjoyed by many, both legally and illegally. While it is often associated with bootlegging and illicit activity, it is important to remember that moonshine is simply a type of whiskey that has a unique flavor and history.

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