Growing up in West Virginia, I am no stranger to moonshine. One of the very few times I ever saw my dad drink alcohol, he was sitting in his boat, in the garage, having a swig of moonshine out of a mason jar. That being said, when I decided to write this article, I called up my father to get me in touch with a real life moonshiner and posed the question "What is moonshine and how is moonshine made?" 


Johnna Green

Native Americans were producing liquor with native plants long before America was colonized. When the English settlers arrived, they began making moonshine as we know it today. Strict tax laws were put in place soon after, and shootouts weren't uncommon. This eventually led to the Whiskey Rebellion.

 When states decided to prohibit the production and sale of alcohol, people were naturally unhappy. Federal prohibition severely backfired, and the moonshine business boomed.  

NASCAR also got its start from the moonshine industry. Bootleggers were in charge of delivering the goods, and often had to outrun law enforcement and revenue agents in the process. During their free time, bootleggers would race each other, which led to the NASCAR franchise.

The Recipe

hazelnut, wheat, maize, meat, popcorn, vegetable, pasture, cereal, corn
Kirby Barth

You may now be wondering, how do I make moonshine? To make traditional sour mash, corn-based moonshine, you will need equal parts spring water, sugar, and corn. After combining these in a mash barrel, yeast is added to begin the fermentation process, because ~science.~ The mash is stirred daily for a week until the fermentation process is complete. At this point, the liquid mash is separated from the corn. 

We now move on to the distilling process. There are two types of stills: the copper pot still with a thumper and the reflux still. As the mash heats to a temperature of 170ºF, the alcohol vapors move through the system and into a worm, or cooling tower, that is surrounded by cool water. This converts the vapors to distilled liquor.  

Traditional copper pot stills typically yield a proof between 80 and 100, whereas reflux stills will yield 150 to 180. To put this into perspective, Everclear, that liquor every college freshman is warned about, is bottled at 190 proof. 

Before the mash reaches a boiling point of 212ºF, the distillation process is stopped. The distilled liquor is proofed by cutting it with spring water until the desired proof is reached on an alcometer. 

The Fun Stuff

Johnna Green

The moonshine is now ready to drink straight as white lightening, or can now be mixed with fruit and fruit juices to get delicious flavors such as apple pie, cherry, or pineapple. 

The Legality

The top definition of moonshine on Urban Dictionary states, "Local police usually ignore moonshiners because 'they ain't hurtin' anyone.'" I asked my moonshiner if there was any truth to this and he said, "I've been asked several times, 'Have you ever sold to the police?' My answer is, 'No, you have to give it to them!'" 

Side note: moonshine is illegal because you must obtain a license and pay federal taxes in order to make and distribute alcohol. 

Bottom line, moonshine has been around longer than America. It will continue to be a supplemental source of income for many. I'm all about supporting a local business, but it is important to keep in mind that illegally made moonshine is not necessarily made to the same standards as store-bought. It has an extremely high alcohol content and should only be enjoyed in moderation.