Moonshine! (part 1)

This will be the first week in a two part fact about Moonshine. Why two parts you ask? Uh, cuz it’s Moonshine…

There is a common misconception that moonshiners were backcountry-slack-jawed folk with no regard for the law, but what many do not realize is that they began by brewing whiskey- legally. Whiskey wasn’t just a hobby but a livelihood for many involved. Farmers, who were the typical producers, survived through years where crop yields were poor by selling whisky. The income from the sale of alcohol supported their families during years where they may have otherwise lost everything.

After the Revolutionary war the federal government was nearly bankrupt so in an effort to prevent its collapse it instituted a high tax on liquor, one that has been in place, more or less, ever since. This tax was passed along to the producers of whiskey (predominantly farmers), who would sometimes beat, tar, and feather the tax collectors coming to collect.moonshine

This tax was simply too high and many decided to hide their production of alcohol from the government; thus moonshine was born- in the United States anyway.

But what is moonshine? Unlike whisky that is aged in barrels over years, moonshine only takes hours or days to distill. It’s made up of four main ingredients which are corn, sugar yeast, and water. The yeast combines with the other ingredients to process the sugars thereby creating a mash. This mash is heated to the point where it is almost boiling which creates an alcohol steam that is then filtered to remove solids and impurities. This steam then moves through a “worm” (coiled copper pipe) that dips into a tank of cold water. The cold water causes the alcohol steam to condense into a liquid or “moonshine”. Also known as homebrew, white whisky, hooch, white lighting, or mountain dew. That’s right, Mountain Dew– now you know where that came from.moonshine_still

If the impurities within the steam are not removed from moonshine it essentially becomes a poison which can be fatal or cause serious injury. No matter how well it is filtered the first cup or two of moonshine is usually disposed of to prevent potential dangers to the consumers. But you can find plenty of historical cases where this was not the common practice.


Next week… How was moonshine transported? Why is it really illegal? And how did moonshine give us NASCAR, and are we supposed to be grateful?

How Stuff

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