Moonshine is a confusing alcoholic spirit. Although it is historically associated with bootlegging and clandestine home distilling, moonshine has become quite popular in some countries as a legal beverage!
In this guide, you will learn how moonshine is produced as well as what it’s made of:
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Moonshine Ingredients: What It’s Made Of
Historically, moonshine is a clear and unaged whiskey and was therefore typically alcohol distilled from grain. As you’ll learn in our main overview of moonshine, the practice and the name predates the USA’s Eighteenth Amendment.
Consequently, most countries have their own methods and preferred ingredients. For instance, it is often made from barley in the British Isles. However, moonshine was traditionally made from corn mash and occasionally sugar in the USA.
Today, moonshine can be produced legally by licensed distillers and brewers from just about anything. Indeed, the US Government regards moonshine as just a “fanciful term” and does not regulate its use on the market.
As a result, any beverage can use the word “moonshine” in its marketing. However, it must also indicate its legal name on the label as well. Therefore, it’s no surprise that there is a wide diversity of moonshine that you can buy.
Moonshine that seeks to emulate the original product will often contain no additional ingredients. Yet, there is a lot of flavoured moonshine on the market, which often cuts the alcohol with juices and other flavourings.
How To Make Moonshine
First of all, we want to make it abundantly clear that we won’t be providing you with instructions on how to make moonshine at home. After all, producing it yourself is illegal in most countries!
However, we will provide you with an overview into the different methods that were used to make it as well as the ways legal operations produce it today.
Copper Moonshine Stills
Given that moonshine isn’t standardised or regulated, it can be made using a variety of techniques. Historically, illegal moonshine was often made in rudimentary copper stills.
One of the most popular devices was the spiral still, which was favoured by bootleggers. It consists of a simple cooper tube wound in a spiral that acts as both the column and cooler.
Although it was cheap and easy for producing strong alcohol, it came with many dangers due to the presence of impurities like methanol. A more modern version of this is the plastic still, which can be cheaply assembled. However, it is limited to making alcohol of just 40% ABV.
An infamous technique involved using an automotive as the still’s condensor. Due to the presence of lead and antifreeze, it would often cause blindness, saturnine gout, and even death.
Despite the myth, though, alcohol was never distilled in bathtubs. Instead, metallic bathtubs were used for steeping low-grade alcohol with herbs and spices in order to mask its unpalatable taste.
Today, legal moonshine is often produced using a continuous column still, which can produce large quantities strong alcohol in a single run. Occasionally, moonshine may be made with a copper pot still but the alcohol content is weaker and it requires multiple runs and batches.
Blue Flame Moonshine
The term “blue flame” is often associated with moonshine as it was often believed that safe or pure alcohol burns with a blue flame when set alight. Although the expression has perservered, this claim is largely false. For instance, methanol also has a blue flame when ignited.
Nevertheless, it was believed that yellow flames indicated impurities while a red colour suggested a presence of lead. Therefore, it was common to hear “lead burns red and makes you dead” among bootleggers in the period.
How Strong Is Moonshine?
As mentioned above, moonshine is regarded as a “fanciful term” by the US government and is not classified as a specific variety of alcohol. Therefore, there are no specific regulations that apply to its production or the resulting liquid.
If the producer wishes the beverage to be legally considered as liquor, then it must at least be 40% ABV. Therefore, some moonshine will usually stay quite close to this alcoholic content.
Nevertheless, moonshine can vary widely from 20% ABV all the way to 64% ABV and above. Typically, flavoured moonshine will have a lower alcoholic content as it’s usually cut with juice and other flavourings.
Meanwhile, moonshine that is marketed to be authentic hooch or white whiskey is often above 50% ABV.
Different Types Of Moonshine
Moonshine can have many names. In English, it can be referred to as hooch, homebrew, white lightning, and even mountain dew. In most cases, these terms are generic. However, below are a few examples of moonshine types in the USA and abroad:
- Absinthe Blanche: Until it was legalised, clear absinthe was common to hide it from authorities.
- Apple Pie Moonshine: Moonshine typically cut with apple cider, sugar, and spices.
- Guaro: Latin American alcohol made from sugar and similar to Brazilian cachaça.
- Gnôle: Also known as “goutte”, French homemade alcoholic is usually a variety of eau-de-vie.
- Hjemmebrent: A popular albeit illegal Norwegian moonshine made from potatoes.
- Kumi Kumi: A Kenyan moonshine made from maize also known as “Changaa”.
- Landi: Like Norway, Iceland continues to have a prevalent moonshine trade due to high taxes.
- Lotoko: Congolese moonshine made from maize, cassava, or plantains.
- Moonshine Whiskey: Clear and unaged whiskey often made in the USA.
- Oghi: Armenian fruit brandy similar to French gnôle.
- Schwarzgebrannter: German moonshine, which translates to “black burned”.
- Tharra: Indian alcohol made from fermented sugar cane pulp.
- Tsipouro: Illegal Greek alcohol similar to raki.
Indeed, moonshine is common around the world as humanity has been distilling alcohol for thousands of years. There are many more varieties of illegal or homemade alcohols that we haven’t mentioned. If you feel like an important one is missing, leave us a comment below!
Having now learned about how moonshine is made and the different varieties, why do you read more about the clandestine spirit?