Moonshine holds a unique and somewhat contradictory place in U.S. history. Moonshiners regularly spread inaccurate information, while the whiskey industry misleads prospective buyers with half-truths. If you asked a moonshiner purist what “white lightning” is, they say it’s unaged, corn-based whiskey with high alcohol content.
Since it is affordable and easy to make, it has become an industry in the South, as many try their hand at homemade distillation. However, it is best to leave the production to experts who have a passion for purity and a desire to create sensations that will satisfy even the pickiest palates. Since it’s a sweet corn product, moonshine is a natural for adding flavors, including fruit and spices, mixed by master distillers with a genuine passion for their craft.
How is Moonshine Made?
The traditional ingredients for moonshine are corn and sugar, and during fermentation, the sugar produces ethanol, which makes hooch or moonshine. During distillation, alcohol separates from the mash. Unlike other liquors such as whiskey or bourbon, moonshine is unaged, which produces a distilled spirit with high alcohol content.
The stereotype of moonshiners centers around how “country folk” distill and transport their potables in jugs marked “XXX” during the night to avoid being detected. But having access to commercially produced all-copper moonshine stills on the internet has made moonshine distillation less risky in the modern era. But for a great drink, here is the recipe:
Let’s Look at the Process
- Distillers grind the corn into cornmeal. Some moonshiners use hog feed because it is corn-based, easy to find, and draws minimal attention.
- They then soak the cornmeal in hot water in the still. Moonshiners traditionally added malt to convert the corn meal’s starch into sugar. Others added sugar or grain.
- Next, they add yeast to begin fermentation. The distillers then heat the mash in the still while stirring thoroughly. In this still, all the metal pipes are copper because it’s a good heat conductor and does not leach into the alcohol.
- Distillers then heat stone furnaces under the still to approximately 172 degrees celsius. Moonshiners traditionally heated their stills with wood, coal, or even steam, but since the 1950s, most have used propane.
- By now, the alcohol has already begun to evaporate. When the still builds pressure, it forces alcohol steam out of a pipe on top. A moonshiner might use a thump keg — a barrel heated to high temperatures and stuffed with steam. As some saturate from the mash drops into the keg, it causes a thumping noise, hence the name “thump keg.” Re-evaporation of the alcohol filters out the mash in the barrel. In order to amp up the strength of the drink, they may use undistilled mash or extra alcohol.
- The steam passes through the worm — a coiled cable winding down the inside of the boiler. Keeping the worm in a constant flow of cold water helps condense the alcohol steam into liquid form.
- They connect a bucket to the end of the worm after one last filter. After that, the clear liquid is ready for bottling and selling.
What Makes Moonshine Different From Whiskey?
Vapors tingle your nostrils before a fierce burn that sends your whole body shuddering in pleasure and dread slaps you awake. With your whole body buzzing, you understand why they call it “white lightning.” It is primarily aging that makes that huge difference.
The liquid from the still is clear like water, even for whiskey. But moonshiners directly bottle their product and sell, while whiskey distillers age their distillate. Because of aging in oak barrels for many years, commercial alcohols have a golden or amber color. As they age, they gain color and become more mellow in flavor. Since moonshine does not “mellow,” no wonder it gives such a “kick.”
What’s the Best Way to Enjoy Moonshine?
Shine is a drink most people enjoy sipping with friends or family while keeping it from relatives who had found Jesus. Moonshine, or unaged whiskey, is renown in America as a renegade spirit. During prohibition, many consumed illegally in tenements of New York City and the hollows of Kentucky and West Virginia.
Because of its signature burn and earthy flavor, the once illicit spirit never gained popularity among bartenders. Despite the reputation, here are the best mixers for moonshine.
A Glass of Grapefruit Juice
Compared to a Paloma, you could consider this mix its poor American cousin. The moonshine and the grapefruit juice work together very well – you can taste their earthy undertones, as well as the bright citrus flavors.
You won’t get the same intensity as a Manhattan, but if you like a strong, stirred drink with your moonshine, this will do the trick. Traditionally, you make the Manhattan with a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth. But for better results, a 50/50 split is best. To soften all the flavors, dilute with ice while stirring it down.
Classic Coke Mix
Although the moonshine hasn’t spent time in a barrel, the classic whiskey and Coke combination still works. There are also some cola notes in moonshines, which help bridge the gap between the two ingredients.
Mask With a Ginger Ale
Moonshine has an unmistakable and potent taste that doesn’t fade when mixed with any mixer. But to mask the taste, mix it with ginger ale. We don’t mean ginger beer here. It is the sweeter ginger ale in a highball that makes it more enjoyable to drink moonshine.
With moonshine, you get a better result with bottled iced tea than you would with homemade iced tea. Mixing this one is an art and requires the correct ratios. Mix an ounce of moonshine whiskey for every three ounces of iced tea for the perfect kick to an otherwise mild drink.
Moonshine Lemonade Anyone?
A little moonshine brings out the best in bottled lemonade, reducing its sweetness and making the whole experience unforgettable. For the perfect summer cookout, combine these two in a pint and add some ice.
The word moonshine screams “hillbilly” in that condescending Hollywood way. If you visit the legal shiners in West Virginia, you’ll discover they infuse their barrels with the stories of Appalachia. The fact that so many people can make moonshine themselves shows their loyalty to the beverage despite its bootleg status.