Proof logo

How Moonshine is Made

by Jamie Lammers 14 days ago in alcohol

The history behind it and the process of its creation (based on a HowStuffWorks article)

Moonshine is a type of homemade alcohol that is made and sold in secrecy, often through illegal distribution. The term ¨moonshine” comes from the British verb moonshining, which refers to any job done in the late-night hours. Of course, this term applies perfectly to those responsible for making this highly concentrated alcohol, as they had to still illegal whisky out of sight from authorities. During the Colonial era of America, people would discreetly deliver illegal alcohol by concealing it in their tall riding boots, an action which earned the distributors the nickname bootleggers. People who operated illegal alcohol businesses and stills used the name moonshiners in order to conceal their shady deeds from the authorities. In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, moonshiners figured out a way to conceal alcohol in racing cars in order to deliver them through the night. They would manually increase the horsepower of their vehicles in order to drive faster through the night and keep ahead of the police. This created a culture of car lovers in the United States, which ultimately manifested in the popular NASCAR races -- in fact, one of the racers in the first NASCAR race also used his car to deliver bootlegged alcohol.

Moonshine is created using a mixture of cornmeal, sugar, yeast, and water that is distilled in a very specific process. First, the cornmeal is ground and soaked in hot water in a still. Sugar may be added at this point in the process, along with yeast, which is used to start the fermentation process. Once all of these substances are mixed together, the formula is then stirred thoroughly and heated in the still. The still has a stone furnace to heat the alcohol, which has to be raised to about 172 degrees Fahrenheit to properly heat it. As the heat in this furnace increases, the alcohol starts to evaporate, and the steam is forced through a cap arm, the term for a pipe on top of the still. The steam travels through a worm, or a coiled length of pipe, into a worm box, or a crate that contains cold water that is typically retrieved from a nearby creek. As cool water constantly circulates through the worm, the steam from the mixture is cooled into a liquid. After this process, the alcohol is released through a spout or tap, ready to be distributed and drunk by whoever is willing. However, moonshine should never be drunk in its pure form. Moonshine is a very potent solution, with the alcohol content typically reaching as high as 150 proof. This means that the final solution contains 75% alcohol in its mixture.

Much like other forms of alcohol, moonshine can be mixed with other alcohol to form new drinks. Some examples of these mixed drinks include moonshine and peaches, a mixture of ginger beer, cocktail, and peaches ; thyme moonshine, a mixture of vodka and fresh lemon juice; watermelon sling, a mixture of whiskey, watermelon and lemon juice, and the Blonde Manhattan, a mixture of whiskey and vermouth. Of course, with any form of alcohol, drink responsibly, but especially with alcohol as pure as moonshine is meant to be.

This article is an adaptation of the How Stuff Works article How Moonshine Works, and it also contains recipes mentioned in an expired Fox magazine article about making your own cocktails at home. It was originally written as a project for a high school health class in presentation format but has been adapted into an article. In order to account for the change in the author's writing style over time, the article has also been edited and expanded for general reading pleasure.

Jamie Lammers
Read next: Whiskey: A Guide and History
Jamie Lammers
See all posts by Jamie Lammers

Find us on socal media

Miscellaneous links