Moonshine is an un-aged whiskey made of grain, typically corn. So why isn’t it called grain whiskey, corn whiskey, or simply un-aged whiskey? How did it get its unique name, which is now well known in America and around the world? It all comes down to the illegal nature that surrounds it.
Find out more about its name below.
From Britain to America
The term itself is originally from Britain, where it was used as the verb “moonshining”. At first, moonshining simply meant partaking in any activity or job that was done late at night. But when the term made its way to America, it took on a new meaning all its own.
Times Were Tough
When the United States imposed a dramatically high-distilled spirits tax on the sale of the whiskey that US citizens made, in part to fund the Civil War, moonshiners started making their alcohol illegally. They weren’t making whiskey as a fun hobby; they were making it to feed their families.
Times were tough back then and any little bit of extra income helped. If they were to agree to pay the high tax on the sale of their products, they might not have enough cash to put food on the table and take care of their families. That was simply unacceptable for the hard-working farmers turned moonshiners. They needed to keep every penny they made. So they kept producing their liquor in secret so they wouldn’t have to pay the feds any taxes.
In order to stay out of sight of the authorities so they wouldn’t be caught, they started conducting their operations deep in the backwoods where they wouldn’t be easily found. They distilled their alcohol late at night, in the darkness, with only the light of the moon lighting their way. Hence, the term moonshine became associated solely with the illegal spirits these moonshiners made.
Just Corn Whiskey?
When you think of moonshine, you probably think of white, un-aged whiskey made from corn mash. You’d mostly be correct, but the term is also generally applied to any alcohol that was made illegally. During the Prohibition area, there was great demand for alcohol and moonshiners got greedy. So to make a cheaper product and get more cash from their sales, they started making batches of alcohol with white sugar instead of corn mash, which was technically rum, not whiskey. Some even switch out grains completely for fruits. But since all of this alcohol was made illegally, late at night and under the light of the moon, it was all known as moonshine.
Can There Be Such a Thing as Legal Moonshine?
When the United States relaxed its distilled spirits laws some years ago, the government made it legal for select distilleries in specific locales to legally produce and sell ‘shine.
But if moonshine is a term used for any type of illegally made and distributed alcohol, can it still use the well-known name? Though the “moonshine” sold in stores is legal, the recipes used to make them are the same as those that were used for illegal distillation. So, it’s the same product and it’s marketed with the same name since it provides the same drinking experience as found with the illegal products.
Although it’s well known under its original name, ‘shine has received a lengthy list of alternative names or nick names. These include white lightning, mountain dew, alley bourbon, hooch, bush whiskey, cool water, branchwater, catdaddy, donkey punch, hillbilly pop, jet fuel, mule kick, popskull, rotgut, skull cracker, white dog, and wild cat, among many others.