Moonshine 101: How Moonshine Is Made and Our Favorite ‘Shine Cocktails

Moonshine 101: How Moonshine Is Made and Our Favorite ‘Shine Cocktails

An introduction to the history of ‘shine and some tips for how to drink moonshine. 

Do you ever find yourself asking, “Is moonshine legal?” 

Well, if you ask the dictionary, it would appear the answer is no. The official definition points to moonshine being any illicitly made liquor. But we have a whole collection of moonshine from craft distilleries across the United States. 

Even though our initial reaction may be to associate moonshine with Prohibition-era bootleggers, the spirit is one deeply rooted in tradition. For many of our moonshine-making distillery partners, moonshine is a way of life. A piece of their family that’s been around for generations. 

So What Is Moonshine?

Let’s start with the basics. The origin of the name is fairly self-explanatory. The illicitly distilled spirits were made under the light of the moon in an effort to avoid detection. Really, it was to avoid paying taxes on the liquor. 

At more than one point in America’s history, the government has implemented taxes on liquor to recoup the enormous cost of war. In 1971, to make money following the Revolution, Alexander Hamilton introduced an excise tax on liquor. An act that spawned the Whiskey Rebellion. 

As the Civil War began, the government knew they needed to balance the costs of war. So they established the IRS to collect taxes on all types of goods, including luxuries like tobacco and liquor. 

This is where the term moonshine begins to take hold. As the newly established agency sent patrols out to collect taxes, moonshiners retreated into the woods with their stills to make their spirits underneath the glow of a full moon. Ultimately, the backwoods moonshiners clashed violently with the collectors, resulting in moonshine’s tarnished image and reputation. 

These days, craft distilleries across the country are reclaiming moonshine. Bringing it out of the backwoods and into distillery tasting rooms. 

How Is Moonshine Made?

Even though you can get it delivered to your door, the specific regulations surrounding moonshine are less exacting than those around other spirits like whiskey or rum. There are no specific ingredients that must be used, there is no limit for how high or low it needs to be proof, nor are there any aging requirements.

In fact, there are no federal requirements for labelling a spirit as moonshine. That isn’t to say that any distillery can slap the word ‘moonshine’ on a label and have it be authentic. 

For most distilleries making moonshine, the craft is deeply rooted in family tradition. And while those family traditions may have clandestine origins, today they’re continued legally, ardently sticking family recipes and heirloom distilling methods.

Howling Moon Distillery in Asheville, North Carolina was founded on seven generations of moonshine making history. It’s been more than 200 years since Cody Bradford’s family made their way to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shortly after their arrival, they noticed their neighbors were particularly active at night. They were making ‘shine. Soon after their realization, Cody’s family started distilling themselves. 

Nowadays, two centuries later, Howling Moon continues the family tradition picked up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But they aren’t just going based on ancestral stories told around the fireplace. Howling Moon’s range of moonshines are based on a recipe that’s more than 150 years old. 

The heirloom recipe is run through a handmade still modeled after the old, illegal stills that Cody’s family once used. In fact, the still’s condenser originally belonged to his great-great-grandfather. 

In the Bluegrass state, another grandfather was working surreptitiously. Casey Jones may not have been distilling hooch back in the pre-Prohibition days. But he was definitely helping. His story, and stills, led his grandson, Arlon Casey Jones, better known as AJ, to open Casey Jones Distillery.

The Kentucky distillery, located in Hopkinsville, is just a short drive away from the Golden Pond area. The same land where Casey Jones made a name for himself as one of the era’s go-to stillmakers. Every moonshiner in Kentucky had to have one. And with more than 170,000 acres of open forests in the area known as the Land Between the Lakes, there was more than enough cover for Casey to build his stills.

In 1967, Casey would build his final still. And unlike the illegal stills he had made for decades, this one was a commission from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area’s Visitors Center. The distinct box still would sit in a moonshine exhibit for 40 years before AJ brought it back to sit in Casey Jones Distillery. 

Casey’s legendary craftsmanship remains on display at the Kentucky distillery. But AJ took it a step further. He replicated his grandfather’s distinct box design and unique condenser that creates a smoother, higher-proof moonshine quicker. 

Chances are, if you’ve heard of moonshine, you’ve heard of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Though their feud over a stolen pig may occupy all of the headlines surrounding the infamous American families, there’s more to the Hatfields. 

Mark Hatfield is here to make that known. He’s carrying the legacy of his great-great-grandfather, Devil Anse Hatfield. Devil was a successful timber businessman and real estate magnate. But, his heart was in the world of moonshine. 

Moonshine held such importance for the Hatfield family that there was only one logical place for their secret family recipe to be kept. The family bible. It’s that very recipe Mark uses to create the expansive line of family-history-filled moonshine from The Original Hatfield Family Moonshine. More than anything else, making moonshine is a preservation of Mark’s family history. 

How To Drink Moonshine

If you haven’t already, you have to try moonshine straight. It’s an experience unlike any other. Unless it’s a moonshine infused with fresh fruits or other ingredients, what you’re tasting is the unadulterated spirits. Sometimes straight off the still. 

But if sipping and shooting ‘shine straight isn’t really your speed, use moonshine to replace the main spirit in any of your signature cocktail recipes. With all different flavors of ‘shine to choose from, you’ll have a new favorite in no time. 

Peach Moonarita by Casey Jones Distillery

Three of Casey Jones moonshines collide in this summertime favorite. All it takes to make this big batch cocktail is Peach Cut, Barrel Cut, and Casey’s Cut Moonshines with margarita mixers. That’s it. 

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White Mule by Howling Moon Distillery

Moscow mule, meet moonshine. But this is no ordinary mule. Howling Moon’s Mountain Moonshine pairs beautifully with the floral tones of Fleur de Sureau Elderflower Liqueur.

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Strawberry Moonshine Daiquiri by Roberson’s Tennessee MelloMoon

Moonshine cocktails are better when they’re quick and easy. And it doesn’t get much easier than three ingredients. Roberson’s Strawberry Shine, Swoon Simple Syrup, and lime juice. Give it a shake. 

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Moonshine Sparkler by Palmetto Distillery

Moonshine and champagne may be an unlikely pair. But give them a shot. Pair your favorite bottle of bubbly with Palmetto Distillery’s Blackberry Moonshine and you’ll come to see they’re a dynamic duo. 

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Southern Belle by WIllie’s Distillery

Sweet tea, some lemon and mint. There’s nothing like it on a hot summer day. Add a splash of Montana Honey Moonshine from Willie’s Distillery, and just like that you have the perfect summer cocktail. 

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Raspberry Moonshine Smash by Twin Stills Moonshine Distillery

Raspberries, raspberries, and more raspberries. This bright splash of fruity flavor comes from Twin Still Moonshine Distillery. The cocktail centers on the lush sweetness of their Raspberry Moonshine

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Boozy Strawberry Lemonade by Hendrick’s Family Distillery

Moonshine is lemonade’s best friend. Best enjoyed while lazing around in a hammock or in a rocking chair out front, a splash of Eureka Moon Strawberry Shine is all it takes to make the Boozy Strawberry Lemonade. 

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