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What is Moonshine?
According to the dictionary, moonshine refers to any “illicitly distilled or smuggled liquor.” Moonshine may go by a handful of names like “hooch” or “white lightning,” and as a severe overgeneralization, moonshine refers to any unaged spirit. But moonshine is so much more than that. For most of our moonshine-making distilleries, ‘shine is an integral part of their family history.
The clear spirit gets its name from the conditions in which it was made. In an effort to avoid detection, and paying taxes, the illicitly distilled spirit was made while hiding in the darkness of the woods, while working under the light of the moon. Hence, moonshine.
These days, distillers across the United States are taking back the name moonshine. Bringing the once-clandestine spirit out of the backwoods and into distillery tasting rooms and onto your bar cart.
Is Moonshine Illegal?
While the official definition of moonshine says it’s a spirit that is illicitly distilled, that doesn’t mean it’s illegal. After all, we have more than 100 different moonshine options. So, when people say moonshine is illegal, what they’re referring to is home distilling and making liquor without a license to do so.
Another factor that may weigh in on people saying moonshine is illegal is the fact that there is no legal definition. Take bourbon, for example. In order for a spirit to be labelled bourbon, it has to meet certain requirements. It has to be made with a mash of 51% corn, it has to be aged in new charred oak barrels, and the list goes on. Moonshine has no such requirements.
And that doesn’t make it illegal. It just makes labelling a product as moonshine tricky. Officially, most moonshines are labelled with generic terms like “grain spirit” or “spirit distilled from XX.” All that is to say is it’s a spirit that doesn’t fall into another category.
What are Some Popular Moonshine Brands?
The Original Hatfield Family Moonshine – Yes. Those Hatfields, of Hatfield v. McCoy fame. But there’s nothing to feud about here. Their moonshines are terrific. The West Virginia-based distillery uses a 150-year-old family heirloom recipe to make their award-winning ‘shines.
Howling Moon Distillery – Packed into every single mason jar of moonshine from this North Carolina distillery is seven generations of family history. When Cody Bradford’s family settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains some 200 years ago, they quickly got to work under the light of the moon.
Casey Jones Distillery – Founded by the grandson of an infamous Prohibition-era stillmaker, this Kentucky distillery uses a still modeled after one of Casey Jones’s legendary square pot stills. With a long list of flavored moonshines, they have something everyone wants to drink.
How to Drink Moonshine:
If this is your first foray into moonshine, you have to try drinking moonshine straight. It’s a drinking experience unlike any other. Depending on the proof – some of our moonshines are proofed as high as 130! – the moonshine sipping experience is akin to sampling a spirit straight off the still. There are some tamer ‘shines in our catalog. Drinking those neat or with ice is a lot like drinking an unaged whiskey.
But if drinking moonshine straight isn’t in your comfort zone, using moonshine to replace the main spirit in any of your signature cocktail recipes is the perfect place to start. Or, if you’re looking for a specific moonshine cocktail, we have those too.
From chocolate to peach pie and everything in between, there’s a flavored moonshine for every occasion and every cocktail. Give one of these flavored ‘shines a shot, and you’ll have a new favorite in no time.
For more information on moonshine, check out these blogs:
Moonshine 101: How Moonshine is Made & Our Favorite ‘Shine Cocktails
Arlon Casey Jones: Preserving The Legacy of Kentucky Moonshine
Cody Bradford: Serving Family Heirloom Moonshine at Howling Moon Distillery
Mark Hatfield: Continuing the Family Legacy with Hatfield Moonshine
Chris Prillaman: Distilling Virginia Moonshine in the Blue Ridge Mountains