Scratching The Surface Of Moonshine's History

May 7th 2024

Craft distillery and craft distilling; the distillation of spirits, has its roots deep in American history, and are becoming more common in the nomenclature of American society. The term "craft" brings to mind the idea of smaller batches of distilled liquors being made in a family setting, a counterpart of home brewing for beers. Although the family aspect may come into play some of the time, the term "craft distilling" refers mostly to the concept of starting with raw materials and creating distilled liquors with the same attention to detail that was normal in the earlier history of the United States. In this way craft distilling sets itself apart from the larger, more established distilleries. A craft distiller is actively involved in every aspect of the skilful distillation of the spirit, from ingredient selection to bottling and labelling, thus guaranteeing its craftsmanship-worthy quality.

This craft has its clear beginnings from thousands of years, but has been subject to regulation and prohibition during some time periods in certain places.

The first clear evidence of craft distillation comes from Greek alchemists who worked in Alexandria in the first century AD. Chinese may have independently developed the practice around the same time. The medieval Arabs learned the distillation process from the Alexandrians and used it extensively. Mongolians uses a different method known as freeze distillation or the "Mongolian still" during the early Middle Ages in Central Asia. This technique involves freezing the alcoholic beverage and then removing the ice. The freezing technique had limitations in geography and implementation and so was not widely used. Many believe there is a notable drawback of this technique because it concentrates, rather than reduces, toxins such as methanol and fusel oil; which has been proved untrue.

People do craft distilling for a variety of reasons. It can be cheaper than buying commercially equivalent beverages; it allows people to adjust recipes according to their own tastes creating beverages that are unavailable on the open market.

Real moonshine comes in two “flavors” – legal and illegal. The essential difference is one is taxed and one is not. It’s all about the taxes. You can go into most any liquor store and buy moonshine such as Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey, Platte Valley Corn Whiskey or Catdaddy. The federal tax on a gallon of whiskey is around $15.00. The governmental taxing of whiskey and illegal distilling is not a new thing. Some have staged silent disagreement with it and some orchestrated violent rebellions against it, even way back sometime in the 1700’s, where lowly farmers who had difficulty to market their grain due to remote geographic location, has to distill their excess grain.

No one knows exactly where the name "Moonshine" came from. According to Wikipedia, moonshine got its name from “moonrakers” an old English term for what is known now as smugglers and the illegal operations involved in making it, or only by the “light of the moon.” It only goes to show that since time immemorial, what is forbidden is always something delectable.

Perhaps since it was illegal, the lure of moonshine was its mystery. For people before, it is a question of what made it illegal. Is it because it tastes so good and so satisfying? Is it the drink of the Appalachian gods? Sadly, the truth is far from the romanticized stories it held. It is only illegal because the government does not get paid excise taxes. Recently, the name moonshine can apply to any kind of distilled liquor that the taxes have not been paid on. However, due to some recession in 2008 and 2009, some states were forced to loosen some laws regarding distilleries in order to generate employment and keep tax revenue rolling in. This is why moonshine became suddenly mainstream.

Since that state legislature was signed, the moonshining business became widespread and is quickly gaining popularity. One of the factors that contributed to its fast fame is that it does not require to be aged in barrels. Besides, people nowadays are becoming more nostalgic and are into all that vintage stuff. The appeal for nostalgia and to have a taste of a bygone era is something that draws people in and gets them to start a new hobby with their copper stills.

Now that moonshine and distillation are starting to become mainstream and music is always a reflection of the culture, you shouldn't be surprised to hear it mentioned Rihanna’s song “Diamonds.” Where the songstress compares people to diamonds in the sky and says that moonshine makes her alive or something. Bruno Mars with all his talent, has a song about drinking moonshine with his girl which he appropriately entitled “Moonshine”. No one can blame them though, with moonshine becoming more and more popular you're bound to hear about it everywhere.