The Pride And Pleasure Of Homemade Moonshine

Homemade MoonshineAfter decades of shadowy practices and secret consumption, homemade moonshine is enjoying its moment in the sun. The distilled spirit, also called white dog, white lightning, or even white whiskey is now attracting do-it-yourself distillers, whiskey fans, and high-caliber mixologists — anyone who regards homemade moonshine as an expression of their tastes as well as their worldviews.

Why is homemade moonshine experiencing such a surge of popularity? For many of the same reasons people found absinthe so alluring a few years ago. Homemade moonshine has a great taste. It is forbidden. It makes a statement. Perhaps the simplicity of homemade moonshine is its greatest appeal. Homemade moonshine, just as it has always been, is whiskey straight from the still: no special wooden barrels, no aging, no caramel brown coloring. It is simply pure alcohol made from fermented wheat mash or corn. Homemade moonshine is unadorned with any of the indulgent terms that float around its more complex siblings, scotch and bourbon. No decades of mellowing, no infusions of a bouquet of flavors. If homemade moonshine holds one flavor, that is considered a success —  a significant advancement when historically, a success meant no one died from drinking it. After all, since the days of George Washington, standards of homemade moonshine have not been particularly strict.

A reference to Washington is not at out of place in any discussion of homemade moonshine. During his presidency, an armed rebellion rose up against the government’s policy of taxing any homemade moonshine farmers made with their leftover crops. Washington forced the bootleggers to retreat, particularly into the hills and hideaways of the untamed forests, where they’ve operated in secrecy ever since. The Whiskey Rebellion transformed homemade moonshine into a enduring political statement. Homemade moonshine became one more way for farmers to turn their unused crops into money, while in urban areas, it gave people a chance to dodge the domineering will of the upper classes.

Today, homemade moonshine is undergoing a resurgence as a specialty craft that individuals can produce themselves, unencumbered by the forces of market, law, or industry. Although homemade moonshine remains illegal in every state, an underground culture of moonshiners continues to thrive, driven by the pleasure of turning a bowl of corn mash into high-proof alcohol, simply by using whatever complicated contraption they built themselves to use as a still. Jonathan Forester, an expert on distillers and liquors in New York, claims there are as many as 200,000 individual distilleries pumping out homemade moonshine throughout the United States.

Some of that homemade moonshine is in fact very tasty, even compared to fancier, aged bourbon and other brown spirits. Forester, who helped judged 65 small-batch alcohols across different categories, found very few to score over 70 out of a 100. Yet samples of homemade moonshine were consistently earning scores in the 80s or even 90s. Because the flavor isn’t tainted by oak barrels, drinkers can sense the very basics of the whiskey-making process, such as the quality and mixture of grins and the varying skills and techniques of the distiller in creating the homemade moonshine.

Even commercial distilleries appreciate the appeal of moonshine. After all, homemade moonshine is incredibly cheaper to sell whiskey straight from the still rather than wait years for it to age in a cask. As such, there has been a rush to produce the easy money-maker. Yet despite the seemingly-simple process, each brand takes care to produce its own unique flavor of homemade moonshine, one that can appeal to wide range of liquor enthusiasts.

The positive raves homemade moonshine earns can be incomprehensible to traditionalists. It does not seem to make sense that the basic ingredients of a finely-made bourbon gets better marks than the bourbon itself. Not everyone agrees the new trend is a good one. Some see the skipping of the aging process as a cheap method that creates an inferior product.

The competition between fine liquors and homemade moonshine mirrors the experiences of classically-trained restaurant chefs who are faced with food trucks and noodle bars gracing the pages of typically prestigious magazines such as Food & Wine. The same struggle can be seen in journalists who contend with unprofessional bloggers, or in politicians who, despite their educated experiences in complicated bureaucratic and political systems, have to bow down to their constituents, who tend to have a more shallow understanding of the issues.

The rise of homemade moonshine, therefore, fits in perfectly with the libertarian ideals that currently span the country, and the lawlessness adds a hint of rebellious joy to the simple pleasure of producing something all on your own. No one is forgetting its caramel-colored counterparts — after all, bourbon alone continues to produce nearly a billion dollars as an American export — but homemade moonshine has generated a new generation of whiskey-makers and drinkers, and they have no plans to retreat.