Is there a season for making moonshine?
This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info. October 30, 2012 Last updated November 3, 2021 The Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners is a show that follows a team of bootleggers trying to make a living by making liquor in homemade stills – and the law enforcement officials trying to bust them. Tim, one of the personalities featured on the show, says he has been a moonshiner for 40 of his 45 years. He and his family live in Virginia, which is in the middle of moonshiner country. Tim learned the trade from his father and other family members who made moonshine.
- He says his family heritage is Irish – a people known to love their liquor.
- Tim is also a mechanic, as was his father.
- Building and fixing things runs in Tim’s blood, which comes in handy for a moonshiner.
- Tim constructs most of his own equipment by hand.
- Moonshine season lasts from mid summer into the fall, when corn is in season.
Corn is the most essential ingredient that moonshiners need to make their mash. At one point during this episode, Tim drives his beat-up red pickup truck to collect 500 pounds of corn. The huge stash is hidden in a secret place, and Tim looks visibly nervous, patting the shotgun riding beside him.
Anyone who needs that much corn will always raise a red flag for authorities sniffing out moonshine operations. Tim understands the risks, but he also understands the rewards. The average moonshiner can earn $30,000 in three months of brewing. “There’s money to be made as long as you don’t get caught at it,” Tim says.
“What you put in is what you gonna get out,” Tim says, adding a blend of ingredients to the still to prepare to brew. He explains that the raw ingredients shape the quality of the finished product. Tim says he doesn’t want to get too detailed about his process, but it involves corn, sugar, water, and yeast.
A corn whiskey mash is made by heating corn and malted barley to a very specific temperature, and then leaving it sit. Sometimes granulated sugar is added to the corn mash to increase the amount of feed stock for the yeast – improving alcohol yields – which is called a thin mash, Once the mashing process is complete, yeast is added, causing the mixture to ferment.
At this point it’s called a wash and can be anywhere from 10% to 20% alcohol. After this liquid is run through a still it can be as high as 190 proof. Tim and J.T. have been driving around, searching for a good still site with plenty of cover and conveniently located near a water source for their distilling needs.
The search has some people up in arms – literally. While driving down the road, two elderly people block Tim and J.T.’s path. The couple is riding an all-terrain vehicle and the woman prominently displays a shotgun. The elderly man accosts Tim and J.T., asking them what they were doing as his wife continues to block the road.
The man says that neighbors have alerted him to the fact that someone in an old, battered pickup truck – Tim and J.T.’s vehicle fits the description – has been driving slowly and suspiciously in the area. Tim tries to defuse the situation, talking about the merits of shotguns even as the woman hefts hers.
- Tim points to a shotgun of his own inside the vehicle and says that he isn’t planning on using it.
- Tim assures the man that he is only looking for a still site near a good creek – much like the one running under the bridge where they are stopped.
- The man says that many moonshiners have located their still sites on that very creek.
Moonshine gets its name because the safest time to make it is under the light of the moon. Distilling in the dark also makes it easier to hide from authorities. After all the supplies are collected, Tim, Tickle, Steve, and Tim’s son, J.T., begin work on their still site deep in the woods.J.T.
is still learning the family trade. The team fits a homemade burner beneath their large still. At the still site, Tim and J.T. use a pump to add water to the still. What Tim and his team do is illegal – distilling large amounts of moonshine with the intent to sell it for tax-free profit. Law enforcement officials like Jesse, who is also featured on the show, actively seek these types of operations.
These kinds of moonshine businesses are lucrative but clearly against the law. Federal laws prohibit distillation of alcohol for personal consumption, as does the law in most states. Amateur distillers are allowed to make small amounts of distilled fuel alcohol in their own homes, but not for consumption.
To legally distill, one must obtain a federal fuel alcohol permit (and a state fuel alcohol permit, if necessary). However, any alcohol produced under this permit should be used for fuel purposes only. Jesse, an official with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, decides to take a different approach in gathering intelligence on moonshiners.
His most recent mission was busted when a dog barked at his team in the dark woods. Jesse is using confidential informants to buy moonshine from sellers as a part of a controlled buy. He gives his confidential informant a microphone to put in his pocket and tells him that the safety word is “help” should anything go wrong.
Jesse and his team listen in on the buy from their vehicle. Though the purchase takes longer than Jesse would have liked, it is successful. “This guy is a big player,” Jesse says, studying two cold jars of moonshine. He vows to continue surveillance. Legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton was serious about his liquor, his wife says.
He had a passion for brewing and a technique that was all his own. Before he died, Popcorn passed on his secret moonshine recipe to his apprentice. In death, he went legal with his moonshine – which is bottled as white whiskey in Tennessee. The bottles bear Popcorn’s image and his widow carries on the tradition.
“It’s a lost art,” Popcorn says about moonshine. “When I’m done, it’s all over with.” In one sense, Popcorn’s words may be true. He may likely have been the last of a generation of people surviving and thriving by turning corn into whiskey. Though, on the other hand, a new generation of moonshiners, bootleggers, independents, and patriots are carrying on the tradition in a different fashion.
They may not drive a Model A Ford, wear bib overalls, or make their spirits by the light of the moon – but they’re making it. If you liked this article you may also be interested in our article on Moonshiners – Point of No Return – Episode 2. Remember, distilling alcohol at home for consumption is illegal. Kyle Brown is the owner of Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company which he founded in 2009. His passion is teaching people about the many uses of distillation equipment as well as how to make beer at home. When he isn’t brewing beer or writing about it, you can find him at his local gym or on the running trail.
Why is it illegal to make moonshine in the US?
Is Moonshine Really Dangerous? – Although the prohibition on home distillation seems like a hindrance at a time when craft booze is booming, federal governments say that that is designed to protect the consumers. The government argues that the home distilling process is unsafe because of the potential to be contaminated with harmful heavy metal substances.
- These risks also include contaminating the product with methanol, which is said to cause blindness.
- Moreover, there’s the risk of the stills exploding.
- While it is easy to buy the equipment necessary to make moonshines, TBB agents often carry out crackdowns on moonshiners in possession of unregistered stills.
Suppliers often sell moonshine stills to beginners who are interested in making essential oils, perfumes or distilled water, which is perfectly within the law. See our blog and click here to get more information on apple pie moonshine recipes and other distilling relate information.
Will methanol get you drunk?
Here’s what you need to know about moonshine – Image by the author. Moonshine! A high-proof homemade liquor that makes you wonder whether you just gulped down the contents of a lighted kerosene lamp. Can you really go blind from drinking it? Or is that just a myth to scare you into buying properly taxed alcohol? Well, as it turns out, bad moonshine can indeed make you as blind as a pirate with two eyepatches.
But then again, you can also go blind from sticking a fork into your eyeballs. The trick is not to be a dumbass. When you’re thinking of alcohol, you’re most likely thinking of ethanol (a.k.a. ethyl alcohol ). That’s the stuff you find in beer, wine, and properly distilled spirits. It’s the stuff that makes you tipsy and eventually roaring drunk if you do too many bicep curls with that enormous jug of beer from the Oktoberfest.
But there are also other types of alcohol such as butanol, isopropanol, cholesterol, and methanol, Among these, methanol makes you drunk in much the same way as ethanol. Contrary to ethanol, however, it doesn’t just give you a hangover, but can also rob you of your eyesight as effectively as a hot iron poker.
In fact, it can even kill you. That’s why you shouldn’t drink it and why it’s called methanol. The “m” in “methanol” stands for “moron.” Unfortunately, however, whenever alcohol is banned, such as during the prohibition in the US in the 1920s or currently in some states of India, the demand for drowning one’s worries doesn’t just disappear.
People still want to get drunk and so they resort to liquor that’s made hidden-away in the woods, often at night under moonlight to avoid detection — a.k.a. moonshine. And, sadly, in too many cases that moonshine ends up containing a tad too much methanol.
Is vodka just moonshine?
Patrick: I spent so much time researching “moonshine” after our call last night that I figured I’d share what I discovered on this blog. So here’s my attempt at answering a few basic questions as we prepare to devise a new line of spirits:
- How is vodka distinct from “white” whiskey? They’re both clear and unaged, so what’s the actual difference?
- How are vodka and white whiskey different from “moonshine”? And what is “moonshine” really ? Is it a vodka, a whiskey, or something else entirely?
As pertains to the first question, it seems the difference between vodka and white whiskey boils down to three things: ingredients, oak, and proof, Categorization is basically a function of slight deviations in the production process. Put simply, vodka—unlike whiskey—can be made from a wider range of ingredients, and it doesn’t need to be aged (in oak barrels or otherwise), and it’s distilled at a higher proof.
- Simple enough.
- But why keep it simple? Let’s needlessly delve WAY into this.
- INGREDIENTS The vast majority of well-known vodkas are made from grain.
- But vodka is also popularly distilled from potatoes and fruits,
- Unlike whiskey—the production process and ingredients of which are tightly regulated by law—there are no similar rules dictating or limiting what ingredients vodka distillers have to use.
( In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations merely defines vodka as “neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color”. Sounds um tasty.) By contrast, whiskey distillers’ choices are limited, as whiskey must be distilled from a grain.
Sure, you can find off-the-beaten path grains with which to craft your spirits—like quinoa, spelt, oats, etc.—but by legal definition, you can’t distill whiskey from such vodka staples as watermelons, cookies, potatoes, grapes, running shoes, etc. OAK There’s another critical restriction on whiskies.
In addition to being distilled only from grains, a grain spirit MUST “kiss” the inside of an oak barrel if it’s to be qualified as a whiskey. If it doesn’t, the spirit cannot legally be considered whiskey. Instead, it would likely just be classified as a grain-based vodka!
- A quick aside, Patrick it’s worth noting that the “oak barrel” requirement is a phenomenon unique to American and Scottish law. Other countries use the term whiskey to reference spirits aged in barrels made of other types of wood, such as maple or hickory. According to this website, “Canadian whiskey, Irish whiskey, and Japanese whiskey only require that wood barrels are used but don’t specify that oak is the only permissible type.”
- But I digress.
Notably, there’s no requirement for how long whiskey must age in an oak barrel to be considered a whiskey. White (clear) whiskies are merely the result of pouring the distilled alcohol from the still into a barrel taking a deep breath and then immediately pouring it right the fuck back out, to be bottled and sent out into the world.
- PROOF There’s one final attribute that distinguishes a spirit as a vodka vs.
- A whiskey: proof.
- As long as the spirit coming off the still is at or above 95% alcohol by volume (ABV), and as long as it is then cut with water to no less than 40% ABV when bottled, you’ve got a vodka.
- That two-part determination is what classifies a spirit as a vodka.
With whiskey, on the other hand, the spirit must be distilled at less than 95% ABV. But just as with vodka, as long as the spirit is then cut with water during the bottling process such that it’s still above 40% ABV when bottled, it’s a whiskey. (From my research, it seems that if you cut a spirit to anything less than 40%, then pursuant to the legal classification, you’re just a lil’ bitch.) TO RECAP : when it comes to proof, the spirit must exceed the 95% ABV threshold during distillation to be a vodka, whereas it cannot exceed the 95% ABV threshold during distillation to be a whiskey.
In fact, the same exact corn “vodka” could be called whiskey if it came out at the 95% ABV and was then placed in oak barrels,) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Bet. If we know the difference between vodka and white whiskey, then what the fuck is “moonshine”? This was the question that first drove our initial discussion, and it turns out that the confusion stems from the fact that lots of distillers and liquor companies nowadays have elected to use the term “moonshine” incorrectly as a commercial gimmick.
Here’s the bottom line: “Moonshine” is liquor (usually whiskey or rum) made in secret ( a ) without getting the proper state and federal licenses to do so, ( b ) without paying the requisite taxes, and ( c ) without adhering to any of the legal (and safety!) standards governing the production of spirits.
- Another aside here’s an article that conflates the actual definition of moonshine with the more gimmicky modern commercial interpretation of a clear and unaged whiskey.
- “There are lots of products sold today that call themselves moonshine for the sake of nostalgia, tradition, and mystique. But the same product could just as easily be called white whiskey. ” Preach to these liars.
Moonshine purists define the spirit as a homemade, unaged whiskey, marked by its clear color, corn base, and high alcohol content—sometimes peaking as high as 190 proof. Traditionally, it was produced in a homemade still and bottled in a mason jar. And there isn’t much of a difference at all between unaged whiskey and moonshine; they largely have the same production process.
But “moonshine” is distinguished from whiskey by virtue of its illegal nature, rather than being a different type of alcohol. Under this conception, “moonshine” is just a whiskey that hasn’t been taxed and the saga of colonial America’s refusal to pay taxes on its distilling operations is a critical part of our nation’s history that we’ll detail in future posts.
But does moonshine have to be a whiskey ? Nope! Actual moonshine—the stuff you’d buy on the black market if you didn’t want to pay a tax—can be made from any fermentable substrate, from sugar to grain to stone fruit. Whatever clandestine distillers can get their hands on and want to work with (under cover of darkness, by the light of the moon—thus the term) is fair game.
- Recall: Neutral spirits must be at least 95% alcohol coming off the still, whereas whiskey must be distilled to less than 95% ABV.
- By the way, note that the lower the proof at distillation, the more flavorful congeners carry over from the grain to the final spirit.
When it comes to commercial sellers, examine whether the “moonshine” label is proclaiming a whiskey or a vodka. If the label says “neutral spirits,” it’s not whiskey, Is the dead horse sufficiently beaten? Let’s decapitate it for good measure. How does one make moonshine? Answer: illegally.
The recipe is simple— · Corn meal · Sugar · Yeast · Water Sometimes, other ingredients are included to add flavor or kick. (And technically, as I’ve said, though alcohol can be distilled from almost any kind of grain, virtually all moonshine made in the United States for the last 150 years has been made with corn.) The primary aesthetic difference between “moonshine” and the whiskey you buy at the liquor store boils down to aging.
When whiskey comes out of the still, it’s so clear it looks like water—and moonshiners bottle it just like that, There’s no aging process, and that’s what gives whiskey its color and mellows the harsh taste. Moonshine undergoes no such mellowing, which is why it has such a “kick”.
So why is distilling alcohol at home illegal in the first place ? “The government cites several reasons for keeping distilling illegal. First, it can be dangerous, Distilleries bring two materials into close proximity – alcohol vapor and heat sources – that can cause disastrous explosions when not managed correctly.
There are also lots of impurities that can lead to all sorts of health problems even death! And cynically, there’s another reason: Federal excise taxes, Distilled spirits are taxed at the highest rate of any alcohol, far more than beer or wine. (A tax on spirits is the very first tax ever levied in the United States!) Naturally, the government is none too keen on surrendering its share of the revenue raised by a Nation filled with alcoholics.
- And so it criminalizes any liquor production into the revenue of which it can’t sink its grubby little fingernails.
- Please admire the grammatically impeccable placement of prepositions in that last sentence.) * * * * * * * * * * * * In summation, New Scotch Spirits will never legally sell any brand of spirit under the “moonshine” moniker.
But catch us back in the woods under cover of a new moon and we might have some New Scotch “Select” to offer you. Shhhhh. I hope this post answers any and all questions we could ever again possibly have on such a stupid subject. I need a drink, and I don’t care whether it’s a vodka, a whiskey, or a moonshine masquerading as both.
What is a distilling season?
To be labeled as Bottled-in-Bond, a whiskey must be the product of one distillery and distilled during just one distillation season, which can run from January-June or July-December. These whiskeys must be aged for at least four years, and bottled at exactly 100 Proof, for a strong, signature flavor.
How many seasons of Moonshiners are there?
List of Moonshiners episodes is an American television series on the that dramatizes the life of people who produce (illegal) in the of,,,, and, The series dramatizes their liquor production efforts, law-evading techniques and lives. The series premiered on December 6, 2011. The twelfth season premiers on November 9, 2022. As of April 6, 2022, 251 episodes of Moonshiners have aired.
When should I stop running moonshine?
#3: Tells you when your run is ending – Water boils at a higher temperature than alcohol, and as alcohol boils off from the pot, there is more water being boiled. So, the longer you run your still and the hotter it gets, the more water there will be boiling into steam at the later stages of your run.