Because the activity of distilling illegal whiskey was usually done at night under the light of the moon, the word became both a verb, meaning making the liquor, and a noun, meaning the liquor that was made.
The reason it is done at night, and away from houses and buildings, is that the distillation process requires heat to boil the alcoholic liquor from the "mash" and produces a considerable amount of smoke and steam, which can be visible for miles if it is done outdoors in the daytime.
The moonshiner was careful to set up his still inside a building or somewhere hidden by rocks and/or trees, to keep the light from the fire hidden at night from law enforcement authorities (or the competition).
Most moonshine stills were made of copper, which is considered essential in maintaining good taste in distilled spirits.
Some moonshiners made a firebox out of stones or bricks, to keep the flames contained while concealing them, and to keep the still off the ground.
Others would make their own stills from converted from copper "washtubs" & "gascans"
Appalachia, generally the rural region of the United States in the vicinity of the Appalachian Mountains, has a history of small-scale whiskey production as part of its culture as whiskey production in the area predates the federal taxation of alcoholic beverages.
For early American farmers located in remote parts of the country, distilling was a way for them to turn their corn crop into quick cash when grain prices were down.
The other reason is it was a lot easier to transport jugs of corn whiskey to market over bumpy muddy roads than a huge wagonload of corn that could be ruined if caught out in bad weather.
Corn goes bad over time... While 'Corn Whiskey' only improves with age : )
HOW MOONSHINE GOT ITS NAME
In America the synonym for moonshine is hooch, a word apparently borrowed into English ca. 1867 from the Hoochinoo tribe of Alaska, noted for its homemade liquor.
An unquenchable thirst for alcoholic beverages in Alaska gave the word hooch to the English language. It began after the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867, when Congress prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in the territory.
Unable to buy alcohol, the Tlingit Indians living in a village by the name of Xutsnuuwú (Hoochinoo in English) on Admiralty Island, Alaska, began making their own.
It is mentioned in an 1869 report on seal and salmon fisheries: "The natives manufacture by distillation from molasses a vile, poisonous life and soul destroying decoction called 'hoochinoo.'"
During the Alaska Gold Rush of the 1890s, hoochinoo was shortened to hooch and made popular by the appetites and tales of the fortune seekers.
An 1897 book, Pioneers of the Klondyke, says, "The manufacture of 'hooch,' which is undertaken by the saloon-keepers themselves, is weirdly horrible."
Another describes the "hoochinoo" of the time as "made out of molasses or beans or rice or flour or anything that'll ferment.
I call it squirrel whisky, because two drinks of it makes you want to climb a tree."
Ever since, hooch has been an uncomplimentary name for illegal or at least ill-tasting alcoholic beverages.
It is used primarily in the northern and western parts of the United States, presumably by neighbors and descendants of those who returned from the Klondike.
Since the 1970s, hooch has also been modernized to designate another illegal substance, marijuana.
Tlingit, a member of the Na-Dene language family, is still spoken. But there are only about a thousand Tlingit speakers left, mostly in the southern panhandle of Alaska, including Sitka and Juneau, the state capital. Hooch is the only word of Tlingit origin that has found its way into the general English vocabulary.
One other Tlingit word has made it into the English vocabulary just of Alaska: nagoonberry, a delicious deep red berry related to the blackberry, noted in English as early as 1914.
White lightning, mountain dew, stumpholewater, liquid stumpblaster, mule-kick, white mule, and panther piss are also common.
The grain used to make the mash, which is the mixture of grain, sugar, water, and yeast that ferments to produce the alcohol, is virtually always corn, so the product is "corn liquor" ~ AKA "corn whiskey".
Some call it "mountain dew" because it appears overnight.
It is commonly called moonshine, or just "shine" and this clear, potent liquor is most often called "white lightning" because of its electric effect, or "kick".
MOONSHINE PRODUCTION TODAY
Moonshine continues to be produced in the U.S., mainly in Appalachia and other parts of the Deep South.
Today, large scale moonshiners in the deep south often use hog chow, because the mixture it is primarily made of corn and is readily available, and more importantly because buying it in the quantities required is a normal part of local farming operations and does not attract the attention of law enforcement officials.
Other corn-based animal feeds can be used instead, and differences in the other ingredients in the feed impart slightly different flavors to the finished moonshine product.
Ordinary white sugar is often the chief ingredient of moonshine mash, in which case the spirit distilled is technically a rum rather than a whiskey.
The federal authorities who police moonshining are traditionally termed "Revenuers" because they historically worked for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which was part of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service until July 1972, when it became a separate bureau within the United States Department of the Treasury.
When the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003, most of BATF was moved to the United States Department of Justice, but alcohol enforcement remained in Treasury, handled by the new Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The simplicity of the process, and the easy availability of key ingredients such as a corn and sugar, makes enforcement a difficult task.
Today, the huge price advantage that moonshine once held over its "legitimate" competition that is sold legally has been reduced.
Nonetheless, over half the retail price of a bottle of distilled spirits typically consists of Federal & State taxes.
While many of those who 'still' buy moonshine from moonshiners do so for the thrill of obtaining and consuming an illicit product and the act of defying authority.
Another reason for the decline of moonshining in America is that as the population has grown and business along with it the number of jurisdictions, which ban the sale of alcoholic beverages, is steadily decreasing.
This means that many of the former consumers of moonshine are much nearer to a legal alcohol sales outlet than was formerly the case.
Today moonshining is far from being totally over, but is certainly far less widespread than it once was decades ago...
Individual 'home-shiners’ can buy in-expensive white sugar and produce moonshine at a small fraction of the price of heavily taxed and legally sold distilled spirits and oftentimes use this homemade alcohol to make herbal tinctures.
THE VERY REAL DANGERS OF MOONSHINE
Sloppily produced moonshine can easily be contaminated with a variety of toxins, most often from poorly chosen materials used to construct the still.
Despite the well-known hazards, it is claimed that stills constructed using car radiators for a condenser are still being used by money hungry moonshiners today.
The danger here is that the raw lead used in soldering these radiators together winds up in the moonshine, your liver & your brain!
In some cases, glycol products from antifreeze used in the radiator can appear as well.
Both Are Poisonous!
Sometimes moonshine is deliberately mixed with industrial alcohol containing products, including methanol and denatured alcohol.
The results are toxic and are easily capable of causing blindness and death.
Another reason the phrase white lightning was sometimes used to describe moonshine was that anyone dumb enough to drink this mixture would literally be 'struck blind'.
In the past moonshiners sometimes mixed their moonshine with soap to make bigger bubbles and thus fool people into believing that it was a shine of a higher proof.
Methanol and other toxic alcohols occur naturally in distilled spirits and are called fusel oils.
This methanol is concentrated in the first few percent of condensate produced in a batch and called 'the heads'.
The other fusel oils are mostly found at the end of a batch or run and are called the tails.
Ordinarily the head and tail portions of a typical moonshine run are discarded; because if they are ingested alone or included with the rest of the distilled product they will cause toxic effects on the consumer.
Like commercial beer, wine, and liquor, properly produced moonshine contains very small amounts of methanol at levels that are not toxic.
A common way for moonshine buyers to determine the quality of a moonshiners 'batch' is to see if the moonshiners will dare to drink it themselves...
A common way for a Moonshiner to advertise the quality of his or her moonshine to a prospective customer was to pour a small quantity of it into a metal spoon and set it alight.
Safe moonshine burns with a blue flame, while dirty moonshine burns with a yellow flame.
If a radiator coil had been used as a condenser there would be lead in the alcohol, which would give a reddish flame.
This common knowledge led to the old saying among moonshine makers and consumers alike; "Lead burns red and makes you dead."
Another thing to consider is when moonshine is over 100 proof in strength (i.e. 50% by volume) is explosive!
This is especially true during the distilling process in which oxidized vaporized alcohol can accumulate in the air if there is not enough ventilation.
Many moonshiners have blown themselves to kingdom come because alcohol vapor is more explosive than TNT.
Iron poisoning is another risk to moonshine consumers and sometimes results from the moonshiners using uncoated iron tubs to boil the mash.
MOONSHINE AROUND THE WORLD
Moonshine in Armenia
The Armenian name for moonshine is aragh (interestingly, in Farsi, it means "sweat" which is probably a reference to the similarities in color); however, the Russian word samogon is used more often, as aragh is synonymous with regular vodka. The production of samogon is widespread in Armenia. White mulberry, grape and apricot moonshine are especially popular, particularly in the countryside.
Moonshine in the Czech Republic
Czech moonshine is traditionally made from distilling plums and is known as 'slivovitz'. Traditionally produced in many garages and cellars, it is particularly popular in the east of the country, Moravia.
Moonshine in Finland
Finnish moonshine is homemade vodka, usually made from any fermentable carbohydrates, most commonly grain, sugar or potato. The most common name is pontikka. It is said that this name came about due to the poor quality French wine from Pontacq. Other names are kotipolttoinen (home burnt), ponu (short from pontikka), tuliliemi (fire sauce), moscha (most common Finland-Swedish term), korpiroju (wildwood junk) or korpikuusen kyyneleet (tears of wildwood spruce) as stills often are located in distant and badly accessible places. Pirtu refers to Rectified Spirit, currently illegal outside medicinal or technical purposes. Word poika (boy) refers to moonshine batch on fermentation process, or to kilju which is drunk without distillation.
Unlicensed moonshining is illegal in Finland, but it is often considered a challenge or hobby. In practice prosecution follows only if authorities become aware that the product is being sold. Most Finnish moonshiners use simple pot stills and flash distillation. Some have constructed sophisticated reflux or rock stills for fractional distillation, containing plate columns or packed columns, with reflux filling components of Raschig rings, crushed glass, nuts, glass pellets or steel wool. Finnish city Kitee is most famous Finnish "moonshine-city". A legitimate brand of moonshine called "Kiteen kirkas" ("Kitee´s Clear") is available commercially.
Moonshine in Iceland
Icelandic moonshine (Landi) is largely made by hobbyists as a protest against the high liquor taxes enforced by the government. Due to the lack of natural cover and harsh weather conditions, most "moonshining" activity occurs indoors in a controlled environment. Although potatoes are the most common ingredients of Icelandic moonshine, any carbohydrate can be used, including stale bread.
Moonshine in Ireland
Potato-based moonshine made illegally in Ireland, is called poitín, anglicized as poteen or potcheen) or formerly potheen but in Ireland. The term is a diminutive of the word pota 'a pot'.
Moonshine in Italy
In the island of Sardinia one can still find local varieties of grappa which are dubbed 'filoferru', the local pronunciation for 'iron-thread'; this peculiar name comes from the fact that grappa stills were inhearthed to hide them from the authorities with iron-thread tied to them for later retrieval.
Moonshine in New Zealand
New Zealand is one of the few countries where home distillation is legal. In New Zealand, stills and instruction in their use are sold openly.
Moonshine in Nigeria
In Nigeria, home based brewing is illegal. Moonshine is variously called 'ogogoro', 'kainkain', 'abua first eleven', 'agbagba', 'akpeteshi', 'aka mere', 'push me, I push you', 'crazy man in the bottle', or 'Sapele water' depending on locality.
Moonshine in Norway
Due to very high taxation of alcohol, moonshining continues to be a popular albeit illegal activity in various parts of the country, especially in rural areas of the Trøndelag and northern parts of the Østlandet regions and Solør. Moonshine is called Hjemmebrent in Norwegian, and the Mash is called Sats. In the county of Telemark mash is also referred to as Bæs. In the old days on Finnskogen they called the mash The Wine of the Forest (Skogens vin), this name was mostly used by the poorer people who didn't have access to distilling equipment. Moonshine is commonly enjoyed mixed with coffee, and sometimes a spoon of sugar, in Norway. This drink is called Karsk in Trøndelag and the northern parts of Østlandet, and Kaffedoktor (in Solør). While brewing is permitted in Norway, distilling is not permitted, and it is illegal to possess equipment for distilling. All alcoholic beverages above 60% (NOT vol. %) are considered hard drugs in Norway, and as such prohibited, and involvement heavily punished.
Moonshine in Poland
The Polish name for moonshine is bimber; although the word samogon (from Russian) is also used. Far less common is the word księżycówka, which literally means moonshine. The tradition of producing moonshine might be traced back to the Middle Ages when tavern-owners used to manufacture vodka for local sales mainly from various kinds of grain and fruits. Later on, other means were adopted, particularly those based on fermentation of yeast with the help of sugar. Some of the moonshine is also made from distilling plums and is known under the name of śliwowica (similar to the Czech word 'slivovitz'). The plum moonshine made in area of Łącko (Southern Poland) called Łącka Śliwowica gained nation-wide fame, with tourists traveling long distances to buy one or two bottles of this strong liquor.
In Poland, the simplest recipe for producing moonshine by fermentation of yeast with the use of 1 kilogram of sugar, 4 liters of water, and 10 kg of yeast is jokingly abbreviated as 1410 - the year of the Battle of Grunwald, most famous victory of Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and their allies over the Knights of the Teutonic Order in the Middle Ages.
Moonshine in the Russian Federation
The Russian name for any homemade distilled alcoholic beverage is called samogon (ru: самого́н), literally translated as "self-distillate". The most popular source for samogon is sugar as it is quite effective. Samogon of one distillation only is called pervach (ru: первач), literally translated as "the first" - it is well known for its impressive smell. The production of samogon is illegal but widespread in Russia. Samogon, oftentimes had a strong repulsive odor but for lack of any other alcohol, was very popular at one time.
Moonshine in Scotland
Illicitly produced whisky from Scotland is called peatreek. The term refers to the aroma (or reek) infused in the drink by drying the malted barley over a peat fire.
Moonshine in Slovenia
In Slovenia, especially in the western part, moonshine is distilled from fermented grapes, which were left from wine production, and sugar if necessary. It is called tropinovec (tropine, means squeezed half-dried grapes, in the west of the country) or Šnopc. Because it has around 60%-70% of alcohol is often mixed with boiled water to make it lighter( vol. 50%). Tropinovec is rarely drunk in large quantities. It is often mixed with fruits (cherries, pears, etc.) to cover the strong odor and taste, or herbs (Anise, Wolf's bane, etc.) for medical treatment.
Moonshine in Sweden
The most common moonshine ("hembränt", literally "home burnt") in Sweden is made of potatoes and/or sugar. Common nicknames are "Skogsstjärnan" (forest star), "Garagenkorva" (a wordplay on "garage" and "Koskenkorva") and "Chateau de Garage" (a pun on French wine brands).
Swedish moonshine is often used for the drink "Höger, vänster", meaning "Right, left", in which you have moonshine in the right hand and soda in the left, and drink one mouth-full each, in that order.
Moonshine in Thailand
In Thailand, home-brewed alcohol, most commonly distilled from glutinous rice, is called lao khao (white spirit). It is sometimes mixed with various herbs to produce a medicinal drink called yadong.
Moonshine in the United States
Although home distillation of ethanol for commercial purposes is still illegal in the United States, legislation was introduced in November of 2001 to legalize home distillation in much the same way as home brewing of wine and beer were legalized in 1978. This bill had a single sponsor and did not make it out of the committee. Despite the illegal status, home distillation is growing in popularity in the U.S. with ready availability of instructions, materials and support. In Glen Rose, they have an annual moonshine festival.
MOONSHINE IN CULTURE
Moonshine is often portrayed in the media in a clay jug marked only with XXX
As the story goes... the moonshiner would inscribe a single X on the jug each time the mixture passed through a still.
This image of a jug or bottle marked XXX is used in comic strips and cartoons to depict an intoxicating beverage.
For example, 'Drinky Crow' is often shown drinking from one of these stereotypical jugs.
Although clay jugs may have been widely used in the nineteenth century, glass "Mason jars" have predominated since at least the early twentieth century, with plastic jugs also coming into use in the 1970s.
Real fans of moonshine usually prefer to buy and drink the elixir from Mason jars because it is easier to judge quality and lacks any nasty plastic aftertaste.
In the Moomin Comics, moominpappa makes his own moonshine. This has been cut out from the anime.
The 1958 movie Thunder Road was about running moonshine.
During Prohibition cars were "souped-up" to create a more maneuverable and faster car. Many of the original drivers of NASCAR were former Ridge-Runners in the cars they raced in, like the legendary Junior Johnson.
Handling shipments of moonshine is often called "Ridge-Running", "Whiskey-Running", or simply "running" it, compared by analogy to "rum-running," which originally meant smuggling rum by ship.
Even today finding old moonshine stills in the backwoods of the mountains, and moonshine runners on the roads is not uncommon amongst Law Enforcement Officials in North Carolina.
The very first NASCAR event was held in 1947 at the North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Wilkesboro.Junior Johnson, a legendary moonshiner from Wilkes County was one of NASCAR's first great drivers who drove his cars at night delivering moonshine for his Daddy and during the day whipping all the competition on the racetrack.
He outran and outfoxed federal agents for years before finally being caught and arrested (not on the highway, but working at his father's moonshine still).
Franklin County, Virginia is known as the Moonshine Capital of the world, although any remote locale in the Appalachian Mountains or the U.S. South could probably lay claim to that title.
One of the official state songs of Tennessee, "Rocky Top", was written in the 1960s and makes several references to moonshine.
The official fight song of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) includes the line "Like all the jolly good fellows, I drink my whiskey clear," which refers to the drinking of moonshine.
Granny from the 1960s television series The Beverly Hillbillies runs a moonshine still by the Clampett family swimming pool and refers to the product as rheumatism medicine and as an ingredient in her "spring tonic" and claims to drink only a thimbleful at a time. Several subplots of the show's episodes focused on a humorous situation involving Granny's liquor.
In the popular television series M*A*S*H, the characters Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John, later replaced by B. J. Hunnicutt, made moonshine (which they usually referred to as gin) in a make-shift distillery in their tent.
In The Great Escape (1963), Hilts (Steve McQueen) and Hendley (James Garner) brew moonshine to help celebrate the Fourth of July. The product is so strong, upon tasting it, they can only comment "Wow!" very hoarsely.
In the John Denver song "Country Roads" moonshine is mentioned in the lines "Misty taste of Moonshine, Teardrop in my eye"
Steve Earle sings about a family past with moonshine, among other illegal productions in his song "Copperhead Road."
In the 1980s television show (and 2005 movie) The Dukes of Hazzard, both based on the 1975 movie Moonrunners, moonshine was a central element of the backstory.
The Duke family were covert moonshiners, until the nephews were caught running moonshine out of the county. "Uncle Jesse" made a deal with the government to shut down the moonshining operation; in exchange, his nephews were released and were on probation for most of the series.
Many of the early episodes center around moonshine made by someone else, usually associates of Boss Hogg, planting said liquor on Duke property in an effort to revoke the younger Dukes' probation.
This series plays off of a large number of the stereotypes commonly associated with the Appalachian moonshiners.
Moonshining (along with alcohol in general) is a common theme in American Country music. American country-roots singer/songwriter Gillian Welch released a moonshiner's dying lament, "Tear My Stillhouse Down", on her 1996 debut album "Revival" (produced by T-Bone Burnett).
It is also the subject of New Zealand rapper Savage's (feat. Akon) hit single "Moonshine".
In 2004, the American rock group, Drive-By Truckers recorded a song about moonshining written by Trucker Mike Cooley's uncle, Ed Cooley. The song, "Where the Devil Don't Stay", became the first track on their 2004 LP, "The Dirty South".
The Latin Rock and Roll band, deSoL, talks about a New York City Moonshine in their song Chica de Miami.
The band Pure Prairie League has a song called "Kentucky Moonshine". "Kentucky whiskey makes you feel so fine, open up your eyes and give your nose a shine, hits me deep inside like a lovin' dew, it makes it hard to choose between moonshine and you."
The country singer Hank Williams III refers to moonshine several times in his music on the songs "Mississippi Mud", "Straight to Hell", and "Crazed Country Rebel".
Jimmy Buffett's song, "God's Own Drunk" refers to a moonshine still.
In 1988 the Italian rock band Boohoos released a record whose name and title song was "Moonshiner"
Rockstar Games', Grand Theft Auto: Vice City storyline involves a contraband liquid aptly named "Boomshine" which is used in the game, not only as a strong alcoholic drink, but a powerful explosive.
The 1991 video game Moonshine Racers for Amiga and Atari ST is a racing game about running moonshine.