The Basics Of Moonshining
Call it what you want, white lightning, popskull, corn liquor, panther's breath or just good old shine, this home made alcoholic beverage has a special in the American history and heritage. Moonshining is quintessentially tied with the history of the country, from its first backwood stills in the Appalachian Mountains, to illicit distilleries in the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and up to the modern times. Moonshine is any type of alcohol, but usually rum or whisky, that is secretly produced in order to avoid the taxes or bans that are enforced in the production area. The word moonshine comes from Britain, and it refers to any activity that is done during the night, when the moon shines, suggesting an illicit activity, that is hidden from the authorities. This is why the first operators of illegal whiskey stills have been known as moonshiners, a term that now extends to other alcohol manufacturers. Moonshiners are different from bootleggers: while bootleggers are the smugglers of the alcohol, the moonshiners are the actual producers, the ones who develop the recipe, acquire the corn or barley and own the stills. On the other hand, rumrunners are bootleggers that operate on the high seas, using fast ships to carry their cargo. Although there are hundreds of variations available, different for every moonshiner, the most basic recipe for moonshine includes corn meal, yeast, sugar and water. Some moonshiners add various other ingredients for flavor and kicks, including chilli, fruit or spices. Although most moonshine is made of corn, every other cereal can be used, especially rye or barley. The main difference between the whisky found in the liquor store and moonshine whisky is the aging process, which the moonshiners cannot mimic correctly. A fully licensed whiskey company ensures an aging process in charred oak barrels (sometimes for decades) to give the beverage that amber, golden color. On the other hand, a moonshiner produces whiskey that is almost clear-water in appearance and has a harsher, more acid taste, commonly known as “the kicks”. Pot stills and column stills are the most common types of stills.
How is moonshine made?
Making moonshine is not as complex as it sounds and getting started is extremely easy if you understand the basic concepts. Essentially, the whole making alcohol process revolves around two simple phenomena: fermentation and distillation. Although things can get a lot more complicated, with issues like pH monitoring or sparging, these are not required for home distillation and not knowing what they mean won't stop you from making great tasting moonshine. Fermentation – is a chemical reaction occurring when the yeast breaks down the sugar, resulting in alcohol. Microorganisms, such as yeasts, metabolize the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, resulting in alcoholic beverages: from grain you get beer and from fruit you get wine. Essentially, beer is a pre-distilled form of whiskey and can also be used to create vodka or gin, while wine is a pre-distilled variation of cognac and brandy. Distillation – after the fermentation process, distillation refers to the evaporation of the alcohol through boiling, succeeded by the collection of the condensing steam. During the distillation process, the alcohol is separated from everything else present in the still. Ethanol, the alcohol consumed by humans, vaporizes at 173 degrees Fahrenheit, while water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. By slowly boiling the mixture, you can extract the ethanol, leaving only the water in liquid state. The vapors are then cooled which turns them back into a liquid state, a process known as condensation.
These are the basic steps that will help you get started in the wonderful world of moonshining. Of course, we also include an extremely detailed step-by-step guide to making moonshine with the purchase of one of our stills. homedistiller.org is a great source of information. A moonshining lesson might be one of the most interesting and entertaining lessons that you have ever had, and the simple fact that you made your own alcohol will only add to the fun of drinking it!