Moonshine has become almost a mythical name. It conjures images of whiskey forefathers evading the taxman while sitting around small, makeshift stills. It’s something that, while so integral to the endurance of whiskey historically, is tragically overlooked today. It can be made from grains, sugar, or other things. But, what exactly is it?
Why is it called moonshine?
When the government hiked up taxes on liquor, people tried to find a way to circumvent those taxes. For many, liquor was a way of life. It helped keep grains that weren’t used in the production cycle. Rather than grains going bad, they could be converted into long-lasting liquor that could be sold or traded as an additional source of income.
However, often these profits were eaten into by taxes. These taxes were usually charged on the production of liquor rather than the sale of it. Most of these home distillers out in rural areas would use liquor to barter. So, money never changed hands since they grew the grains, distilled their whiskey, and then simply traded it for other supplies.
This became an issue when the tax man came around to collect since these farmers never collected money from this transaction. So, many took to distilling in secret. Due to the dangers of being a tax collector, very few would make nightly rounds to inspect and collect taxes. Distillers took to using this time to distill under the light of the moon, away from the prying eyes of the government. Hence the name “moonshine.”
Do people still make it?
Well, that’s a funny question. The government doesn’t allow people to make liquor in their homes for safety purposes. Making your own shine is illegal without the proper facilities, safety, and licensing. However, that doesn’t always stop people from doing it.
Many distillers will sheepishly confess that they were home distillers before they entered into legitimate operation. However, some distilleries like Grandaddy Mimm’s are still making moonshine from a historical standpoint, albeit legally.
Their forefather, Jack “Mimm” McClure, started making bootleg moonshine in 1933, during the great depression, to keep food on the table. However, his recipe became famous in the area, and the law tried unsuccessfully to catch him numerous times.
Grandaddy Mimm’s still uses this recipe in their distillation and uses handmade, simple copper stills. Ones similar to the kind that Jack used to distill his famous moonshine. It’s with this recipe and these stills that they are making quality shine for the modern age to enjoy.
You can learn more about Grandaddy Mimm’s and Jack’s story by clicking here.
Greg Sinadinos started his spirits journey writing a whiskey periodical for Fine Tobacco NYC Magazine. He began answering review requests under a social media page he named “Whiskey Culture,” which quickly merged with Greg’s passion for connecting with others and his interest in history.
Today, Greg travels the country not just looking for great whiskey, but also exploring the history and individuals that the whiskey community is founded upon. He has authored “Whiskey History From Around The World” and is the host of “The Rickhouse” web series.