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DIY moonshine has been a de facto currency in the United States since its inception. That tradition continues today, speaking to moonshine’s ability to represent deep American values.
So what is moonshine? It’s actually just a jar of whiskey that was produced in a way that did not give the government their cut.
We are a country that formed itself as a protest against unfair taxation. We also place a heavy emphasis on individual freedom.
It seems fitting then, that a jar of illegally produced whiskey can hold so much value here. In this article, we’ll touch on how moonshine came to be a store of value, and how DIYers continue its long tradition today.
Moonshine can be a blast as a hobby and an excellent way to barter or just give a great gift. Let’s dive in.
The Genesis of DIY Moonshine in America
Before the United States achieved its independence, moonshine was already flowing out of the Appalachian hills. The area had been settled by farmers that were growing corn mainly, along with some other crops.
It was a difficult living, with most farmers existing on a subsistence lifestyle. Immediately, some of the more enterprising among them realized they could make their life a bit easier by fermenting and distilling the corn they already had in abundance.
Corn mash whiskey became a jarred staple in the area. Due to the rugged and remote nature of the area at this time, this whiskey soon became a currency used for trading goods and services.
It was also used, on occasion, for drinkin’.
The Whiskey Tax of 1791
Shortly after the revolution, the federal government found itself in need of some cash.
The solution came in the form of a steep tax on whiskey sales. However, most of the whiskey producers in the United States were some of the poorest people in the country.
It seemed unfair to farmers in the Appalachian mountains that the federal government would levy a tax targeting only its lowest-earning citizens.
So they didn’t pay it.
And just like that, their whiskey stills became DIY moonshine stills. Distillers would now fire up their stills under cover of moonlight and operate outside the law.
An Outlaw is Born
After the Whiskey Tax of 1791, moonshine became a mainstay of criminal enterprise.
During Prohibition, moonshine was already set up to take advantage of an inflated black market. Moonshine flooded out of the hills in greater quantities than ever.
This process led to the rise of bootleggers and the Irish and Italian mafias.
Moonshine’s bloody past made one thing extremely clear; booze is valuable, no matter what the law says about it.
History in a Jar
In the ’70s the government passed a law allowing the brewing of beer at home. Distilled spirits, however, remained illegal without proper licensing.
Of course, that didn’t stop a new breed of DIY enthusiasts from learning the historical art of distilling moonshine. It was simply impossible to resist for many people.
Moonshine had such a formative influence on the U.S. that history buffs across the country began making homemade moonshine. It’s almost like the beverage had its own consciousness.
The American Spirit’s Jungian shadow, repeatedly expressing its message of personal sovereignty through “criminal” activity.
DIY Moonshine, Meet the Internet
As eCommerce websites began to come online in the 2000s, DIY moonshine saw its first boom since Prohibition.
Prospective shiners were much more comfortable purchasing the equipment necessary to produce moonshine on the internet. To service this demand, companies began to offer full moonshine still kits.
It turns out that producing and selling the spirit is the act that is illegal. Conversely, selling or purchasing the equipment that makes it is not.
And so sparked the modern moonshine craze.
Today, moonshine is often quietly produced by a DIY distiller with some equipment he bought online. The product is then jarred and used to convince his buddies to help him paint his house or fix his truck. It also makes a great holiday gift that will put a smile on just about any recipient’s face.
The Rise of Sugar Shine
Moonshine quickly began to evolve after the new resurgence.
Distillers wanted to go in creative directions with its flavor profile. However, the corn mash of traditional moonshine was difficult to flavor.
Because of this, a new mash style got created that uses straight sugar instead of corn. The effect is an extremely neutral-tasting spirit after distilling is complete. As a result, this provides limitless opportunities to adjust the flavor of the spirit.
Hilariously, the most popular flavor quickly became apple pie moonshine. You simply don’t get more American than that. Here’s how you make it!
- 1 quart of moonshine
- 3 cans of frozen apple concentrate
- 8 cinnamon sticks
- 0-2 cups of brown sugar to taste
Sugar Shine Mash
The first step is to create a mash. This is the slurry that, once fermented, becomes alcoholic.
To keep the flavor neutral and production convenient, use a sugar mash.
This is accomplished by heating up normal sugar and water. Next, yeast is added to the mixture and everything is poured into an airlock bucket. Finally, after fermentation is complete, it's time to distill the mash.
Distilling Your Sugar Mash
You will need some distilling equipment for this process.
Simply pour your mash into the still and fire her up. You'll want to dial in the temperature so that there are about 3 drips per second going into the jar.
This step takes a bit of expertise, you can read this detailed summary of how to make moonshine.
Note: Be sure to dispose of your foreshots, these are extremely toxic.
Apple Pie Flavoring
Once you have your moonshine jarred, it's time to transform it into apple pie moonshine!
Combine the moonshine, apple concentrate, cinnamon sticks, and brown sugar* and allow to steep overnight.
*The amount of brown sugar used will vary depending on how sweet you like your moonshine to taste.
Soon you’ll be sipping on an ironic, value-storing, history-rich, absolutely delicious jar of 150 proof Americana. Bottoms up and cheers to taking a walk in the moonlight!
Bonus: How to Make Pemmican, the Original Survival Food
Invented by the natives of North America pemmican was used by Indian scouts as well as early western explorers.
Native Americans spent a great deal of time on the go and depended on having portable, high-energy, highly nutritious, and filling foods that would last for long periods of time without refrigeration.
Pemmican is a portable, long-lasting, high-energy food. It's made of lean, dried meat that's crushed into powder and mixed with hot, rendered fat. This makes it one of the ultimate foods to have stockpiled for when SHTF or disaster strikes.
People really should avert their gaze from the modern survival thinking for just a bit and also look at how folks 150 years ago did it.
These guys were the last generation to practice basic things, for a living, that we call "survival skills" now.