Those who know a little bit about alcohol eventually ask the question… “What’s the difference between whiskey and moonshine?”
The short answer? Absolutely nothing. Both whiskey and moonshine have the same production process – give or take a few variables.
“Moonshine” came to be distinguished from whiskey for its illegal nature rather than it being a different type of alcohol – moonshine is just whiskey that hasn’t been taxed. The practice of making moonshine began early on in American history when the newly-established US government established a tax on liquor and spirits to help pay for the costs of the Revolution. Feisty colonial whiskey fans, many of whom were farmers who supported their families in bad harvest years with their alcoholic product, refused to pay for the tax, leading to an underground whiskey trade.
Moonshine making continued from then on up until Prohibition went into effect in 1920, when its popularity exploded. Suddenly, because there was no legal whiskey available anywhere, moonshine was in high demand, and the distillers who were used to evading the law already began to make a fortune. The practice of using sugar as a base for moonshine became more common as distillers tried to stretch their profits further. After Prohibition, moonshine’s popularity naturally fell until it became more or less known as a backwoods country phenomenon.
Historically, the taste of moonshine was closer to vodka than it is to a dark-colored whiskey. That’s because moonshine was rarely if ever aged – the process of acquiring and storing oak barrels for aging would have been very difficult undercover. The taste could vary, though, since there were no legal standards. That’s part of what made moonshine somewhat dangerous – not only for the distiller, who could get caught and thrown in jail, but also for the drinker, who could go blind if the distiller was careless or greedy and did not remove the methanol naturally generated by the distillation process.
Of course, Grand River Spirits is a legal distillery – so our “moonshine” labeling is simply a fun homage to American history and our roots in Southern Illinois. It also means we follow all industry best practices and our spirits are perfectly safe to drink (in moderation, of course). But that doesn’t mean our spirits are any less exciting!