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Unread postby cowdery » Thu Oct 18, 2007 2:27 pm

"Moonshine" means illegally distilled spirits and nothing else.

Since moonshine is rarely aged, it resembles bourbon white dog in that respect, but only in that respect.

As Mike said, most moonshiners, at least of the 20th and 21st centuries, use table sugar either primarily or exclusively. I have spoken to a lot of moonshiners and haven't found one yet who claimed to use anything else. They also usually use bread yeast, not whiskey yeast.

Most of what you will read about moonshine is a lot of romantic hooey. Most moonshine is crap. End of story.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Oct 18, 2007 4:50 pm

Moonshine is crap that could blind you or even kill you.
Mike Veach
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Unread postby EllenJ » Thu Oct 18, 2007 7:52 pm

You specifically said 'good moonshine'.

Now, leaving aside the rather pathetic opinion that if your product violates the federal tax code then it must, by definition, be "crap" that may blind you, let's look at a decent answer to your question...

Defining "moonshine" as non-commercially produced liquor, there are basically two general kinds. The more commonly-EXPERIENCED variety is a liquor made primarily from table sugar (Dixie Crystal) and is, technically, a form of rum, not whiskey at all. It is produced for profit, of course, as is Buffalo Trace or Parker's Reserve. Unlike those, however, there is a certain degree of contempt for the consumer on the part of the moonshine distiller. This type of liquor is thought of -- by it's producer -- as trash, fit only for extracting a profit from suckers, most of whom the distiller would likely catagorize with a name beginning with "N".

It is everything that Chuck and Mike implied it is.

But, as you can probably guess from the legal definition that Chuck pointed out, the term "moonshine" also applies to ANY non-commercial (and therefore, non-tax-paid) liquor. Including the finest of craft distillers' products, and to the sort of excellent corn whiskey that the same "hootch" distillers produce for home consumption. Unlike some of the authorities who may by quoted here, the Goddess and I have enjoyed many hours sipping truly excellent "whiskey" (doesn't always conform to legal definitions) with people who make it available for a very select clientelle.

Mostly (but certainly not always), this is unaged liquor.
Mostly (but certainly not always), this is liquor (whiskey) made from pure corn or pure rye.
Mostly (but certainly not always), this is liquor that is made to be, not a cheaper version of something else, but a unique product in its own right.
Mostly (but ABSOLUTELY not always), something that actually tastes good.

Personally, I think good corn (or rye) whiskey, like Beaujolais wine, is tastiest when drunk young. Chuck enjoys Mellow Mash, which is a corn whiskey aged a couple years (in used oak, since it couldn't be called "corn whiskey" if they used new oak), but I'm not hot on that one. I feel that fresh is better than "slightly" aged. Now, if you take your corn whiskey and age it in NEW oak, for a long time -- like maybe 12 or 13 years -- what you have is pretty much what Old Charter Classic 90 is. Charter is about 80% or more corn (the rest being rye and malted barley -- no sugar) and thus, when aged in new oak, qualifies as straight bourbon. But most bourbon has more rye than that and tastes (a little) different. A moonshiner's "good stuff" would probably also contain a high percentage of corn, and (if aged as you suggest) would likely resemble Old Charter.

There are two important exceptions, however...

(1) Even the best moonshiner's BEST "whiskey" is liable to contain things not allowed in commercial whiskey. Sugar might be one. Maple syrup is likely to be another. Maybe some apples or peaches, too.

(2) If, once upon a time, the moonshiner ever actually DID duplicate Old Charter, he'd have immediately stopped using that recipe. Moonshiners' pride comes from the uniqueness of their product. Only a liquor merchant would find reason to be proud of producing a "taste-alike"
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Unread postby cowdery » Fri Oct 19, 2007 2:01 am

While everything John says is true, naturally, it is true mostly in theory. E.g., "Including the finest of craft distillers' products, and to the sort of excellent corn whiskey that the same 'hootch' distillers produce for home consumption."

Very, very, very few for-profit moonshiners make a specialty product for their own consumption. More often, they are using their ill-gotten gains to buy Jack Daniel's for their own consumption.

The people John is talking about are, for the most part, hobbyists, some with family heritage in the craft, who make small amounts of quality product for their own consumption and that of a few close friends, who would never run the risk of selling it. They're not leprechauns. They do exist, but lots of luck finding them.

What concerns Mike and I is that romanticizing moonshine leads people to take unreasonable and irresponsible risks for little benefit. At its best, "good" moonshine is comparable to good commercially-made white dog, but no better. At its worst, drinking moonshine can cause severe injury or death.

While we may disagree about some of the above, there should be no disagreement about the following:

"Moonshine" is not a type or style of spirit. The term describes any distillate made without benefit of a license.

There are no special ingredients, equipment or techniques involved in making moonshine. The only difference is that due to its transgressive nature, moonshine operations are usually very improvised and primitive.

Moonshiners are not some kind of superior artisans who choose to live off-the-grid. At best, they are competent and careful distillers whose skill is comparable to that of licensed distillers, but not better.

Moonshine is not what the sainted distillers of yore made and consumed. The concept of "moonshine" only exists when its counterpart, licensed and regulated distillate, exists.

Just as being "moonshine" doesn't make it necessarily good, neither does it make it necessarily bad. It's not particularly difficult for a distiller with a modicum of knowledge to make a safe distillate. If you know and trust the maker, the risk in consuming that person's product is usually small.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 19, 2007 9:33 am

As I said, never drink moonshine unless you are sure of the sorce. Too many of them use old car radiators for condensing coil adding huge amounts of lead to the alcohol. Too many of them don't cut the heads from the distillate because they are more concerned with quantity that they can sell, not quality that leaves the poisons out of the alcohol. It is dangerous to drink moonshine bought off the street.

However, if you know of someone who does make moonshine simply for personal consumption and uses a copper still and worm. You can get a good spirit. I say spirit because even if they use 100% grain, unless they age it in oak, it is not a whiskey. I recently had some moonshine whiskey, aged for several months in a barrel, that was quite good. The person that makes it does so for personal consumption so I knew it would be well made because he was not going to poison himself by using lead in the process or not cutting the heads and tails properly. As good as it was, I had just as soon drink a well aged bourbon.
Mike Veach
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Unread postby Bucc58 » Tue Oct 23, 2007 12:10 pm

I know how hard it must be for some of you to talk to a person with just a very basic understanding of the bourbon and alcohol industry but this is very helpful. I do understand about the dangers. I only drink that which I know is trustworthy. I had a guy that was a friend of a friend hear that I liked moonshine and gave me a jar. I was very greatful of the jesture and took a tiny sip and acted like it was quality stuff. Put the lid back on and said 'I would save it for a special time'. And in all fairness, it was a special time when I poured it down the sink. Terrible tasting stuff anyways. The original thought for this whole conversation was, could I make any product worth drinking if I took 'good' moonshine and put it in a new barrel and aged it for 10+ years? Maybe I will try and let you guys know. Old Charter -- So easy a leprechaun could do it! Again, I thank all ya'll.
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Unread postby cowdery » Tue Oct 23, 2007 2:19 pm

Joe,

Although they don't do any actual distilling there, you have a significant outpost of the spirits business there in Fort Smith, a big Pernod-Ricard operation where all of the Hiram Walker liqueurs are made and where various products, including Wild Turkey bourbon, are bottled.

Nice town, Fort Smith. I had a very enjoyable experience there giving a presentation at the local history museum. Also took the chance to visit the Spiro Mounds site across the border, a very important pre-Columbian site.
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