Distilling 101 - What makes "moonshine" moonshine?

We always get the question - what is moonshine anyway? So we thought to answer it the best we knew how!

What makes "moonshine" moonshine?

Moonshine doesn't technically have a classification in the way that "Bourbon" or "Vodka" does. Many different types of liquor have federally regulated definitions on how they are made and classified – moonshine does not.

With that being said, Moonshine, traditionally, is a non-aged spirit distilled from a combination of fermented sugar and grain. Unlike a whiskey, moonshine typically uses sugar to help the fermentation, while whiskies use 100% grain. This makes it a cheaper and more time efficient product to make. For example, our moonshine mash bill is 70% sugar and 30% corn.

Where did "moonshine" get its name?

The term "Moonshiner" was given to distillers who illegally made liquor under the "shine" of The Moon. So, the name “Moonshine” was applied to what they distilled. During and after prohibition, distillers wanting to make liquor for personal consumption or profit would distill alcohol in the woods at night to avoid being caught by Johnny Law. Today, moonshiners still exist (have you seen the show Moonshiners?!) but the term moonshine references the way the spirit is made.

What's the difference between the moonshine made in the backcountry and the moonshine made in Northside's still?

At Northside, we say, "Honest and no Frills." We stand by that. When it comes to our moonshine, we keep it as traditional as possible. The only difference between ours and, say, someone in the backcountry, is that ours is legally made and sold. Other than that, consider us Moonshiners!

Will I go blind from drinking it?

No, not by drinking ours at least. There is somewhat a "hazy" history with blindness and moonshine caused by the practice of making it. There are two reasons why someone may go blind from drinking moonshine. The first is due to an improper “cut” of the alcohol, and the second is that the alcohol is mixed with another liquid to extend the product.

When distilling, there are points in the process that you stop collecting liquor to either throw away or consume. This is called a “cut” and it’s to prevent toxins and ethanol from tainting the drinkable alcohol. Back in the day, non-professional distillers didn’t know how poisonous a non-cut batch of shine could be, so they didn’t cut the alcohol. One shot of a non-cut batch of shine could leave you blind, or worse.

Back in the day, moonshiners were trying their best to make a living by selling booze. And to make more money, they needed more product. To “extend” the amount of liquor they made, old time moonshiners would sometimes mix their alcohol with gasoline, rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, or anything they could to stretch their product. Drinking gasoline laced shine is a sure-fire way to go blind.

To be clear, at Northside, we are professional. No gasoline is added to our "corn squeeze."

How does Moonshine get different flavors?

Moonshine can get its flavor in two ways: naturally and un-naturally.

Natural flavoring references changes in the mash bill affect the flavor. What kind of sugar is used? What grains are used? All of this can affect the final outcome of the liquor.

Un-natural flavoring references the process of adding or infusing flavor into the liquor after its distilled. A lot of moonshine companies now will mix different flavors after the distillate, in the same way that you would mix a cocktail. For example, add some blackberry concentrate and some sugar to some distillate and you might have a blackberry moonshine.

Again, at Northside, our predecessors in the woods weren't drinking fruity shine so we don’t either. Traditional, no frills white lightning is what we make. The original Mountain Dew!

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