Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners brings to light what we all know, but do not talk about. In spite of questionable legality, Americans brew moonshine at home. What many do not realize is that more people are distilling moonshine than ever before — at home and in a professional setting.
Moonshine Then and Now
Legal disputes about moonshine started after the American Revolution. In its infancy, the American government imposed a high tax on spirits. Taxes on high-proof concoctions, like moonshine, were especially steep. Many began to combat the excessive tax by ignoring it altogether, starting the movement of illegally brewing moonshine at home.
Although Americans have been distilling their own moonshine for years, many have shown an especially keen interest in recent months. Still distributor Mike Haney told NPR that his sales “have doubled every year for three years since he opened.” This spike in sales does not necessarily mean that consumers are brewing moonshine. “When they sell a still, [manufacturers] must assume that customers are interested in making perfumes, distilled water, or some other legal liquid,” NPR continues. Even so, others tell NPR — when customers purchase stills along with “suspiciously large amounts of corn, sugar, and hardy strains of fermenting yeast…. We know what they’re up to.”
So Is It Legal?
The answer is more complicated than you might think. Although the federal government bans distilling of spirits (because they are not taxed), this is not always perfectly in-line with state laws. “In Missouri, for example, a person 21 or over may produce up to 100 gallons of spirits per year for personal consumption without a permit,” NPR reports. In other states, although it may be illegal to brew moonshine, it is legal to purchase a still, a moonshine still kit, and moonshine mix. Moreover, there are no laws against brewing wine and beer at home.
Time magazine suggests that the modern definition of moonshine is somewhat liberal. “Today, moonshine is generally used as a catchall term for unaged white whiskeys, many of which are made in Tennessee and North Carolina.” Anyone attempting to brew moonshine or white whiskeys at home should proceed with caution. In addition to potential legal consequences, homebrewers should also know that high-proof spirits are extremely flammable and still kits may not be wholly reliable.
Others, including Tennessee’s Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery and Foothills Distillery in North Carolina, legally brew white whiskeys and moonshine. (The spirits are taxed in accordance with U.S. laws.) Ole Smoky’s biggest sellers are flavored moonshines. Time adds, “65% of its moonshine sales are flavored, and the distillery has even advertised flavored moonshines as Mother’s Day gifts. The company’s lineup includes apple pie, blackberry, peach and cherry flavors — all of which, [owner Joe]Baker says, are authentic to the spirit’s heritage.” Once Foothills Distillery obtains all legal permits it plans to “produce a 100 proof white whiskey and an 80 proof aged whiskey packaged under the Copperhead Craft Spirits brand as white and gold venom,” according to the Winston-Salem Journal.