Alcohol that is illegally distilled and made, has many different names: white lightenin’, corn liquor, corn squeezins’, etc.

The term, moonshine

Came over with early settlers from Britain. It was used to describe most anything that was and had to be done late at night. Running an illegal still usually has to be ran at night to escape the authorities, so the term fit them and they picked it up and it’s still that to this day.


The people that transport and sell the moonshine, got their name from colonial times when they would hide the bottles in their tall riding boots. As the times changed they went to using souped up automobiles to try to out run the authorities. The bragging rights of fastest cars and drivers led up to the forming of NASCAR.


In the early days they would use grains like rye, barley, and corn. Different grains produce different ‘flavors’, but for the past century or better, most moonshine has been made exclusively from corn. The addition of sugar, water and yeast make up the mash that is then distilled into whiskey.


Many things factored into the decisions to make illegal whiskey those many years ago. Most namely though was and is the government control and taxation of the alcohol industry. After the Revolutionary War, the government needed money to pay for that war and started taxing liquors and spirits.

Colonialists that had just fought and won their freedom from Britain and those taxes didn’t take kindly to being taxed and they didn’t stop making their whiskey, and in 1794 there was an uprising in Pittsburgh, Pa. Against those liquor taxes and the President, George Washington, called on the militia to quell the uprising and take the leaders into custody. This is known as, The Whiskey Rebellion.

Difference between legally sold whiskeys and moonshine

It is the color and the potency or proof that is the difference. Moonshine is clear as water and it is not aged or cut and is usually about 150 to 170 proof whereas spirits produced today at distilleries are aged in charred, oaken, barrels giving it it’s caramel color and the liquor is cut and distilled down to about 80 proof.

Filed under: Facts of Kentucky

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