Top-shelf Moonshine?

How did Moonshine get such a bad reputation? Up until the early 20th Century, farmers all over recognized the benefits of processing their crops into liquor. You could haul several times more grain to market when it was in liquid form, and you could probably command a higher price besides. This was just a skill that most everyone who worked the land knew, or was at least familiar with. They knew of course how to grow the grain, how to malt it to make sweet breads, how to mash it to make sweet drinks, how to ferment it to make beer, and how to distill it to make whiskey. So how did perception of this common practice get so jaded?

The easy answer is Prohibition, but its more than that. The thing is…Americans drank A LOT before prohibition. You know how folks nowadays might refer to the Irish as a nation of drinkers (no offense to Ireland)? That’s how the world viewed us in the beginning…but times ten. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the other groups who pushed Prohibition into law had a point. We really did drink like fish.

We now think Prohibition was a bad idea, and for the most part it was.  People were drinking anything they could get their hands on.  And they would get it from anyone, no matter how nefarious or unscrupulous.  It was at this time that organized crime really got organized.  You also find that people were making liquor any way they could.  They would make a still out of lead-lined car radiators.  They would sell wood alcohol (which is methanol, not ethanol…this is where the blindness myth came from.  Methanol can really make you go blind!) It is no wonder with all of this god-awful booze flowing from these “moonshiners” that people’s opinion of backwoods whiskey would take a turn for the worse.

We are going to take that reputation back.  There is an artistry and craftsmanship to Moonshine, as with any spirit. When you drink our hooch you’ll swear you smell the wood smoke from the farmhouse, you’ll hear the mule plowing the fields, you’ll taste the grain and the land it came from.

So Much Hooch, So Little Time!

Dang.  Talk about ADHD…Attention Deficit for Hooch Disorder.  I can’t sit still.  I want to try (and try to make) them all!  Researching the archives I find references to so many interesting ingredients it makes my blood boil!  There isn’t a type of liquor, made from any type of ingredient, that hasn’t been fretted over and loved by someone.  And I love them all!

I get in to whiskeys and I think about what the grain bill needs to be, then I think about what kind of yeast would be best, then I think about backset and how much to add or not add, then I think about this other type of whiskey and maybe malting the grains myself, and how to best bring out certain flavors, and what kind of barrel would be best for this particular whiskey, and then I think about this other whiskey and OH!….Brandies!  What if I made a nice apple brandy?  Any good apple brandy starts with a great hard cider…what kind of apples should I use?  What kind of yeast should I use? What kind of OH! Gin!  Oooohhh….Ould Tom…..

This is what goes through my head when I’m trying to sleep.  Or eat.  Or watch a movie.  Or whatever.  Hooch.  All the time.

This is why I study the history of distilling like I do:  it gives me a place to start and keeps me focused.  Henry Jesser made his moonshine out of corn, sugar and raisins.  Okay…let’s give that a shot and see what comes out.  Then we proceed from there.  Moonshiners down in the Harmony District were caught, in 1921, with a mash tun that had corn, wheat, and a lot of wild oats in it.  Done.  Delicious.  We’ll call that “Harmony Bust”.  A lot of folks around these parts used to make beet wine out of beets and sugar.  Beet Eau-de-Vie anyone?  Okay, maybe not….how about a malt winter wheat whiskey instead?

The Old Soapstone Stillhouse.  Standing on the shoulders of giants in order to see farther.