Last Updated on July 24, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team
Moonshine is an alcoholic drink that most people in the western world recognise, I even remember it as a child while watching cartoon wolves drink from a bottle labelled ‘XXX’. It’s also a pretty historic drink that permeates through American history, especially the period of Prohibition, which is one of the main factors in the drink’s legality.
But many people are curious what Moonshine actually is and if it is actually legal, is it dangerous, and why is there still moonshine sold on grocery store shelves? Read on to answer these questions and more. If someone wants to come after you can always pick up some pepper spray and protect yourself too.
What is Moonshine?
Typically, Moonshine is clear whiskey that has been distilled and potentially aged outside of a barrel. Whiskey, and Bourbon, usually gain their brown and dark colours from being aged in wood barrels for long periods of time. Moonshine isn’t usually aged, and rarely in a barrel, so it remains clear but is essentially a form of whisky.
The name Moonshine comes from the fact it is usually made at night in order to avoid detection from the authorities. It was originally made in Britain where the term originated but made its way to America with the rest of the pilgrims. By the Prohibition era the drink became quite popular and was made across the country.
There’s nothing special about the way moonshine is made, it’s simply a distilled and proofed liquor that is made with similar methodology to how Gin or Whiskey is made.
So, Is Moonshine Illegal?
Yes, the manufacture of Moonshine, or any unlicensed manufacture of any alcohol, is very illegal in the United States. Although, perhaps surprisingly to some, the illegality of Moonshine comes down to tax rather than any toxicity or danger within the drink. The government isn’t worried about you going blind, they’re worried about tax payments. In this vein, sometimes ‘Moonshine’ is a term simply used to describe any alcohol that has been made illicitly.
The practice of making moonshine and other illicit alcohol was a trend in the south of America mainly by farmers and other working class people who simply wanted to create their own goods as they did by growing their own crops and the like. This was affected greatly by the debt incurred to America after the American Revolution which some historians suggest was as large as $43 million.
In order to deal with this debt, the government had to raise taxes, and in order to raise funds further they decided to crack down on clandestine alcohol distillation which was untaxed at the time. The result was what was referred to as the Whiskey Rebellion where George Washington led a crackdown on the farmers who refused to pay this excise tax. The irony was that the Americans were paying tax to the British for a nuisance that the British actually brought to America in the first place.
The manufacture of Moonshine wasn’t made illegal until the Civil War Era, well, the manufacture of moonshine is legal as long as tax is paid. In 18622 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) passed the 1862 Revenue Act. This act essentially imposed tax on all alcohol, and made it illegal if alcohol is made without paying tax, specifically excise tax.
While, legality does change across the different states. For instance Missouri allows an individual to produce up to 100 gallons of spirits per year without a permit. Although, federal law still trumps your specific states law so you could still be indicted.
In different countries there are different laws, but most countries find that the manufacture of moonshine is illegal when unlicensed or untaxed. It is also illegal in Canada, for example, in Britain you can make beer and wine legally at home but spirits require a license and tax regulation.
In America, the common punishment for operating what is an innocent home distillery could land you over 10 years in prison if indicted. This is because you will be facing a tax evasion charge among other federal felonies. This can result in 10 years prison time on top of seizure of land and foreclosure of property.
But, Why Do I Still See Moonshine On the Shelves At My Grocery Store?
Well, you can still make Moonshine, but it has to be licensed, which most regular people don’t have the means to achieve so it is often made by large companies who sell what is labelled ‘Moonshine’ but is actually clear whiskey. Some people think this isn’t moonshine, some say that the term ‘Moonshine’ is referred solely for illegally created alcohol.
Obviously, Moonshine doesn’t really have a specific recipe as it has such a clandestine methodology that changes for each individual person. So it can be hard to judge what is moonshine and what isn’t moonshine.
Is Moonshine Dangerous?
Beyond the usual dangers of alcohol, the government, in a ploy to stop the black market sale of Moonshine, began to suggest that the distillation process was dangerous and could result in toxic metal particles within the drink.
This began a folk test for the quality and safety of moonshine that resulted in a few interesting terms that you might not realise come from the illegal distillation of Moonshine. THis folk test involved setting alight a spoonful of the distilled Moonshine. The theory was that if it was safe there would be a blue flame and if there was a red flame then it would be dangerous.
This resulted in the term ‘Lead burns red, and red equals dead’ which is associated a lot in Western American culture of cowboys, where moonshine was made among the outlawed cowboys who also were called ‘red deads’.
This does work to an extent as lead does actually burn red, but other toxic chemicals don’t so it only really works for lead.
Do People Still Make Moonshine?
Yes, funnily enough. Real companies that abide by tax laws do enjoy making clear whiskey which has been labelled ‘Moonshine’ and is still fairly common to see this all around America and especially in the southern states.
The southern states produce the most moonshine historically and we see this also in modern America. Those who live in the deep south and don’t often go to get supplies, due to their ability to source them from their own crops etc. As a result, they enjoy making their own alcohol, which they would usually have to go to the store to buy.
This gives them a sense of freedom that they enjoy and feel is their constitutional right. You can easily buy distillation kits online to ‘distill water’ but we know what’s going on, just be careful and work at your own discretion.