If It’s Legal, Is It Still “Moonshine”??

Moonshine. What images come to mind when you hear that word? Old Chevys racing down dirt roads? Hidden shacks in the woods? Long beard hillbillies in overalls? A mason jar full of kick-your-butt in liquid form? Moonshine is basically its own brand – authentic, slightly exotic, filled with risk, worth seeking out – so it’s no wonder that distilleries, legal ones, are popping up and trying to leverage the “Moonshine brand.”

Anyone who has ever heard of Popcorn Sutton knows something of the magic of moonshine (and if you haven’t heard of Popcorn and his brilliant but tragic life, do some research and check this out and this and definitely buy a copy of Chasing the White Dog to read). And anyone who has tasted the real thing, the good stuff, not some throwaway bathtub mockery of the real thing, likely has a fondness in their heart for the magic of moonshine. These folks, I’m guessing, will not be jumping on the “legal moonshine” bandwagon. For there is no way that a mason jar bought at the local liquor store can replicate the magic of honest-to-goodness, backwoods, quality moonshine. The product may be great, the packaging may be beautiful, but the soul, the shared risk, is simply not there. And then there’s the semantics of calling a legal product “moonshine” – a moniker that has its roots in the very illegality of that product. Can a store-bought whiskey really be “moonshine”?

Despite our quibbles with the pre-empting of the moonshine brand by legal distilleries, we don’t want to disparage the products of these new distilleries that are marketing “legal moonshine.” For example, there’s no doubt that the folks behind Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine have a true reverence for the history of moonshine in Tennessee and will do their best to do that legacy justice. From their website…”When Tennessee state law recently changed to allow the distillation of spirits, we saw an opportunity to showcase the art of superior mountain-made moonshine. The Ole Smoky recipes are the product of the hard work and experience of local families who have made moonshine in the mountains for the last two hundred years.” They are simply working hard to take that brand, the “Moonshine brand,” and commercialize it. And it looks like they are on their way to success. The esteemed (and very expensive) Blackberry Farm in Tennessee has featured Ole Smoky’s “Moonshine” and “Moonshine Cherries” in a cocktail recipe (called The Hillbilly & Tonic) sent out to their many fans. Ole Smoky’s products are popping up in stores across the South. They may even convince some of the folks who have experienced the “real thing” to try the “legal moonshine.” Hey, we even look forward to trying them. But, in our minds, “legal moonshine” is simply an oxymoron. Call it unaged whiskey, call it white lightnin’, call it “kick ass stuff,” but, in our book, it’s not Moonshine.

Update: check out our visit to Ole Smoky and tasting notes on their moonshine.

16 Replies to “If It’s Legal, Is It Still “Moonshine”??”

  1. Mountain Dew to me.

    Did you know the soft drink got that name because it was originally used as a chaser for ‘shine? Fun fact of the day.

  2. I’ve tried some of the legal ‘shine in TN and I have to say I’m impressed. I’ve never been lucky enough to have a moonshine contact in the past (though I’ve no compunctions about violating the law and no problem keeping my mouth shut, so I may not say so if I had). Now that I’ve tried it I know what I was missing out on – and why it’s illegal. A nice sippable hard liquor with a wonderful taste and smooth sensation that doesn’t punish you for drinking? The puritans must have loathed it, it’s pleasurable in every way.

  3. moonshine is legal to still if you get a permit to do it but the permit can cost $300 or more and you also have all the taxes and laws associated with it if you plan on selling it but if you just want to drink it you still need a permit but i am not sure about the taxes. Going leagal is not easy but it sure beats getting busted. I hope this helps out and good luck.

  4. What makes moonshine so special is the fact your not supposed to have it. This is NOT shine, just a knockoff. I’m from KY and the law there is that it’s a misdemeanor to distill moonshine. It’s a felony to distribute or transport. Like Tickle says, “Ain’t nothin illegal til ya get caught.” Also a lot of moonshiners still produce illegal spirits because there aren’t enough jobs to go around. They have no industry or business to support their family’s. Making moonshine is all they know to provide for their families and its a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation. The only good paying jobs in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky is working in the mines or railroads. If your not one of the fortunate ones to land one of those jobs, life is a struggle at best. All the federal government is worried about is collecting they’re tax money. I’m proud of my heritage and where I’m from and this so called moonshine they produce legally is, in my opinion an insult and a slap in the face to myself and anyone else to whoever’s tried the real deal.

  5. legal or illegal its still the same ingredients made the same way.so what if it wasnt made in the woods or with risk u cant taste the woods or the risk

    1. Incorrect chad. Moonshine is the name for the end product of illegally distilled liquor. WHISKEY would be the term, or better yet just distilled liquor, to describe what you are saying is made with the same ingredients and methods…


  7. So then if the moonshine that is sold in stores isn’t good enough, then what exactly do you recommend? Don’t say everclear. That stuff is stronger than anything you’ll ever try. I’ve been looking for a white/clear drink (such as corn whiskey) but the only goodness I can find is the ole smokey moonshine. I know it’s not the real deal but can you recommend something that’s at least close?

    1. Victor, while I haven’t tried all the commercially available “moonshine,” there are a few that I can recommend (and a lot that I wouldn’t). One is from Troy & Sons in NC (see http://www.thirstysouth.com/2012/04/27/two-takes-on-white-whiskey/). Another, more commercial, and less moonshine than unaged whisky, is from George Dickel (see http://www.thirstysouth.com/2014/02/19/dickel-white-no-1-corn-whisky-barrel-select-tennessee-whisky/). If you want a “whiskey” that is approaching vodka, then the American Spirit Whiskey out of SC/GA works well.

  8. Why, hell! If you want real moonshine, just take a bottle of white lighting and run it through your radiator a couple o’ times. That’ll add that blindness and death risk factor into your shine.

  9. I bought a jar today to try it and I love it! Personally I’ve never had “real” moonshine but unless you have a hook up to it you’ll never get it. So this is just a way for people to enjoy the tradition of moonshine legally.

  10. Legal moonshine is still real shine people it may not be made in the woods but it is still real shine. You hear people bitching about how it is vodka, it don’t taste anything like vodka nor smell like it. Ole smokey is real shine made with real ingredients same with climax shine from Tim Smith. The only difference is that with legal shine you have to pay gay taxes. Think about it, is weed you buy from a dispensary different than the weed you buy on the street, no just that the weed you get from the club is more fire but it’s still weed.

  11. I would love to try moonshine ,. Which brand is the ” Real stuff ” or close to it. I’m getting confused with everyone saying this brand is better then the other. I’ve been told that to be careful that some brand aren’t the real thang and to be careful. My great grandfather use to make it in tenn. when he was yonger. I was hoping to taste it . please help me! glad to see that they state stores in western pa sale old smokey and another brand called, Hatfield and McCoy Moonshine . Also, a few others that I haven’t herd of. I decided on Old Smokey, but I wanted to know yalls opinion first. Thank for taking the time to read this.

  12. I’m lucky enough to get real, locally mountain made, untaxed ‘shine sometimes, and it IS the best thing I’ve ever had- with no hangovers or funky aftertaste! But I am looking at the store -bought ones to get me by in between…so thanks for the info on them. I know what they are supposed to taste like: crisp, light, fresh, clean and it will tingle and numb your gums (110 proof) but not burn yer throat. Haw!

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