There are few things more Appalachian than moonshine.
The outlaw liquor, often portrayed in the media as a jug with “XXX” on it to signify how many times it’s been run through the still, was simply homemade whiskey, often made at night.
Crafted in the mountains, moonshine — like many other Appalachian delicacies — was created from what was available in the area and derived from generational recipes over many years.
The problem, though, was that it was produced without government authorization. So, it was this bootleg booze for Mountaineers throughout history — for a number of reasons.
Not only was moonshine developed with available ingredients to consume but, by the 20th century, moonshining became an occupation for many Appalachians. With limited road networks, transportation was often expensive and difficult.
According to “Moonshine, Mountaineers, and Modernity: Distilling Cultural History in the Southern Appalachian Mountains” in the Journal of Appalachian Studies (2012), “One could transport much more value in corn if it was first converted to whiskey. One horse could haul 10 times more value on its back in whiskey than in corn.”
But like many Appalachian delicacies, e.g. ramps and morels, moonshine has caught the eye of folks who finally recognize the ingenuity in these mountains.
In recent years, the term “moonshine” has been applied to legal booze in order to market an elusive, mischievous drinking experience.
Merriam-Webster reflects this change, defining “moonshine”:
moon·shine (noun): intoxicating liquor, especially: illegally distilled corn whiskey; Synonyms: bootleg, mountain dew, white lightning
This switch to a more mainstream product tends to follow a routine. Moonshine was developed from what was available. Difficult terrain and roads limited accessibility to products, so the need was more utilitarian. But now, it’s trendy.
You can purchase moonshine at a local distillery or grocery store. And, there are more flavors than ever before: paw paw, strawberry lemonade and more.
And, I personally love seeing when Appalachian products are appreciated by a larger pool of people — granted, Appalachians receive the credit they deserve for their creativity.
Nonetheless, navigating how moonshine has transcended from mountain drink to city cocktail seems much in line with other Appalachian specialties. But, because of its very nature, it has stirred a debate on whether or not it’s the same product. When you take the hooch from its home, is it still hooch?
If it’s “legal,” is it still “moonshine”?