The History of Moonshine

Moonshine is a rich part of American history. A drink that went virtually unchanged for over 100 years is still prevalent to this day. While moonshine is illegal in many states, its impact on the spirits industry should never be overlooked.

What is Moonshine?

Moonshine is a mixture of cornmeal, yeast, water and sugar. All four of these ingredients are combined and distilled to make moonshine. The name “moonshine” is derived from the activity of moonshining, which was the process of making alcohol deep in the woods under the light of the moon.


Moonshine emerged in popularity around the time of the American Revolution. After just fighting a war, America was struggling to pay their expenses. The solution was to place a federal tax on liquors and spirits. After fighting for freedom from British taxes, the American people were not happy with this notion. Instead of giving in to the federal liquor taxes, many Americans decided to create their own alcohol. For many farmers, creating alcohol was not a hobby, but a survival tactic. If farmers were having a bad season, they found that they could easily rely on alcohol to make a living.

As time went on, anger towards the taxation rose. Many people were not happy about the tax and wanted their opinions to be heard. Tax collectors were beaten, even tarred and feathered. The first major battle over liquor in the newly established U.S government took place in 1794 in Pittsburgh, where several hundred angry people rioted against the tax. This time in history was called the Whiskey Rebellion, a time when the moonshine movement was in full effect.

Why is Moonshine illegal?

There are many federal laws around the production and sale of moonshine.  It is illegal in many states because of the many dangers it poses. Stills that are not well cared for can easily contaminate the alcohol, leading to a variety of very serious health problems. According to the CDC, frequent moonshine drinkers may have a concerning amount of lead in their blood stream. Moonshine also consists of very high amounts of methanol, which can lead to blindness and even death.  Long term problems include major neurological damage, paralysis, and lead poisoning. With such dangerous side effects, it is a no-brainer that moonshine is illegal today.

In addition to the health problems moonshine poses, it also costs much more than other spirits. The government is unable to tax moonshine because most sales of the spirit are done through bootlegging. Every year, the government loses money to illegal moonshine sales. This is another reason why it is illegal to privately produce and sell moonshine.

Moonshine is a very important part of the history of American spirits. Throughout history, it provided a means of income for many people, and it helped fuel the American citizen’s desires for change. If you are interested in learning more about spirits and liquor, stop by Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, MA. The members of our team are experts on all things liquor, and would love to help you find your new favorite drink!

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