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What Is Moonshine | Is Moonshine Illegal

By
Joshua Weatherwax
Table of Contents

Do you have a passion for distilling and want to sell your drinks in different types of marketplaces? Or maybe you just want to learn the essentials of home distilling? In either case, it's important to understand the legality of moonshine and its ABV.

Alcohol by volume, or ABV, is the percentage of a drink’s volume that is pure alcohol. This number indicates the alcohol strength of a drink and is used in part for making popular cocktails and comparing different types of alcohol

Keep reading to learn what moonshine is, what the average ABV of moonshine is, what flavors it comes in, and more.

What’s Moonshine?

Moonshine is a high-proof liquor produced illegally without government authorization. It is called moonshine because it is traditionally illegally distilled during the night to avoid being discovered by law enforcement. Moonshine is noted for having a very high alcohol content and being distilled in a variety of handmade, ramshackle stills usually found in the woods or mountains. Moonshine became very popular during the Prohibition era, in which organized and unorganized criminals were involved. It is still made and consumed today.

What Is Moonshine Made From?

Moonshine can be made from any grain or fruit but is most commonly made using corn. Since the majority of people who distill their own spirits are farmers or live in rural areas, they tend to use whatever crop they have a surplus of for distilling into moonshine. Corn is often preferred both because of its abundance and because it is a good source of fermentable sugar.

Moonshine Alcohol Percentage | Moonshine Proof

Moonshine usually has an ABV of 40%, but can sometimes be as high as 60%-80% ABV. Alcohol content can be converted to proof by multiplying it by two. So, 40% ABV is 80-proof. The distilling process is the key to a spirit's alcohol content. Since moonshine is often made by untrained hands, it can vary greatly in alcohol content and even come out at an unsafe level. The alcohol content affects the freezing point of alcohol, how it affects you when you drink it, and more. We strongly recommend buying a hydrometer if you do any distilling as it can help you determine the ABV of your spirit.

Moonshine Flavors

Since moonshine can be created using nearly any grain or fruit, the flavors can be just as varied.

Here are a few of the most popular moonshine flavors:

  • Blackberry. A classic moonshine flavor, blackberry adds the perfect amount of sweetness to the often aggressive burn of moonshine. It's neither too overpowering nor too weak of a flavor to get the job done. If you're using moonshine in spring cocktails or summer cocktails, this is a must-try flavor.
  • Peppermint. A great choice for winter cocktails, peppermint moonshine can add a fresh taste to your favorite drink. Peppermint moonshine is noted for its crisp and refreshing taste that puts eggnog to shame.
  • Cherry. Often overlooked, cherry is actually a great choice for moonshine because the tartness complements the alcoholic bite fairly well. You can even leave the cherries in the jar for the added fun of eating laced cherries later on. Talk about a win-win.
  • Apple. One of the most popular flavors of moonshine, apple moonshine takes apple cider to the next level. Even better, since there's such a variety of apple types on the market, you can get different notes from sweet to tart. It's also a great mixer for fall cocktails and a nice drink for your fun Halloween parties.
  • Vanilla. The final flavor of moonshine we recommend giving a try is vanilla. Think of this a bit like a dessert wine as the drink can be quite sweet. However, this makes it a great choice for parties and for using a homemade mixer. It's truly a versatile option.

Is Moonshine Legal | Why Is Moonshine Illegal

Production of moonshine (or any spirit) without a permit or license is illegal in the United States. However, there are a few distillers that have taken to creating legal "moonshine" with government permission. Really, most people agree that they are simply using the term moonshine as a brand or restaurant marketing tool to increase sales as what they really distill is a clear alcohol. Moonshine technically only refers to an illegally distilled spirit.

Is Making Moonshine Illegal?

Yes, if you make moonshine without the proper permitting, it is a crime. However, as we noted above, you can get permits and licenses to distill and sell your own clear alcohol. Just make sure you follow all of the processes involved and get all the proper documentation before you start the process. You don't want to start making online liquor sales only to have your business closed by the government.

Frequently Asked Questions About Moonshine

People have been distilling their own alcohol for thousands of years and moonshine has a special place in American culture. However, this also means there are many misconceptions about moonshine that lead many people to have questions about the drink.

If you still have questions about moonshine or are learning about it for the first time, you’re in the right place. We researched frequently asked questions about moonshine so you don’t need to. Take a look at our answers below: 

What Type of Alcohol Is Moonshine?

Most experts agree that moonshine is a homemade, unaged whiskey. This may be surprising due to the clear color, but the distilling process and ingredients used are clear signs that it is a whiskey.

Is Moonshine 100 Percent Alcohol?

No, moonshine is not 100% alcohol. Generally, moonshine falls between 40% and 80% alcohol by volume, but the length of time and process used in distilling it will impact the content. It's important to note that high alcohol content can have severely detrimental effects on the human body, so drinking 100% alcohol is very dangerous.

Can You Buy Moonshine?

Yes, there are some commercial moonshines available to buy. However, moonshine purists do not consider these drinks to be "real" moonshine as the alcohol content is lower and they aren't necessarily distilled in the exact same manner.

Moonshine Bright Like A Diamond

Moonshine is a classic American beverage steeped in mystery. Whether you're distilling your own or buying moonshine, there's a wide variety of options at your disposal. That's why we recommend having an inventory management system in place, like BinWise Pro. 

BinWise Pro is an all-in-one inventory management system that helps you manage your wine program more effectively and successfully. It keeps track of every bottle’s expiration dates and shelf time. The system will alert you when a bottle is about to pass its drink-by date so you never waste your inventory again. Contact us to learn more about BinWise Pro and how it can help your bar.


The content of this article is for educational purposes only and BinWise does not advocate for the illegal distilling of moonshine or any other alcoholic beverages.