What is in Moonshine?
Moonshine is a term that gets thrown around a lot, however people don’t always 100 percent know what is in moonshine exactly. Most people have heard the name before and maybe have some idea of what it is but very often moonshine has misconceptions and some confusion with it. Okay, let’s get into what is, and what is in moonshine.
So What is Moonshine Exactly?
According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary Moonshine is, “A kind of alcoholic drink that people make illegally.”
While this is true, it doesn’t really explain what is in moonshine or details about it (like why it is illegal). When people refer to Moonshine usually what they are talking about is a clear, cornbased, unaged, and high proof (usually around 100-170 proof) liquor that is made from a homemade/non-commercial still.
A Brief History of Moonshine
Moonshine is actually a big part of American history. After the Revolutionary War the government imposed a tax on liquors and other alcoholic drinks, a lot of people at this time could not or did not want to pay this extra cost for liquor so they started making their own. That was the beginning of “moonshining” or homemade liquors.
You probably have heard about and know what the prohibition is; this was a time in the 1920’s where all types of alcohol were illegal. Of course people still wanted to drink, so many people had to rely on moonshine to drink. Most people didn’t make their own but rather bought bootleg moonshine from others who made it on a large scale. This was obviously illegal so the making of, distribution, and sale of moonshine would often all occur at night time; this is how the term “moonshine” started.
Since the prohibition ended in 1933 moonshine is not as widely consumed since buying alcohol is easy. However moonshine is still made and sold illicitly. Moonshining is illegal today because the government cannot tax it. However if moonshine is made, sold, and distributed by a business with a liquor license and it is sold legally (with tax) then it is not illegal. So in essence “moonshine” means any alcoholic spirit/liquor that is not legal to be sold. However traditional moonshine (corn based, unaged) can and is made and sold legally.
Okay now you know a little more about moonshine, so let’s get into what is actually in it (the ingredients of moonshine).
What are the Moonshine Ingredients?
Moonshine can be made out of a variety of things but the most common moonshine is made from:
- Corn Meal
- A Grain Mat, Such as Rye or Barley
There are numerous moonshine variations with different ingredients but that is the most classic and traditional one. Those ingredients are mixed, fermented, and distilled, resulting in moonshine as the final product. Other variations of moonshine will still ALWAYS have a nutrient (like corn meal), water, and yeast because they are needed for fermentation to occur. Other additives are optional and vary the flavor, appearance and type of alcohol that is produced.
Is Moonshine Harmful? Can You Go Blind From Drinking It?
A ton of myths have surfaced through the years about moonshine, one of the more common ones is that moonshine can make you go blind.
The answer is kind of complicated, it’s yes and no. Properly made moonshine (especially on a small scale) will not contain anything that makes you go blind. However back in the early days of moonshining occasionally someone would add unsafe things to the moonshine, like gasoline, paint thinner, or other dangerous chemicals. Additionally a high methanol content in moonshine (or anything for that matter) can cause blindness.
So What is Methanol?
Methanol is a type of alcohol that is not “drinking alcohol”, ethanol is the alcohol for consumption. But the catch is that there are very small, non toxic amounts of methanol in all alcohol that is meant for drinking (wine, beer, etc) it is just a natural part of the fermentation process. The problem is that methanol has a different boiling point than ethanol, so when distillation takes place, the first amounts of alcohol that come out will be methanol (which is dangerous). *If you do not know what distillation is or how it works click here* But any decent moonshiner back in the day would be aware of this and properly discard the initial alcohol produced and not let it be a part of their moonshine. And the “bad” moonshine makers would not discard the methanol which likely made some people very ill and possibly blind, hence giving credit to the claim that moonshine causes blindness.
On a small scale it is very unlikely enough methanol would be in the product to cause blindness but still proper precautions need to be taken.