MOONSHINE is often used to describe a liquor that is traditionally made, or at least distributed, illegally.
The practice can be traced back to the Prohibition era of the 1930s and the drinks are often still mimicked and served in the southern states.
What is moonshine?
Moonshine is a generic slang term that refers to potently strong and illegally made alcoholic spirits.
The word was first associated with bootleggers who were attempting to make and sell alcohol during the Prohibition era.
In modern times, Moonshine is still used to describe illegal homemade alcohol, some certified distillers will often sell beverages that are described as moonshine for novelty value or to describe its stronger-than-usual taste.
Some moonshine producers will seek to offer reproductions of clear high-proof homemade alcohol from the Prohibition era.
But moonshine can be used to describe anything that pertains to be strong, homemade, and illicit – such as strong types of whiskey or "bathtub" gin.
Different languages and countries have their own terms for Moonshine.
In English, moonshine is also known as mountain dew, choop, hooch, homebrew, mulekick, shine, white dog, white lightning, white/corn liquor, pass around, firewater, and bootleg.
Why is making moonshine illegal in the US?
Across the US and most parts of Europe, distilling is against the law.
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There are many reasons that governments choose to prevent their citizens from making their own alcohol.
In fact, even buying or owning any type of still (the vessel used to distill spirits) is illegal in many countries.
Officially, the US government regards moonshine as a “fanciful term” and doesn’t regulate its use.
However, distillers are required to hold permits to ensure both traceability and quality control of alcoholic beverages.
Until 1978, it was illegal to home-brew liquor or beer.
But a growing number of oenophiles and beer connoisseurs wanted to make their own, and they helped pressure Congress to decriminalize home-brews across the country.
Today, federal rules say a household with two adults can brew up to 200 gallons of wine and the same amount of beer each year.
What's the penalty for making moonshine?
Within Title 26 of the United States Code, section 5602 sets out criminal penalties for various activities.
These activities include:
- Possession of an unregistered still
- Engaging in business as an un-certified distiller with intent to defraud the United States
- Producing distilled spirits without a license
- Removal or concealment of distilled spirits on which tax has not been paid
- Selling illegal spirits, which defrauds the US government of "rightful taxation"
Offenses under this section are considered felonies that are punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both, for each offense.
There have been modern-day attempts on the state level to legalize the home distillation of alcohol, for example, the New Hampshire state legislature has tried repeatedly to pass laws allowing unlicensed home distillation of small batches.
In 2023, Ohio introduced legislation to do the same, with other states likely to follow.
Is moonshine dangerous?
Yes, moonshine or strong, homemade alcoholic drinks – are dangerous.
Without proper training and licenses, people attempting to make and distill their own spirits are not aware of the proper use of its primary ingredient – ethanol.
People can become seriously sick, go blind, or even die from poorly-made alcoholic spirits.
The process of distillation is a dangerous practice if done improperly.
Not only can amateur distillers inadvertently poison people but stills are highly explosive.
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The incidence of impure moonshine has been documented to significantly increase the risk of renal disease among those who regularly consume it, primarily from increased lead content.
Outbreaks of methanol poisoning have occurred when methanol has been accidentally produced in moonshine production or has been used to adulterate moonshine.
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