Food & Drink | January 21, 2016 9:00 am

Your Guide to Legal Moonshine

It’s America’s original craft spirit. Celebrate it.

By The Editors

Once the stuff of hirsute men dressed in blue overalls and burlap shoes ducking the local sheriff, moonshine has gone legit.

Some young distilleries leverage its highly marketable history to help get the name out while the good stuff (i.e., bourbon) ages. Others celebrate it as America’s original micro-distilled craft spirit and devote their resources solely to traditional white lightning.

Yet moonshine still bears a chancy reputation as undrinkable rocket fuel (as well as the occasional legal issue). A reputation further complicated by the lack of a solid definition: just what exactly should be in a bottle labeled “moonshine” is a debate in and of itself.

The first test for sizing up a jug of legal firewater is to check the label and see what’s inside it. Steer clear of anything made with “neutral grain spirits.” This is the rotgut used to make heavy metal parking lot favorite Everclear. It’s inauthentic and more akin to cheap vodka than real-deal moonshine. Sugar ‘shine is another doubtful brew, made wholly from sugar and a close relative of rum.

Serious Southern moonshine is unaged corn whiskey, similar to maize-forward, new-make bourbon. This is why bluegrass musicians call it “corn in a jar.” In between this and the sugar stuff is corn and sugar moonshine. During Prohibition, many illicit distillers embraced the existing practice of spiking their corn whiskey recipes with sugar, which was cheaper and less prone to alert the cops than big orders of corn and malted barley.

What follows are five prime examples of the good stuff.

Casey’s Cut 92

Named for Casey Jones, the man who built many of the stills used by Western Kentucky moonshiners back in your Grandad’s day, this is a half-corn, half-sugar hooch that brings together the sharp, crisp aspect of sugar ‘shine with the smooth and sweet grain flavor of good corn whiskey.

Dawsonville Georgia Corn Whiskey
NASCAR traces its roots to North Georgia bootleggers and the V-8 hot rods they used to haul moonshine and ditch the man, and Dawsonville is at the center of that hill-country legacy. Their Georgia Corn Whiskey is made for summer nights on the patio.

LBL 1950s Style Moonshine

This Western Kentucky corn whiskey comes in at 100 proof, and the extra strength gives it more heft than kick. The robust, husky corn flavors make it a savory sipping whiskey with a character to stand out on ice or in cocktails.

Manhattan Moonshine

Developed by Will Kehler and distilling author Ian Smiley, this is a four-grain Yankee whiskey with two unusual mashbill features: it uses oats, and doesn’t use corn. It’s the perfect moonshine for upscale cocktails.

Troy and Sons Platinum
If you want to bring a little sipping ‘shine with you on your next outdoor adventure, you can’t do much better than corn whiskey from Asheville, one of America’s top outdoor sports towns. Made with local heirloom white corn, it’s as flavorful as it is mellow.Shine on.

—Richard Thomas