MASHING TO MOONSHINE: Moonshine production a time consuming process

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

Blue McNeal, of Mary's Liquor, showed a various selection of legal moonshine Thursday afternoon.

While there is a difference between legal and illegal moonshine, the production of the higher percent alcohol is time consuming.

Home brewed moonshine without a license is prohibited by the U.S. government and the crime is punishable of up to 10 years in prison.

The restrictions on the illegal drink boil down to taxes, and it all started after the government placed excise taxes on alcohol in order to pay off debts from the American Revolutionary War.

In 1862, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives passed the 1862 Revenue Act that imposed a tax on alcohol.

"The law is meant to collect taxes, including highly lucrative tariffs on imported distilled spirits and tobacco products," stated on inverse.com.

Moonshine is derived from corn mash and can contained 170 proof or 85 percent alcohol. However, many liquor stores carry a commercial production of moonshine.

Blue McNeal, of Mary's Liquor, said most of their selection of moonshine is produced in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

"We have a ton of different flavors; if you like the strong stuff we've got the Blueflame at 120 proof, if you like weird flavors there's cherries and pickles, and we even have a margarita flavor," said McNeal.

Creating the alcohol revolves around two tedious processes, fermentation and distillation.

Corn is ground into meal and that meal is soaked in hot water in a still, and sugar is sometimes added. Traditional moonshiners will add malt so that the starch in the corn meal is converted into sugar.

Yeast is added and that starts the fermentation process which is called mash.

The still and metal piping used are normally made of copper, and that conducts heat and will not contaminate the alcohol. The mash is heated with propane gas to 172 degrees.

The alcohol will evaporate and as pressure builds in the still, the alcohol steam is forced through a pipe that leads out of the top of the still. The steam will travel into a thump keg and the proof of alcohol steam will have doubled at this point.

The stream will travel through a coiled length pipe that winds down the inside of what is called a worm box. The worm box is where cold water from a nearby water source is pumped and keeps the water circulated, which also condenses the alcohol stream into liquid.

The moonshine is then placed into a proofing barrel to equalize the level of alcohol and mix for the proof. Various flavors can be added throughout the process.

Commercial production of moonshine is either made with neutral grain spirits -- vodka -- or unaged whiskey. Neutral grain spirits must be at least 95 percent alcohol coming off the still. Whiskey must be distilled to less than 95 percent.

By law, it must be without distinctive color, aroma, or flavor. If a product isn't vodka then it usually is corn whiskey and it will state that on the label.

A person caught distilling moonshine without a license could be fined between $2,500 to $5,000.

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