Moonshine, once a fiery (and illegal) homemade liquor, has now gone legit. Still, the drink conjures up colorful early 20th century memories of Prohibition, fast cars, and makeshift stills in the Appalachian woods. So, when it’s time to celebrate National Moonshine Day on the first Thursday in June (June 1 this year), you can indulge guilt-free.
The drink achieved legendary status upon the passage of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) in 1919. At that point, Americans who wanted to drink alcohol had to turn to the black market of the day, which belonged to the moonshiners and bootleggers. They distilled the moonshine and then delivered it, making criminals of everyone involved.
Today large distilleries sell moonshine, looking to rekindle nostalgic memories of the illicit drink. But the days of cheap, questionable brews with deadly contaminants are thankfully over.
National Moonshine Day timeline
‘Moonshine’ as a term referring to illicit alcohol is first mentioned in Francis Grose's “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.”
The practice of brewing moonshine begins in England.
The alcohol content and many other factors make moonshine dangerous.
An organization that has brewed 1.5 million gallons of moonshine is apprehended.
National Moonshine Day Activities
Try a craft whiskey
Craft whiskeys are those distilled by small companies or even individuals. These whiskeys are made in a non-mechanized way. So if you want to feel like you’re celebrating the days of moonshining, a craft whiskey is going to put you closer than drinking large batch whiskey from one of the well-known distillers. We can’t guarantee your craft whiskey came from a still in someone’s back yard, but we can’t guarantee it didn’t either.
Watch a NASCAR race
The origin of NASCAR is filled with stories of bootleggers hauling moonshine in their souped-up cars, running from authorities. As the need for bootleggers waned, the drivers needed a way to show off their fast cars. They eventually began racing each other on local back roads, and then on dirt ovals. NASCAR was born. Historians note North Carolina's tradition of auto racing developed in the garages of bootleggers, particularly on the roads between North Wilkesboro and Charlotte. Today’s NASCAR doesn’t much resemble the early days of back roads and bootleggers, but the whiskey doesn’t much resemble moonshine’s risk of blindness either. Both are good things.
Work in the moonlight
Want to gain a feel for the difficulty of moonshining? Those making moonshine had to work in the dark to help them hide from authorities. Moonlight was their only guide. So you can try doing an outdoor chore only by moonlight. (Preferably something that doesn’t involve fast-moving blades or working on a ladder please – safety first, after all.)
Why We Love National Moonshine Day
Craft cocktails are all the rage right now, and many of them call for infused liquor. The best way to make your own is to start with some good old fashioned moonshine, then simply choose your mix-ins — herbs are a great bet — and let them marinate. You may not be making your own liquor, but the spirit of the thing is there!
Those making moonshine were a creative sort, coming up with cool nicknames and songs to celebrate their way of life. Songs such as "Copper Kettle" and "Apple Pie Moonshine" helped to create and highlight the legend of bootleggers and making ‘shine. Then there are the nicknames for the booze — skull cracker, white lightning, mule kick, and radiator whiskey, among others. Hard for ad agency wordsmiths to keep up with the creativity of the bootleggers.
The era (or error?) of Prohibition
Now that we increasingly live in an age of recreational marijuana use, Prohibition seems downright quaint. (It’s the only amendment to the Constitution to ever be repealed.) The existence of moonshine reminds us to be thankful that we live in a country where we’re allowed certain liberties (for the moment, anyway).
National Moonshine Day dates