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Should You Make Moonshine?

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O.K., so it isn’t that simple, but pretty close.

The name “moonshine” most likely comes from the late 1700s to early 1800s in the Appalachian area where the drink was made at night, in an attempt to keep the illegal activity a secret. The term is still used today for some legal distilled alcohols for marketing reasons. Back in the day, many supported their families from making and selling illegal moonshine, and one of the most famous (who died in 2005) was Maggie Bailey.

Bailey, the “Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers,” started making moonshine at the age of 17 in Clovertown, Kentucky, and sold it out of her home until the age of 95. Bailey, who didn’t actually drink herself, passed away at the ripe old age of 101, and she used most of her profits throughout her bootlegging career to help those in her community. Hence, though she was accused multiple times over the years, she was only convicted once. After serving her 18-month sentence, she went right back to illegally selling moonshine.

The moral of the story? Live to be 101 years old by not drinking.

No wait—make your own moonshine, don’t sell it. You can always share with friends, or just use it as a cleaning agent if it doesn’t suit your taste.

A few words of caution: As with most alcoholic creations, moonshine is susceptible to contamination. The container you use (like the traditional Chevy radiator) is a big deal, as your brew could land you with lead poisoning. And if proper ventilation is not provided, you could end up with a fire on your hands. Which leads to testing the quality of the product. Traditionally, setting a spoonful on fire and observing the color of the flame told if it was good or bad—blue flame means safe distillate, yellow flame means tainted distillate, red flame means lead contamination. But the invisible flame of poisonous methanol is a sneaky (and deadly) culprit. Better to use an alcoholmeter (to determine the volume percent or proof) and hydrometer (to determine the alcohol percent).

Well, now that you’ve got the history and precautions, it looks like the bathtub is going to be occupied for awhile!


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