They call it that old mountain dew, And them that refuse it are few, You may go ’round the bend, But you’ll come back again, For that good old mountain dew
The folks of the Blue Ridge Mountains take their moonshine, aka mountain dew, seriously. Moonshine liquor was always a part of the colonial Virginia culture: just 13 years after the founding of Jamestown, colonists were distilling corn whiskey on the banks of the James River. George Washington had a still at Mt. Vernon, and Jefferson had one at Monticello. Corn whiskey has been an important part of the mountain economy since the early Scots-Irish settlers arrived in the 18th Century.
Using copper turnip-style still and wooden barrels for mixing mash and storing whiskey, a mountaineer could produce enough moonshine to meet personal and community needs. Three bushels of dried corn or seven bushels of apples could be distilled into about two gallons of alcohol. A farmer with a few acres of corn could get about 100 gallons of whiskey per acre. The whiskey was more valuable than the corn alone, and the leftover corn mash could be fed to cattle.
Moonshining has always been a highly profitable business. During Prohibition in the 1930’s, moonshine from Virginia and North Carolina was regularly sold as far north as Philadelphia. It’s said that during the Great Depression, the top bootleggers in Franklin county VA had tens of thousands of dollars of cash on hand. Making moonshine isn’t just an old-time tradition, though; moonshiners were busted in Franklin County, VA in 2008.
Government tax agents (“revenuers”) went after moonshiners the way DEA agents go after drug dealers today. During the Prohibition years (1920-1933) revenue agents in Franklin county VA (the “moonshine capital of the world”) destroyed 3,909 stills, made 1669 arrests, seized 716 vehicles and 130,717 gallons of moonshine. Exploits of mountain moonshiners vs. revenuers have been portrayed in songs and movies, most notably 1958’s “Thunder Road” starring Robert Mitchum.
(credit goes to milehidistilling.com)
In making moonshine the first step is to convert the starch of the grain into sugar. (Commercial distillers use malt.) This is done by “sprouting” the corn. Shelled, whole corn is covered with warm water in a container with a hole in the bottom. Place a hot cloth over it. Add warm water from time to time as it drains. Keep in a warm place for about 3 days or until corn has 2 inch sprouts. Dry it and grind it into meal. Make mush (or mash) with boiling water. Add rye mash that has been made the same way, if you have it. Yeast (1/2 pound per 50 gallons of mash) may be added to speed up the fermentation if you have it. Without it, 10 or more days will be required instead of about 4. In either case, it must be kept warm. When the mash gets through “working” or bubbling up and settles down, it is then ready to run. At this stage, the mash has been converted into carbonic acid and alcohol. It is called “wash” or beer and it is sour..
SWEET FEED MOONSHINE # 5 gallon bucket of sweet feed (Sweet feed has several different grains and molasses making it a great tasting whiskey.) one package of yeast (using distillers yeast will increase quality and quantity) # 5 pounds sugar # water Put enough feed to cover bottom of 5 gallon bucket a good 4 inches deep Add 5 pounds of sugar. Fill 1/2 full with boiling water. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Let it set for 90 minutes and then finish filling with cool water. Add the yeast after it has cooled to the recommended temperature on the yeast label. Cover with lid–our lid has a little cap that screws on, leave it loose to breathe. 4-5 days later it’s ready to run! This is an old-timer recipe and works quite well. My liquor is always 150-180 proof. I don’t recommend this for pot stills unless you filter it by pouring it through a pillow case into a 5 gallon bucket after it has finished fermenting. Otherwise the meal will settle and burn in the bottom of your still. Some folks leave the solids in the pillowcase and tie it off where it will not touch the bottom of the still.
Moonshine Whiskey Ingredients
Makes about one gallon pure moonshine whiskey
10 lbs. Whole kernel corn, untreated
5 Gallons Water
Making Your Moonshine
Put corn in a burlap bag and wet with warm water. Place bag in a warm dark place and keep moist for about ten days. When the sprouts are about a 1/4″ long the corn is ready for the next step.
Wash the corn in a tub of water, rubbing the sprouts and roots off. Throw the sprouts and roots away and transfer the corn into your primary fermenter. With a pole or another hard object, mash the corn. Make sure all the kernels are cracked.
Add 5 gallons of boiling water, and when the mash cools, add yeast. Seal the fermenter and vent with a water-sealed vent.
Fermentation will take 7-10 days. When fermentation is done, pour into the still, filtering through a pillowcase to remove all solids.
Remember: It’s illegal to make your own whiskey in the USA. Not to mention, it’s probably cheaper to go over to the liquor store and buy some. but it sure won’t be as much fun (or as educational).