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Moonshine is infamous for being illegal but just about as American as baseball, apple pie, and cowboy hats. However, a lot of people are under the misconception that, one, you won’t find it in the liquor and, two, that moonshine alcohol content is equivalent to paint thinner. These days, moonshine is getting its act together and showing the world that it can be reputable—but still with a high enough ABV to make your head spin.
What proof is moonshine? Let’s find out.
Table of Contents
- What is Moonshine?
- A Brief History of Moonshine
- Is Moonshine Strong? What Proof is Moonshine?
- Is 100 Proof Moonshine Dangerous to Drink?
- What Does The XXX on the Moonshine Bottle Mean?
- How to Drink Moonshine
What is Moonshine?
Moonshine is, essentially, whiskey that has not been aged. It is made from a mash of sugar, cornmeal, water, and yeast, coming out clear at the end of the distillation process. That is why you may hear moonshine also called “white lightning” or “white whiskey.” Sometimes, brewers will make moonshine with alternative grains, like barley or rye, but corn is the most traditional approach. For that reason, moonshine is also known as “corn whiskey.”
A Brief History of Moonshine
But where does the name “moonshine” come from? During the Prohibition era of the US, people took matters into their own hands and brewed up alcohol under the cover of moonlight. They did not want to be discovered while making and transporting their moonshine, so bootleggers and home brewers hid their activities as best they could.
Moonshine became particularly popular throughout the Appalachian mountains, where the land was undeveloped and there were roads few and far between. The layout made it a great location for brewing illegal alcohol, since authorities rarely ventured that far. The runners, individuals with vehicles that transported moonshine along these confusing roadways, could often lose any police that pursued them.
Interestingly, these were the same drivers who eventually formed NASCAR shortly after Prohibition was put to an end.
Many people believe that moonshine is connected with dangerous activities, criminals, and rebelling against the government, but it has truly humble beginnings. Farmers struggling to make money on their crops took to moonshine, and they continued on with that tradition, even after Prohibition was over.
These days, moonshine has become so popular that it is made and sold legally in most states.
Check out this awesome video on the history of moonshine:
Is Moonshine Strong? What Proof is Moonshine?
You could say that moonshine packs a punch, but it really depends on how it is made. Typically, moonshine alcohol content ends up being around 40% ABV. Some brewers can reach 60-80% ABV, however. If you are curious, you can convert ABV into proof by multiplying the percentage by 2. So, a moonshine with 40% ABV is 80 proof.
Distillation plays a huge role in producing that much alcohol. Back in the day, farmers would add all kinds of things to the moonshine to make it taste like a kick in the teeth. Yes, they would even and in bleach or paint thinner. Fortunately, modern day moonshine is made according to specific standards, ones that call for sanitary conditions and high quality ingredients.
Moonshine can be distilled to up to 95% alcohol, but that won’t be enjoyable or drinkable. In that sense, it is similar to Everclear, the 190 proof (or 95% ABV) grain alcohol on the market.
That said, in the US, legal moonshine can be distilled to no higher than 80% ABV (160 proof) and cannot be bottled any higher than 62.5%. Most products on the shelves come in around 40-50% ABV.
Strengths of Moonshine By Brand
Want to give moonshine a try? Then check out this table on different moonshine brands and their ABV percentages:
|Brand||Bottle Size||ABV Percentage|
|Tim Smith’s Climax Moonshine||750 ml||40% (80 proof)|
|Buffalo Trace White Dog Moonshine||750 ml||62.5% (125 proof)|
|Ole Smoky Blue Flame Moonshine||750 ml||64% (128 proof)|
|Saint Luna Charcoal Filtered Moonshine||750 ml||50% (100 proof)|
|Sugarlands Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine||750 ml||50% (100 proof)|
|Sugarlands Root Beer Moonshine||750 ml||35% (70 proof)|
|Ole Smoky Peach Moonshine||750 ml||20% (40 proof)|
|Prichard’s Lincoln County Lightning||750 ml||45% (90 proof)|
|Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon||750 ml||40% (80 proof)|
|Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey||750 ml||46.5% (93 proof)|
As you can see, there is a wide variety of moonshine available in the US. Some of these may be better in a cocktail, as the moonshine alcohol content is far too high to drink neat. Others already come with mixers—such as the peach moonshine—and are therefore more palatable right out of the jar.
Nutritional Profile of Moonshine
Now that you know that moonshine can be between 40-80% ABV, you may be wondering what else is in it. If you are asking about pure white whiskey, then you may be pleased to know that it is gluten-free. Moonshine is most often made with corn, after all. However, if you sip on moonshine containing barley, your gluten sensitivity may act up. The triple distillation will usually remove all traces of gluten, though.
Calorie-wise, moonshine can go either way. In its purest form, moonshine is 90 calories per serving. When you add in fruit juices and other flavorings, that calorie count will shoot up, due to the presence of sugar. Clear moonshine is free of carbohydrates. Flavored moonshine will have carbs and potentially some protein, depending on what is mixed in.
Is 100 Proof Moonshine Dangerous to Drink?
Let us preface this by saying that any amount of alcohol has its risks. At 100 proof, which is 50% ABV, you are reaching the upper echelons of drinkable alcohol amounts. However, if you drink one or two shots of 100 proof moonshine, vodka, or another kind of alcohol, it won’t take you too long to become inebriated. Mixing 100 proof moonshine in with juice or something else can take the biting edge off the alcohol, and you may not get drunk as fast, but the danger is always there.
Do not drink anything over 150 proof neat. It is recommended to cut higher proof alcohols in half with other liquids. Otherwise, at 75% alcohol, you are taking a literal shot of fire.
Does 200 Proof Moonshine Exist?
Some people call it a myth, but it is not. 200 proof moonshine has been made. Of course, this is among the strongest concentration of alcohol out there and is certainly not safe to drink alone. 200 proof means 100% alcohol, meaning you are drinking straight alcohol and nothing else. You may even find it labeled as “food grade ethanol.”
Imagine the complexities of the distillation process! Some people try distilling homemade moonshine over and over just to see if they can pull off a 200 proof batch.
What Does The XXX on the Moonshine Bottle Mean?
Here is another famous misconception about moonshine. You probably heard that the XXX on the moonshine jug meant that it was deadly, right? Well, that is not what it originally meant. Long ago, moonshiners would mark their bottles with XXX to show that the moonshine had passed through a still three times. To those buying the moonshine, the XXX meant that the moonshine was potent and pure.
So no, the XXX is not a sign that moonshine is poisonous.
That said, moonshine can be hazardous to your health. The most dangerous period is during distillation. Alcohol fumes start to rise off the mash, and those fumes are flammable. Because those fumes could ignite, most stills are located outside. In the past, this was part of the risk. Authorities could easily see the still sitting outside. However, if those vapors were kept inside the house, the resulting explosion would level everything.
The other time moonshine can be dangerous is during consumption. Sometimes, the alcohol is not pure and in it is methanol. Undetectable by taste, methanol is poisonous when metabolized, as it can damage your optic nerve, resulting in blindness.
As long as you are drinking the good stuff, you have nothing to worry about.
How to Drink Moonshine
If you never had moonshine, you are in for a surprise. Being that legal moonshine is no stronger than Jack Daniels whiskey or Stolichnaya vodka, you can enjoy it any number of ways. Part of the reason is that moonshine has always been a free spirit—pun intended—and has never been limited to a certain kind of glassware or flavor.
In the 19th century, those who drank moonshine had it neat. There were few alternatives prior to the cocktail revolution of the early 20th century. Poor quality moonshine was often added to cocktails to make them more drinkable, which gave birth to things like apple pie moonshine or root beer moonshine.
In short, while some people will tell you to drink moonshine in its purest form for the best experience, that is not the traditional way. You are free to enjoy moonshine however you please!
Are You Strong Enough for Moonshine?
What is the alcohol content of moonshine? Turns out, it is the same as most other alcohols on the market—around 80 to 100 proof. Once illegal, moonshine is proving to be a popular liquor to add to cocktails. There are plenty of options out there for you to try, but it is recommended that you stay away from any moonshine that is 150 proof or higher.
Yes, moonshine is generally stronger than other forms of alcohol, because it has not been aged and undergoes a triple distillation process for purity and clarity.
The moonshine alcohol content in illegal jugs varies greatly. Since many inexperienced people are working with stills and don’t know how, they may end up with moonshine that is lower than 40% ABV while others could potentially reach 200 proof. However, most illegal moonshine averages between 40-80% ABV.
No, moonshine is not the strongest liquor out there, though it can be with the right amount of distillation. There are 180 proof bottles of brandy in existence. Everclear, a pure grain alcohol, is 190 proof (just 10% away from pure ethanol). That said, some home moonshiners have achieved 200 proof moonshine, which is too strong to be consumed.
Yes, 100 proof anything can be strong if you are not used to it. For some, though, the answer may be no. There are drinkable moonshine options that are 128 proof. While it is not recommended that you drink 100 proof moonshine straight, it is no stronger than Wild Turkey bourbon, Jameson whiskey, or Remy Martin cognac.