Moonshine Finds New Popularity Among Hobbyist Geeks

When you hear the word moonshine, it probably brings to mind a bygone era of Prohibition-thwarting, bathtub mixing, car chasing yokels, brewing up batches of questionable alcohol. Or Irish songs. But according to writer Michelle Locke, writing for AP and featured on the Mother Nature Network, moonshine is having something of a renaissance as of late. And it’s got quite a following among the maker geeks.

Max Watman, author of Chasing the White Dog—a book about the moonshine industry, had this to say about the hobbyist contingent:

The hobbyists are much more adventurous and a lot of fun. It’s very much a product of our time. We are obsessed with authenticity and we are obsessed with craft, or at least a certain segment of our population is. It’s part of the farmers market world. We all want to make our own cheese. We all want to cure our own bacon. It’s the same group that wants to make their own booze.

Sounds mighty geeky to me. The creation and distillation of alcohol is one of the oldest human hobbies, you might say, and it’s no surprise that there’s a movement to reclaim the process. I think that’s one of the hallmarks of geekery, really, that desire to get to the bottom of how things work. And with brewing alcohol, there’s certainly an alchemical component that is no doubt a big draw. Sure, there’s the whole problem of being illegal. But anything for the name of knowledge and science, right?

Of course, as the article goes on to point, while making alcoholic beverages may not be the most difficult thing in the world—at its most basic, anyway—doing it wrong can cause illness (like blindness) and even death. There’s a reason that alcohol is, by and large, a commercial business. However, there must be something rather satisfying about making your own spirits. I know, from my limited experience brewing beer, that working to craft a drink in your own home definitely gives you a sense of accomplishment. In this consumer-driven world, everything is available (provided you’re legal, and you have enough money) at a moment’s notice. But spending time creating something and waiting for the final product over the course of weeks or months, is an experience not to be missed.

Moonshine is made all over the world, with many different approaches and cultural significances. For a taste of some trivia, here’s a quick look at what the real people are drinking around the globe:

  • Bulgaria – Rakia, which is made from fruits, most commonly grapes. It is the national spirit, and as popular as wine. Rakia can be made both at home and in community stills.
  • Colombia – Illegal though it may be, “tapetusa” or “chirrinchi” remains quite popular. According to Wikipedia, “Chincha is usually made of corn, which is chewed and spat in an earthen container… then buried for some time.” Tapetusa is made from fermented apples.
  • Finland – Essentially home-made vodka, the Finns have a wide variety of names for their moonshine, including: kotipolttoinen, ponu, ponantsa, tuliliemi, korpiroju, korpikuusen kyyneleet, and moscha.
  • France – As you might expect, France has many different moonshine traditions. In Brittany and Normandy you can find lambic or calvados, made from distilled cider; mirabelle, prune, and kirsch is in the East (in places such as Alsace, Lorraine, Bourgogne, and Champagne).
  • Germany – The Germans call their moonshine Schwarzgebrannter, which means, roughly, “illegally distilled liquor”. But that doesn’t mean there’s an absence of home distillery, just that it’s limited. And there are some legal versions as well.
  • Guatemala – Cusha is the moonshine of this area. Shamans also drink it during ceremonies, where it is spit upon their patients.
  • Nigeria – A host of colorful names characterize Nigerian moonshine: ogogoro, kainkain, abua first eleven, agabagba, akpeteshi, aka mere, “push me, I push you”, and crazy man in the bottle. I am particularly fond of that last one.
  • New Zealand – Legal home distillation makes New Zealand unusual. There’s no worries making your own here. Their most famous is Hokonui Moonshine, which is now produced commercially by the Southern Distilling Company.
  • Switzerland – When absinthe was banned at the turn of the 20th century, moonshiners continued to make the famed drink, which originally hails from Switzerland. Now that it is no longer illegal, however, that market has changed somewhat. Still, I imagine absinthe home-brew style could have some rather mind-boggling side-effects.
  • United States – A multitude of names characterize this drink depending on the origin, including white lightning. Often seen in Mason jars. Also, due to moonshine, stock car racing was born.

(via Wikipedia, Fark; image in the public domain, a seized distillery unit ca. 1921-1932)

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