Trendy Hooch: Throwin’ It Back With DIY Moonshine - - Archived

American culture is thirsty for its roots: Handcrafted, vintage, sustainable, organic, natural, raw, pure.


Today, these words weave themselves seamlessly into everyday discourse, authenticating food, fashion, and nearly every new product on the market. Hipsters with grizzly beards and flannel shirts seem to almost waft Appalachian mountain air, circa 1890, as they swagger through American cities reminding metropolites of the way things were. Butcher racks are hung with pride in five-star restaurants that boast of seasonal lettuces and veggies hand plucked from rooftop gardens.  The Trend:  A hands on connection to the real old school processes: Farming, butchering, and moonshining?! Yes, moonshining. DIY booze is having a throwback moment and it’s way further than last Thursday.  The Mad Men inspired cocktail revolution restored faith in the “old-fashioned”,  but now, it’s time for it’s predecessor: Moonshine.


Moonshine, also known as hooch, is an illegal, home-produced, alcohol or whiskey. Rampant in the 1920’s during prohibition, and produced heavily in the South and the Appalachian region, workers would work by “moonshine” to avoid being caught by the law. Traditionally, it was made by creating a fermented corn and sugar mash, that was run through a copper still, usually in some obscure backwoods wilderness. The process was anything but convenient. Nonetheless, it was incredibly profitable during prohibition times, as well as in it’s original heyday, when the first Scotch-Irish settlers in the Appalachian mountains discovered they could make a great living by bootlegging the stuff in barrels. Traditional moonshine should be over 100 proof, commonly white, and smuggled, illegally, by someone that hopefully looks like this:


Or sipped on in an Al Capone speakeasy in the 1920’s.



But moonshine is getting a pretty makeover…

She comes in the form of gin, infused by lavender and hand picked herbs. Or sometimes, she’s made from local apples, in a backyard distillery, by a husband and wife team with a dream of a crafting a new organic brandy.  She can even be made from cactus, but goes by the name “agave spirit” because the Department of Alcohol and Beverage control say she’s not allowed to be called tequila. The ever-evolving hooch is branching out and widening it’s range as hand-crafted distilleries sprinkle into American cities.

According to the Chicago Reader, Bill Owens of The American Distilling Institute says, “Ten years ago there were only be 67 distilleries in the United States and none of them were here.  Now there are over 25 new distilleries in Illinois.”  Although the pop-up distilleries are in fact legal, it’s safe to say that they’ve been heavily influenced by the clandestine tradition of moonshine.  LETHERBEE GIN, for example, is not the least bit shy about the shady origins of its DIY boozey history. According to the  Chicago Reader, LETHERBEE’s founder Brenton Engel, a local musician at the time, “got hold of an old corn-sugar recipe, rigged up a still on the farm, and to impart barrel flavor began steeping the small batches he ran off with wood chips. Before long he had aged whiskey. And not long after that he was running moonshine into Chicago, and passing the bottle into crowds when he played.” News of his moonshine spread through Chicago kitchens and bars and, soon enough, he stopped making the illegal version, applied for his distiller’s license, jumped through a series of complicated bureaucratic hoops, and, last year, became one of the first of the new wave of Chicago distillers.  After all, as Matthew Rowley, author of the book How-to Moonshine! brings up “ask yourself this question. With new distilleries popping up across the US, where do you think so many of this new generation of distillers are learning how to make a run of decent whiskey or brandy? There aren’t that many opportunities to learn without breaking laws.” It seems like there might be some good ole fashion moonshine left in that moonshine.

Feel like makin’ your own moonshine?  We tinkered away in our kitchen with this sweet little recipe  and threw a speakeasy party of our own. The secret password: Pumpkin Spice. Spiked with a seasonal kick, this hooch is definitely legal, but not so innocent (Caution: You might get really drunk ’cause it tastes so pumpkin-y, you’re likely to forget that you’re drinking moonshine).


1 gallon apple cider
1 can(s) (29 oz.) pumpkin puree (100% pure pumpkin)
2 cups Everclear 190 proof or a high proof grain alcohol ( This is the moonshine substitute, but if you can find yourself a hillbilly with a hook up, get crazy with it.)
2 cups Pinnacle whipped cream flavored vodka (If you want a whipped cream flavor added, if not a vanilla vodka could work as well)
2 cups dark brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 1/2 tsp ground cloves

1. In a large stock pot, combine pumpkin puree, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground cloves, and whisk together, mixing well.
2. Pour in 1 gallon of Apple Cider. Stir and mix well.
3. Pour in Everclear Grain Alcohol 190 Proof.
4. Add 2 cups of Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka. Continue to stir and mix well. This makes the moonshine taste like Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream!
5. Using a ladle or measuring cup with a spout, pour moonshine mixture into mason jars, seal and refrigerate for 5-6 days. Shake well before drinking. Keep refrigerated. The mason jars are great. Also, add a cinnamon stick or two for fun.


Down the hatch! Host your own Throwback Thursday Speakeasy party and tweet your moonshine tips here (#MoonshinexTLLC).

Agatha Nowicki is an actress and a writer. Read her bits of prose here or watch clips of drama here.