As we covered recently, it was never illegal to DRINK alcohol during Prohibition: only to make, sell, or transport it. Obviously, this means that at some point people were going to run out of their stockpiles, and need more booze.
Naturally, there were people happy to illegally oblige the thirsty masses, and make more booze. Also naturally, federal agents were out to get them and uphold the law.
During the first 5 years of Prohibition the feds destroyed 696,933 stills. That is more than 1 still for every person in Boston, today.
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As we have touched on here before the distillation process extracts the alcohol from a liquid, and leaves behind a bunch of stuff. Debris and molecules like yeast, hops, water, capsaicin (the spicy part of hot peppers) are unable to tag along and become booze, too.
Nicotine is another chemical that gets left behind in a still. Perique is a tobacco liqueur that takes advantage of this, and has no traces of Nicotine. An especially rare strain of tobacco—Louisiana Perique—lends a distinct blend of woody, cognac, and scotch flavors.
There are three types of Pot Stills: Onion, Lantern, and Pearl. The shape of any given still directly affects the eventual flavor of the liquor being made.
As we touched on last week: distilling does not make alcohol—rather it merely extracts alcohol out of a liquid that is already boozy. Basically, stills are high-tech tools for pulling the alcohol out of a boozy liquid, and then yielding an amplified alcohol percentage.
There are low-tech means of increasing the alcohol content of a boozy liquid, as well. Early Americans made a potent drink called Yankee Antifreeze by leaving hard cider out in winter. The water would freeze—leaving behind a higher-proof Apple-alcohol.
In addition, I have come across a really old and similar(-ish) recipe for making rudimentary Brandy. Simply store some, “Canary wine in warm horse dung for four months, then set it outdoors in the fridgid air of winter for another month.”
So far we have covered the first two steps of making whiskey: 1) malting, and 2) fermentation. Step 3 is distillation.
The result of the fermentation in Step 2 is a mildly-alcoholic liquid called wort. At this point beer brewers add hops and call it a day—while whiskey makers are only halfway done, and next they throw the wort into a still. As the still heats up it separates the alcohol from the rest of the liquid, and the result is a clear highly-alcoholic liquid commonly known as moonshine.
Distillation does not make alcohol—rather it takes the alcohol out of an already alcoholic liquid and condenses it into a higher-proof liquor.
The good news is that Whiskey-ing: Step 4 will be published shortly! The bad news is that Step 4 is not drinking it. I hope you will stay tuned!
Moonshine in the United States is only illegal because the people who peddle it do not pay taxes to their local, state, or federal government. If you acquire all of the proper licenses, pass your health inspections, and pay your taxes—then making moonshine is actually perfectly legal.
Not only can completely legal moonshine be made, but that is technically how ALL whiskey starts out! Once it comes colorless out of the still the ‘moonshine’ is stored in oak barrels for years—where it dons its caramel color and finished flavor.
Potcheen is what the Irish call whiskey made without a propper license. Effectively, potcheen is Irish Moonshine.
To make beer or wine you start by taking a non-alcoholic barley or grape juice and turn it into alcohol by harnessing the wonderful power of yeast. To make liquor, on the other hand, you need to START with something that’s already alcoholic. Next, you extract the alcohol and leave behind the non-alcoholic part.
This is what stills do. Since alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, you can extract the alcohol and end up with moonshine.
Alcohol boils at 173° F (78.3° C). Water Boils at 212° F (100.0° C).