What the Heck Is It?
Moonshine is alcohol which has been distilled and sold in secret, usually with the goal of evading high liquor taxes or bans on the sale of alcohol. Many people associate the idea of moonshine with the Prohibition Era in the United States, but in fact the practice of making alcohol illegally is quite old, because governments have been taxing and regulating alcohol for centuries.
The term “moonshine” in reference to illegal alcohol dates to the mid-1700s. It was first used to describe smuggled alcohol, which was moved during the nighttime to avoid detection, and eventually it came to be used in reference to alcohol which was produced illegally. Moonshine goes by a variety of colorful regional slang terms, such as white lightning, rotgut, brush whiskey, blockade, or panther's breath. Many of these terms reference the high alcohol content and potential health hazards of moonshine.
Classically, moonshine was made by farmers who wanted to extract a higher profit from their grain crops. They would roast corn, barley, or other grains and then ferment them with sugar and water to generate an alcoholic mash. The mash would then be heated in a distillation chamber, yielding a beverage with a very high alcohol content and a rough, raw flavor. During Prohibition, people also started making moonshine in their homes, and many home brewers today maintain small stills in their homes.