Throughout American history, moonshine has held a pretty prominent place for liquor fans and connoisseurs. From the bootleggers during the Prohibition era to the famous “Moonshiners” today, this form of homemade, distilled alcohol has been a go-to drink for countless people for years.
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact definition for what moonshine is; the term generically refers to liquor that is distilled at home. However, most people today interpret it to be a form of clear whiskey, typically fermented with a type of sugar or corn.
Regardless of the specific ingredients used to create moonshine, one thing is primarily understood— it has an extremely high alcohol content. Sometimes it can even be as high as 190 proof, or 95 percent (ABV) alcohol by volume. Today, the drink’s contents are regulated, unlike many years in the past, so you can enjoy a glass safely.
If you’re interested in exploring the vast moonshine history of the U.S., and some of the popular (and legal) places to seek out moonshine today, you’re in luck. Find your new favorite drink at some of the best moonshine distilleries across the country today.
1. Ole Smoky Moonshine— Gatlinburg, TN
Ole Smoky is one of the most famous faces of moonshine in production today. The drink’s history runs deep in Tennessee’s mountains, and the company uses its years of experience to create delicious and unique moonshine flavors. Ole Smoky was one of the first federally licensed moonshine distilleries in the state.
There you can opt for drinks ranging from 35 to 100 proof. The flavors are sweet— like White Chocolate Strawberry Creme or Apple Pie— but they look and taste even better than they sound. At this distillery, you can really narrow down the flavor of moonshine you’d like most. And after you’ve sampled a few tasty drinks, you can explore the beautiful and quirky Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Put on your favorite Dolly Parton song and check it out.
2. Copper Run Distillery— Walnut Shade, MO
Take a trip to the Ozarks and taste some moonshine from Copper Run Distillery. This company has a pretty significant history; they proudly display that they are the first-ever legal distillery in the Ozark Mountains following the end of Prohibition. Copper Run says the secret to their success is in how they create their spirits, along with their unending passion for the product.
While in the tasting room, you can try their several flavors of moonshine, like the 120-proof “Overproof,” made from corn, wheat, and barley. Or you can try your hand at their other liquors, too, like their gold or white rum or whiskey. This distillery isn’t for the faint of heart— the alcohol content is high, but their liquor is all handcrafted and expertly made.
3. Backwards Distilling Company— Casper, WY
A spirit-themed spirit distillery, Backwards Distilling Company, invites visitors to step right up alongside ring leaders and enjoy the show. Their most well-known labels are all circus-themed, like the Contortionist Gin or the Sword Swallower Rum. However, the company recently spread their talents to moonshine, as well. Consider trying their Milk Can Moonshine.
The company created the Milk Can Moonshine label with the intent to pay homage to the history of moonshine in Wyoming. The drink’s name plays on moonshine’s history; bootleggers would supposedly hide liquor deliveries for customers among dairy deliveries. Their 100-proof specialty has a creamy vanilla taste with a slight smell of sweet butterscotch. It goes down smooth but still has that fiery kick that moonshiners love.
4. Dawsonville Distillery— Dawsonville, GA
Try out some authentic moonshine at the Dawsonville Distillery in Georgia. The town of Dawsonville is known for several notable features— it’s home to classic moonshine, racing, and the start of the Appalachian Trail. You’ll have a chance to get outdoors, check out some Nascar Hall-of-Famers, and get a taste of bona fide liquor while you’re in town.
The Dawsonville Distillery says their moonshine recipes are passed down from recipes over 150 years old. Dating back before the Prohibition, you’ll be sure to find some “old timey” and traditional tasting alcohol. Their flavors range from the 60-proof “Georgia Mountain Apple Pie” to the 109-proof “White Lightning” moonshine. The company doesn’t have a wide variety of flavors, but what they make is rooted in an excellent technique.
Get a taste of southern charm and some corn-distilled moonshine on their moonshine distillery tour. Keep in mind; this company primarily values quality over quantity. There may not be many options to choose from while trying out their moonshine, but their labels are nationally known. You can’t go wrong with Dawsonville’s moonshine.
5. Buffalo Trace Distillery— Frankfort, KY
If you’re looking to swing by a moonshine distillery that feels like an experience unlike any other, you have to visit the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. This distillery is known primarily for its bourbon production (it’s a world-renowned brand), but it is also home to the White Dog Mash liquor.
The White Dog Mash is a form of white distilled alcohol, made primarily with corn, barley, and rye. The drink is 125-proof and, while it isn’t explicitly labeled as moonshine, it has all the ingredients that a true moonshine fan would love.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery is a massive landmark in Kentucky. You can visit and try out a barrel tour, a distillery tour, or even a ghost tour. The land is beautiful, and the history of the distillery has been traced back to the 1800s. Enjoy a day along the river and walk back in time at this distinctive distillery.
6. Kings County Distillery— Brooklyn, NY
Grab a bottle, or two, of moonshine from one of the oldest distilleries in Brooklyn, New York. Critics regard the Kings County Distillery for its bourbon and craft whiskey production, but the company offers two specific moonshine bottles that you also won’t want to pass up.
The company’s bottle of classic moonshine is ranked at 40 percent ABV and is a form of corn-distilled whiskey. One of their signature items, however, is the Honey Moonshine. This bottle has a slight gold tint to its color and also has a 40 percent ABV. The honey is reportedly collected right from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the distillery is also located. The added honey flavor gives the drink a flowery aroma and a sweet, memorable taste.
Whether you’re in New York looking for a premier distillery to visit, or are interested in ordering a new bottle online, check out Kings County Distillery.
7. Asheville Distilling Company— Asheville, NC
Get a free tasting at the Asheville Distilling Company in North Carolina, and head back home with several new favorite bottles of liquor. North Carolina is widely known for its classic moonshine production, and Asheville is a prominent spot for trying out new drinks.
To get a taste of some traditional N.C. moonshine, check out the Troy & Sons label at this distillery. The Troy & Sons Platinum drink is described as “The first true American moonshine.” Distillers make the alcohol with a signature form of white corn and Appalachian spring water. This particular bottle of moonshine is 80-proof.
If you decide that the moonshine isn’t quite your style, you can try out several other bottles of alcohol. Consider another corn-based distilled drink like their Troy & Sons Oak Reserve; opt for something with a kick, like their Cinnamon and Honey Whiskey. Their alcohol is smooth in taste. You’ll spot bits of vanilla in the flavor— this alcohol is quick to become a crowd favorite, and it’s a bright spot of North Carolina.
Related: History of Moonshine in Appalachia
8. Popcorn Sutton Distilling— Newport, TN
For moonshine enthusiasts searching for a classic flavor, check out the practically-historic Original Small Batch Recipe from Popcorn Sutton. This liquor is labeled as an 88-proof spirit and comes from a 100-year-old family recipe. It isn’t quite moonshine, and it isn’t quite whiskey, so you can be sure you’re pouring back a custom drink.
The Popcorn Sutton Distillery is 50,000 square feet, and their product is made entirely in their building. The company was started in honor of Marvin (AKA Popcorn) Sutton, who became a legend in his county. Popcorn created his own alcohol by hand and was known for selling it straight from his truck.
This company sticks close to his time-honed recipe and praises the infamous bootlegger with every bottle they create to honor Popcorn.
9. Piedmont Distillers, Inc— Madison, NC
If you’re hoping to really put your tasting skills to the test and try out a wide variety of moonshine flavors, look no further than the Piedmont Distillers of North Carolina. This company primarily produces alcohol with the label “Midnight Moon Moonshine,” with roughly one dozen flavors to try out.
For the fans of more traditional moonshine, you can opt for their Original 80-proof Moonshine. It’s distilled primarily from corn to create the smooth, slightly sweet taste you’re probably used to. For the people who prefer sweeter drinks, there are a handful of fruit-infused moonshines to try out. Check out their watermelon, raspberry, peach, apple pie, blackberry, or more to help satisfy your sweet tooth.
If you’re a fan of savory foods, there’s even a new moonshine flavor for you, too. Try out the company’s Dill Pickles. The bottle comes with several pickle spears and 60-proof Midnight Moon moonshine. If you aren’t sure that moonshine is the drink for you, a company like Piedmont Distillers certainly makes an effort to appeal to a wide range of taste buds.
10. New Deal Distillery— Portland, OR
For unique, craft-made liquor in Portland, Oregon, check out New Deal Distillery. This distillery was the first formed in Portland in what is now known as “Distillery Row.” It’s a fun place to visit for any liquor connoisseur who wants to test their taste buds or for drink-novices looking to try out new drinks.
At New Deal Distillery, you’ll have to dig a bit to find their moonshine bottles. The craft distillery typically creates its moonshine as part of their Distiller’s Workshop Series. As a head’s up, the company doesn’t always have moonshine on rotation. Different flavors and alcohol are crafted throughout the year by staff, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for new bottles.
11. Belmont Farm Distillery— Culpepper, VA
Travel to the hills of Virginia and check out the Belmont Farm Distillery. Corn grown straight from the farm’s land is at the center of every liquor recipe. From the ground to the bottle, every step of creating this artisan alcohol happens at this specific farm. The company believes that quality far surpasses quantity. They distill all of their liquor from the same giant copper pot and dedicate themselves to carefully monitoring every step of the preparation process. It takes time, but their efforts are evident in the taste.
This farm distills several flavors of moonshine for visitors— from the classic 90-proof Virginia Lightning Moonshine to the peach, butterscotch, or additional flavors, you’ll likely find a bottle that works for you. Some of their flavors, like the Apple Pie moonshine, are award-winning. Look for the Virginia Lightning Moonshine or the Tim Smith’s Climax Moonshine labels when you visit to find the best bottle for you.
Related: History of Moonshine
A Brief Explainer
It’s crucial for folks who may be a bit new to moonshine to understand what moonshine is exactly. For the longest time, moonshine has not been legal in the United States, which could partially be why drinkers don’t see it as widely produced today as some other hard liquors. It’s also extremely potent in terms of alcohol content levels.
Before you go out picking up bottles of moonshine, or attempting to create your own, there’s a bit of background you should be aware of regarding this particular family of alcohol.
A Legal History
As we previously mentioned, it’s tough to define what moonshine is specifically because the U.S. government has not established universal brewing requirements on how to make moonshine properly. Most moonshine distilleries today make a form of corn and grain-mash liquor (strongly resembling a white whiskey) and label it as “moonshine.”
Technically, the original moonshine was handcrafted in people’s homes, bathtubs, and backyards because alcohol couldn’t legally be produced anywhere. There were no set recipes for these bootleggers, which is why moonshine still varies so significantly decades later.
Today, it’s technically still illegal to make moonshine as it was formerly known. Federal law prevents anyone from distilling alcohol without a permit. Distilleries have to receive state and federal permission to open and produce their own forms of alcohol. Without a license, people can face a significant number of felonies and fines.
The reason for the crackdown on moonshine distilling is for the potential health dangers. Moonshine has been known to quite literally make users go blind (ingredients like methanol, which should be removed from distilled alcohols, are the culprit behind this medical condition). To ensure everyone’s safety, the U.S. regulates which ingredients are deemed acceptable, appropriate alcohol content levels, and more.
Alcohol by Volume
For folks who have been drinking a while, you likely already understand what Alcohol by Volume and “XX-proof” mean. We wanted to offer a brief explainer for the people new to liquor and craft distilleries before they get caught unaware while buying a drink.
Alcohol by Volume or ABV is based on a standard, national ranking. It’s the amount of pure alcohol measured by the ounce in a standard drink. Most hard liquors, like whiskey and rum, have 40 percent ABV. It ranks considerably higher than the alcohol content of beer or alcohol, which means the body requires fewer hard liquor shots to get drunk than some alternative drinks.
Moonshine ranks on the higher end of ABV ratings. Expect a minimum of 40 percent every time you buy, on average. Occasionally, it can measure far higher than that.
Sometimes, instead of finding an ABV rating, you’ll see a label say something like “80-proof” or “100-proof” or even higher on a moonshine bottle. “Proof” is a common term in the U.S., and it usually represents double the ABV level of a bottle of alcohol. For example, moonshine with 40 percent ABV would be considered 80-proof. Moonshine with a rating of 60 percent ABV would be labeled as 120-proof.
Whatever you call moonshine— white lightning, hooch, mash liquor, or straight old moonshine— its flavors and taste will vary everywhere you go. There’s no set way to make moonshine, because the drink itself is rooted in homestyle distilling. For that reason, every distillery you travel to will feature drinks vastly different from competitors.
Get creative trying out flavors and ingredients. No two drinks are precisely alike, so figure out if you prefer drinks that are more grain, sugar, or corn-heavy. Some moonshine will more likely resemble a whiskey-kind of alcohol, and some will stand unique on their own. The fun part about trying artisan liquor is that you will uncover a massive variety of drinks and people who are passionate about making them.
We wish you the best of luck on your distillery-touring adventures. See anything we missed in the article? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.