Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Hooch

Moonshine. Corn Liquor. White Lightning. Hooch.

Whatever you want to call it, homemade distilled liquor is an Appalachian tradition nearly as old as Appalachians.

The process for making 'shine is a basic set of steps, with a few variations for strength and flavor. Corn, yeast and water are mixed together and encouraged to ferment, the "wash" (liquid result of the fermenting process) is distilled, and (optionally) flavors are added or the liquor is aged for flavor. Of course the production of liquor is regulated everywhere you go, and downright illegal without licences and so on in other places. Mr. Farmer has some ideas about the process, however, that some might find interesting.

Sugar feeds the fermentation process. It is literally the food that yeast consumes, causing it to grow, reproduce, and die: letting off the carbon dioxide that is the fermentation process. Adding white or brown sugar to the corn will speed up this process. So will malting (partially sprouting) the corn, or adding molasses. Any combination of the changes to the sugar content would change the fermentation times and also the flavor of the end product.

Smoking corn just after malting would add another facet to the flavor of the end product as well. It would be a lot more subtle than aging in a charred barrel, of course, but the green (unaged) product would have just a hint of woody flavor, without actual contact with wood.

With some copper pipe, gauges, and a heat source, building a homemade still would be easy for anyone who is handy with plumbing (I made one myself in freshman chemistry in high school for crying out loud). I guess that's why they had so much trouble keeping those moonshiners under control during Prohibition...


  1. On thinkgeek.com they actually have a "make your own alcoholic beverage out of any fruit juice" kit. The kit comes with the right amount of additives for a 64 oz. bottle of juice... you just pour in the packets and seal it up and let it ferment, and in 48 hours you have a carbonated alcoholic juice beverage. I'm dying to try it... although I fear it might just end up tasting like Boone's or some lousy stuff like that! Except the alcohol content is supposed to reach 14%. That's pretty high! Very interesting...

  2. Many years ago we made Concord Grape Wine. It was successful, and strong! We pressed the grapes ourselves, but I suppose that is not necessary.

    You are probably right about the flavor, however. Our homemade wines and the few others I have tasted came out tasting much like pouring Everclear into fruit juice (yes, I sadly admit that I have done this). I think it is a good idea to keep in mind that commercial wineries have not just years but GENERATIONS of experience and experimentation behind them, so you shouldn't really expect much from a first try with some juice and a kit from a website!

    I would never discourage anyone from trying, however. There is something special about homemade ANYTHING.