A Brief History of Hooch


I came across this story last week about a man being prosecuted for making moonshine, which got me to thinking; do people still make moonshine? It turns out the "business" is still in practice, breaking the bank all the way. However, instead of the three-toothed man cooking up a batch of apple hash behind his house, todays bootleggers practically work in factories. They have huge stills that produce anywhere from 20 to 40 gallons of alcohol a batch and sell it to "moonshine houses" along the East Coast. The appeal is that the drinks don't have the federal alcohol tax. Investigators estimate that between 1992 and 2000, 1.4 million gallons of moonshine were produced, costing the government $19.6 million in potential taxes. There may be a legal comeback for moonshiners, though, as the distilling process (see diagrams here) is similar to the process needed to create ethanol.
Other tidbits about moonshine I picked up in research:

  • The practice of making hooch dates back to the late 1700s, when the government imposed an excise tax on whiskey. This prompted the Scots-Irish settlers (who else?) to revolt in 1794.
  • During the prohibition era, bootleggers started tricking out their cars with better engines and handling to escape the police. They started racing the cars informally and eventually these evolved into the stock car races we know today.
  • The XXX symbol on moonshine bottles doesn't come from how much bootleggers like Vin Diesel. Rather, each X indicates how many times it was processed in the still.
  • Henry Ford was responsible for one of the nation's first Prohibition laws, the Damon Act of 1917 in Michigan. He advocated having a sober workforce and thought this was the best solution. Unbeknownst to him, the Detroit River region became a hotbed for moonshine because of its easy access to Canada or Ohio.
  • Disney experienced backlash against the 1977 adventure yarn The Rescuers because of a scene where the titular characters drink moonshine with their swamp buddies.