Moonshine: the backwoods tipple of choice, the stuff marked in cartoons with a triple X, the booze “that’ll make you go blind.” There’s a lot of lore, mystique and fear surrounding moonshine, or “white whiskey,” which is what it actually is. But for Cory Straub, author of the new book Moonshine Mixology, it’s just another bottle on the bar—one worth drinking straight, on the rocks or in a cocktail.
In his new book, Straub presents moonshine not as some illicit substance to be avoided at all costs or downed on a dare, but something delicious, craft and even easy to make at home. Yes, the book dedicates a full section to making your own moonshine—including a DIY still. There’s also flavored moonshine recipes, creative moonshine cocktails and moonshine gifts (moonshine lollipops, anyone?). We recently chatted with Straub to find out more about that great American spirit, moonshine.
Supercall: Why do people have such a fascination with moonshine?
Cory Straub: I think a lot of it is the fact that it’s against the law for normal, everyday Joe to make it. Whenever you have something that someone says, “no, you can’t do that,” then you have to do it to prove you can.
SC: How did you become interested in it?
CS: When I was little, my grandfather actually made his own moonshine in his basement, and I watched him. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was 11, and his equipment just sat there. But I ended up with his equipment when I moved out on my own. And so I just thought it kind of fun to do because it was something that he did.
SC: Did you ever taste his shine?
CS: I never did. They got rid of all of his before I could sneak any of it.
SC: Do you remember what your first batch was like?
CS: I honestly don’t, it was so long ago. But I can tell you I’ve ended up with lots and lots of vinegar, though. Technically what I do is more along the lines of brandy, because I cook it off of wine I’ve made. If you get the wrong kind of yeast in your wine, you end up with a lot of red or white wine vinegar.
SC: What should good moonshine taste like?
CS: The biggest thing is not burning your throat to pieces in the process of swallowing it. But there’s also a couple other things you want to look for. Say you’re using a corn mash. I would look for a very subtle corn flavor at the finish of it. Also, alcohol boils at about 172 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you get it hotter than that, you get a burnt taste. If you do it right, it’s a really slow process—you have to bring the heat up really slowly. Because once it’s scorched, it’s scorched, and you can’t disguise that no matter what you do. Look for moonshine that goes down smooth and easy, with a subtle aftertaste of whatever the prominent ingredient was in the mash.