The Heritage and Science of Moonshine

Topics: Taxation in the United States, Tax, Ethanol Pages: 6 (2079 words) Published: October 14, 2010
The Heritage and Science of Moonshine
David Hinson
Mount Olive College

The Heritage and Science of Moonshine
Moonshine has long existed as a secret part of American culture. Most of us have probably heard of the existence of Moonshine. It is likely that some of us have had the good fortune of running across a batch here or there. In America Moonshining is somewhat of a black art. Those who know how to produce Moonshine and may have the equipment are reluctant to share their knowledge. The following pages reflect the information that can be found about the origin, production, and the science of Moonshine. Use this information at your own risk. Origin

As with a lot of things in American history, Moonshine stems from taxation. Amidst the pressures of funding an army, the federal Government found themselves needing a source of income. Although the Government had excise taxes on distilled spirits in place during the American Revolution, these taxes were repealed in the early 1800’s. In the 1860’s they needed to fund the union army, so the tax on distilled spirits was reinstated. “By 1868, the main source of Government revenue derived from liquor and tobacco taxes”(“History of the,”). By 1894, the distilled spirits tax had reached $1.10 per gallon (Cruey, 1999). Thinking in terms of modern money, $1.10 is not much. However, when your average yearly income is likely less than $1000 dollars; $1.10 per gallon seems excessive. In comparison, today the federal tax on distilled spirits is $13.50 per gallon(“Tax and fee,” ), but today the average American likely makes at least 20 times as much. This means effectively the tax level on distilled spirits today is roughly half of what it was in 1894. The level of taxation on distilled spirits led to discontent amongst consumers and producers alike. Many of the legitimate retailers of distilled spirits found themselves unable to make a profit selling their products legally. This caused a surge in underground distilled spirit production and sales. At the same time you have average people taking matters into their own hands. People began producing spirits for their own consumption and to sell on the side. This had a snowball effect on the sales of the legitimate retailers. Moonshining in America was born. Moonshining for many Americans was a necessity. Lots of American farmers found themselves unable to make enough money to support their families. One of the main ingredients of Moonshine is corn. A farmer could take a subpar corn farm and turn it into a goldmine. Obviously the Government did not approve of this practice. There are a couple good reasons for the Government to oppose this practice. With underground Moonshine sales growing they were losing a large amount of tax revenue; secondly, there was no way to regulate production, and Moonshine could easily become hazardous if precautions weren’t taken. After the American Revolution, the Government began sending out tax collectors which they called Revenuers. These officials would go to Moonshine producers and attempt to collect taxes owed. Something the Government had overlooked was that the American citizens had just fought the Revolutionary War. A major spark that lit the fire of revolution in America was the statement “no taxation without representation”. Many Americans felt they had traded one tyranny for another. Some of the appeal of producing Moonshine was shear defiance. Many Moonshiners saw it as a protest. When Revenuers came calling most of the time they were ran off by force. Sometimes they were tarred and feathered(Grabianowski). The Whiskey Rebellion was a major statement of defiance to the distilled spirits tax. The implications of the rebellion were vast. It was not just a rebellion against the tax on distilled spirits, but a statement of discontent about federal laws in general. The rebellion received its name because Revenuers sparked the violence ( The Revenuers were attacked while...

References: Cruey, G. (1999, October 19). A History of Moonshine. Retrieved from
History of the U.S. tax system. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Tax and Fee Rate. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Grabianowski, E. (n.d.). How Moonshine Works. Retrieved from
The Whiskey Rebellion. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Simon, S. (n.d.). Alexander Hamilton and The Whiskey Tax. Retrieved from
Adams, C. (1994, April 12). A Brief Tax History of America. Retrieved from
Teaching with Documents: The Volstead Act and Related Prohibition Documents. (n.d.). Retrieved from
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