Defined as “clear, unaged whiskey,” California and the San Diego-area have several distilleries producing the centuries-old “white lightning” spirit.
With an illicit history of hidden stills and black market production, moonshine often conjures up visions of backwoods Southern barns, mason jars, and the nicknames “white lightning,” “hooch,” and “mountain dew.”
Indeed, dating back to the 18th Century, the spirit enjoyed its biggest production and popularity from immigrants filtering into Appalachia. Likely originating from Scotch and Irish recipes, the term itself is British in origin, and referred to jobs done late at night, or “moonshining.”
By the 20th century, the term became the identifying mark of distillers making liquor in the night, largely in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Only legal in the United States since 2010, moonshine is now defined as “clear, unaged whiskey,” and is produced mainly from corn mash, sugar, yeast, and water. In other words, the spirit comes straight from the still, with no aging in barrels.
While it still doesn’t garner the attention and production from distilleries like the old standards vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, and tequila, moonshine is making its mark on the national liquor scene via craft distilleries around the country.
As luck would have it, here in southern California, a few producers have taken on the old craft and brought local personality to the down-home spirit.
Local distilleries making moonshine
Cutwater Spirits: Part of the Devil’s Share lineup alongside a bourbon and American whiskey, the moonshine is described as “surprisingly smooth...sweet and floral with a distinct malty profile and hints of tropical fruit.” Sitting at 98 proof, the spirit features in a cocktail at the distillery, the Moonshine Punch, with muddled blackberries and lemon.
9750 Distribution Ave., Miramar, 858.672.3848, cutwaterspirits.com
Ugly California Moonshine: Sold at retail shops including Keg N Bottle and Holiday Wine Cellar, the original is 90 proof and made with caramel Vienna malt and flaked rye. But it’s the Rise and Shine Coffee moonshine that is often the fan favorite. A collaboration between Kill Devil Spirit Co. and Dark Horse Roasters, this caffeinated version is also 90 proof and will give you a jolt for your buck.
San Diego Sunshine Craft Spirits: This Ramona-based distillery’s Apple Pie in a jar is like a Harlan County, Kentucky holler moment out of the TV show Justified. While there, try some of the other flavors including Blueberry Honey and Honey Wheat, and one of the featured cocktails, including the Hot Apple Pie with apple moonshine and cider.
432 Maple St. #6, Ramona, 619.820.3379, sandiegosunshine.com
Kalifornia Distilleries, Inc.: Located up the road in Temecula, this distillery proclaims, “Shine! The way you’re supposed to!” Their 100 proof Unaged Corn Whiskey Moonshine is made from 100% estate-grown corn and barley, and distilled a minimum of four times, then charcoal filtered. Using locally grown peaches and spices, Kalifornia creates the popular Peach Pie Moonshine blending the juice with their overproof shine for a unique Temecula tipple.
40880 County Center Dr., Suite P, Temecula, 951.239.5183, kaliforniadistilleries.com