With the legalization of moonshine in many US states I've been wondering what are the big differences between Moonshine and Vodka?

Both are clear spirits made from whatever grains/starches are available. Both can be fairly high proof.

Is it all just an Appalachian that is tied to their origin?

  • One might say that "moonshine" is an Appalachian appellation. ;) Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 17:18

5 Answers 5


Generally, when people refer to "moonshine" and they are referring to what can be purchased legally, they are really referring to "white whiskey" (a.k.a. un-aged whiskey), or whiskey that has not been aged in an oak barrel.

Most whiskey is fermented from either all-corn, or corn and an other grain (like rye), but there are some boutique type whiskeys that use other grains like quinoa, spelt, flax, etc. Technically any grain can be used to make whiskey, but it doesn't become "whiskey" until it has been placed in an oak barrel. There are only a few other "rules" like the proof at which it is distilled. Whiskey has to come out of the still at 95% ABV (190 Proof) and then cut with water to nothing lower than 40% ABV (i.e. 80 Proof or higher).

Vodka can be made from corn, but unlike whiskey, it can be made from really anything that can be fermented. Some of the most common starts for Vodka are potatoes, wheat, rye, and a few other grains, but Vodka can be made from virtually anything else that can ferment like grapes (Ciroc vodka), tomatoes, cucumbers, donuts, you name it. I have seen almond vodka and even milk vodka (as in vodka fermented from almonds and from milk respectively). Vodka has to come out of the still at >95% ABV, but as long as it is cut with water to at the minimum of 80 poof (40% ABV) or higher, it's vodka. No matter what it started with.

The same exact corn "vodka" can be called whiskey it is comes out at the 95% ABV and then is placed in oak barrels. Note that I wrote "placed" and not "aged" in oak. Whiskey has no age requirement, so the "white whiskeys" you see that do not read "moonshine" have at least touched oak. If you see that the label reads "moonshine whiskey", it has touched oak too, if it just reads "moonshine" and has not ever touched an oak barrel, then technically is it strong grain vodka, but "moonshine" sounds more renegade I suppose. Corn "vodka" that comes out of the still at 96%ABV or higher, but doesn't touch oak is still Vodka, but technically could also be called "Moonshine".

Whiskey can be called "bourbon" if it is made in the USA, from 51% corn. It has to come out of the still at no more than 160 proof/80%ABV and it goes into the barrel at 125 Proof (62.5%ABV), and it has to be in the oak for at least 4 years in bonded warehouses under the U.S. government record. Thanks to the Bottle-in-bond Act of 1897.


Moonshine is any alcohol that is made illegally. It is usually make in small batches

In most cases if you are able to buy 'Moonshine' from a store it is generally not real moonshine

I believe that it's called moonshine because it was illegal to make, so it was usually distributed at night time under the moonlight hence the name 'Moonshine'. It was popular to make as they could produce a high % drink very quickly but in most places there is a legal amount of time you have to distill an alcohol for. Moonshiners did not adhere to these rules hence why the drink was illegal.

In places where moonshine has been legalized I would not consider it moonshine anymore as that just means they have allowed the distillers to bottle after any time they want in the processes instead of giving a set time for minimum distillation .

There are some legal Moonshine distilleries that label their alcohol as moonshine but most of these are playing on the growing trend of moonshine as all of these are still legit distilleries. They pay all the taxes and ship out there product so this is perfectly legal and they call it moonshine. While this is not a original moonshine, as it is all legal. Moonshine can be any really high proof alcohol but once that alcohol is sold and distributed legally it just becomes the same as any-other spirit and loses the true nature of being moonshine.



Moonshine derives (supposedly) its name from transporting it at night to avoid detection.

Moonshine was made a lot in the mountains because of the inaccessibility of where the mountain-folk would hide the Stills and the abundance of fresh mountain springs. They could also make the moonshine high proof to maximize cost/drunk ratio (I know it sounds close minded but not a ton of reasons to buy high proof alcohol).

Liquor is measured in proof which is just 2x the alcohol % listed - 40% Vodka is 80Proof. There is not commercial grade 200 proof moonshine mainly because of physics.

This is because ethanol is not an ordinary mixture, it’s an azeotrope. Instead of boiling purely and separately at two different temperatures, its vapor will form a certain proportion. Steam from alcohol is 95.57 percent alcohol. Get a pot of 95.57 percent ethanol boiling and the steam will be 95.57 percent ethanol right down until the last drop evaporates. Source

There are probably other moonshiners across the country; but, the origin is steeped in the Appalachian Mountains. Junior Johnson (a NASCAR Driver) started his own line of spirits and has "moonshine." They aren't over 100 proof though...


If you want to be a traditionalist, it's not really Moonshine unless it was produced illegally, without all the proper taxes and such. Anything you buy in the store could more accurately be called white liquor, grain liquor or corn liquor, depending on the mash stock.

A key feature of both legally and illegally produced Moonshine is that it's unaged. It goes straight from the still into the jar or jug. This facet was born of the need to make quick profits, the need to minimize the amount of evidence on hand in the event of a raid, and by extension, get your liquor into the hands of paying customers before the revenuers could find it.

Physically speaking, there is no real difference between vodka and moonshine. Both are unaged neutral spirits, usually cut with water to increase volume and produce a more drinkable product. The difference is mostly geographic. Moonshine, at least commercial varieties, can easily be called American Vodka, much like Poitin could be called Irish vodka.


As a detail and hopefully and appropriately informative aside for this topic:

In chemistry lab there are two alcohol solvents used: 1. Medical Grade (surgical alcohol) = 95% Alcohol (getting that last 0.57% is very time consuming to achieve) 2. (benzene) Alcohol = 98% Alcohol (with 2% benzene still in solution with the alcohol)

Benzene is used to drive off or get all of the 5% of water out of distilled alcohol. The (benzene) Alcohol will make you sick because of the benzene.

Surgical alcohol provides the most wonderful drunk. It is a body drunk with zero dizziness.

Dizziness comes from the long chain fusel oil(s) (alcohols) in fermented alcohol. Fusel oil alcohols are not present in surgical alcohol. All fusel oil alcohols boil off at a different, slightly higher temperature than ethanol (drinking alcohol). Sloppy or rushed distilling gets the higher temperature fusel oil alcohols coming over with the ethanol. Really sloppy and very rushed distilling gets the first run methyl alcohol, methanol . . . which causes permanent eyesight loss. Long chain alcohols cause much of the hangover effect of headaches.

Yeasts produce fusel oils when they struggle to produce higher percentage alcohol levels in wines and beers. https://www.google.com/search?q=FUSEL+OIL+ALCOHOLS

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