In his new book, Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Globe Pequot Press, 2014), author Mark Spivak defines moonshine simply: Corn whiskey that is unregulated, untaxed and illegal.
How did the legendary spirit get its name? It was made by the light of the moon throughout America’s Appalachian South primarily by descendants of stridently independent Scottish-Irish immigrants who refused to pay taxes to the government.
This extremely well written book is divided into two major parts: The first tells the story of moonshine and its earliest producers by recounting tales of the Whisky Rebellion, Prohibition and other historical events that helped shape America. The second is based on a series of the author’s in-depth interviews with modern moonshiners who are still producing the craft spirit under more relaxed laws.
For someone interested in tracking down these predominantly small distilleries on their own, the book includes a state-by-state guide to American moonshine producers that could inspire the itinerary for a road trip—along with information about where their products are distributed. Within the book’s covers, the distillers have shared their recipes for inventive moonshine-based mixed drinks with names as interesting as their ingredients (e.g. Kitty Carlisle, Self-Diagnosis, and Howling Mojito).
Although moonshine isn’t on most cocktail menus, hasn’t been tasted by many people (certainly not in the northeast), and is a niche topic for a popular book, Spivak’s strength is his ability to weave interesting stories about people, places and events. He notes, however, that interest in moonshine is skyrocketing with an increasing number of new craft distilleries “sprouting up like mushrooms in a damp forest.” An article in Time magazine also highlights this trend in the spirits industry.
Spivak, a prolific award-winning writer and restaurant critic, writes articles on wine, spirits, foods and culinary travel for a variety of glossy magazines and is currently the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group.
Disclosure: I met Mark Spivak on a press trip to Emilia Romagna many years ago and previously interviewed him on More Time to Travel about his first book, Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History. A copy of Moonshine Nation was sent to me for review; any opinions expressed are my own.