Until recently, the concept of moonshine conjured up thoughts of Deliverance and duelling banjos for me. Then it started popping up on legit drinks lists at Melbourne bars. So what the heck is modern moonshine? Who better to ask than the creators of Melbourne's very first legal moonshine, the simply named, Melbourne Moonshine?
Whether you call it white lightning, hooch or white whiskey, moonshine is "a corn liquor that's un-aged”.
“In the gin, vodka, tequila range, moonshine would slot it there," says the mysteriously dubbed Mr. A. The duo behind Melbourne Moonshine are moonlighting from their day jobs thus the need to stay incognito at present (I think the old-timey bootleggers would approve). Bar industry consultant Fred Siggins (ex-Black Pearl, educator at The Humble Tumbler) continues, "the short answer is moonshine is un-aged corn-whiskey coming out of the illicit whiskey production traditions during American prohibition in the 1920 and ‘30s."
So why is it popping up in Melbourne bars nearly a hundred years later? "In Australia over the last two years there's been a massive interest in Southern American cuisine like fried chicken and bbq," says Fred. "We have barbeque festivals and Belle's Chicken is the hottest thing on the block so drinks that are associated with that are reasonably popular as well." The unromantic side is that Australia "has this booming whiskey industry with new distilleries opening every day. But of course whiskey takes years to mature. It's a way to make money while the real whiskey is getting ready." Hey, I'm cool with such shameless pragmatism as long as we get something new to drink out of it.
According to Mr A, moonshine tastes "slightly sweet with a dry finish". Fred likens it to raw cornbread batter which you ideally want to drink "from a mason jar, off the back of a pick-up truck in a tobacco field with Creedence playing." He suggests first-timers try it with something simple like Mountain Dew, Coke or ginger ale so the corn flavour shines through without the drink being too full on.
Once you're on the moonshine wagon Fred suggests that it is best used in cocktails "that you would normally use whiskey in, rather than cocktails you would usually use other white spirits in as it's quite full flavoured". His other trick is to look for recipes that traditionally use genever, "it's also a bit esoteric I know, but there are more genever cocktails out there in classic cocktail books than there are moonshine. It has a similar sort of palate weight to moonshine." Mr A likes to drink his at room temperature however explains "we're trying to break away from the idea of moonshine being made in the bathtub by some crazy cousin. We've experimented with keeping in the freezer like vodka, serving it ultra-chilled alongside smoked trout. That combo is amazing and a very Nordic thing to do."
You can find Australian moonshines like Melbourne Moonshine, Crazy Uncle and Ironbark as well as American Moonshines like Ole Smoky, Freedom and Bearded Lady in Melbourne at a bunch of our fave Melbourne bars: The Mill House, Village Melbourne, Huey Long's, Black Pearl, Bad Frankie, Whisky & Alement, Sun Moth Canteen Bar, The Everleigh, Nicks Wine Merchants, Section 8, Captains of Industry, and Boilermaker House.
Want more amazing drinks in Melbourne? What about Melbourne's best mojitos?
Image credit: Sarah Wilcocks