What is Moonshine?
Moonshining refers to making spirits ‘by the light of the moon’ because of its illicit nature. However, making your own spirits was not always illegal. In fact, fermenting excess grain was popular amongst early American settlers, especially in grain producing states.
Farmers would ferment excess grain to avoid waste but soon learned that the whiskey they produced was far more valuable than the grain they were growing. In fact, whiskey was often used as a form of currency during this time.
Of course all good things must come to an end. In 1790 Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton soon decided that taxing spirits would be an ideal way to help pay for the costs associated with the American Revolutionary War. And so, the Whiskey Tax was put into effect.
While this tax was rebelled against and many lost their lives, moonshining, or producing spirits illicitly was born.
Where does the old saying come from “Blind Drunk” – can alcohol cause blindness?
Today the most common cause of blindness from drinking is methanol. Methanol, otherwise known as methyl alcohol (CH3OH) or wood alcohol (a methyl group linked to a hydroxyl group, often abbreviated as MeOH). It is a light, volatile, colourless, flammable liquid with a distinctive alcoholic odour similar to that of ethanol (potable alcohol), can damage the optic nerve and even kill you in high concentrations. During Prohibition, bootleggers were known to sell moonshine that contained methanol, and the practice continues abroad. When distilling always remove the first 200ml and discard or use for window cleaner.
History of Rum
While the history of American moonshine definitely involved some bloodshed, it is sunshine and rainbows compared to the history of rum. If you are ever around the Lake District, I highly recommend visiting the Rum Story in Whitehaven.
While whiskey is made from grain, rum is made from sugarcane. Sugarcane was originally cultivated in New Guinea and first fermented as early as 350 BC in India. At this time, the drink was used medicinally.
When explorers began travelling along the trade route in the 1400’s sugarcane was discovered along with the perfect climate to cultivate it. Many areas were discovered with plenty of water (necessary for sugarcane) but there was a lack of manpower.
Unfortunately, the answer at that time was to enlist slaves to help to grow the sugarcane. Explorers were finding that whiskey and mead were not faring well on their long journeys and soon began to drink rum instead.
A real turning point came with the discovery of the perfect climate for growing sugar cane. Barbados was ‘discovered’ in the early 1600’s. Explorer Richard Ligon brought equipment, slaves and distillation knowledge from Brazil. In less than a decade Barbados had a prospering sugar and rum export industry.
Rum or Whiskey?
While the history of rum is not a pretty one, modern enthusiasts often associate rum with tropical vacations rather than generations of enslavement.
It makes sense for you to want to make rum at home in order to recreate that vacation feeling all year long. In fact, many people actually start with a rum recipe because it is much easier to make compared to whiskey!
The reason rum is easier to make is because it does not require a conversion. The first step of making moonshine is to make a mash or the base of your moonshine. When you are using grain as your base you must cook it in order to allow a conversion from a starch to fermentable sugars.
When you are using a sugar-based recipe this step is eliminated.
Another reason that many moonshiners start with a sugar-based recipe is the accessibility of ingredients as well as their low cost. While sourcing cracked corn may not be the easiest for a novice distiller, sugar is readily available and economical to buy. It is also a common and familiar ingredient to work with, so it makes trying a new hobby a little easier and more accessible.
Can you Make rum with Sugar, Water, and Yeast?
Sugar shine ethanol.
While you can make a simple sugar shine with nothing more than sugar, water and yeast, it is not considered rum!
In order to be considered rum you need to add one key ingredient: molasses. When sugarcane is processed it is crushed and the juice is extracted. That juice is then boiled down to produce sugar crystals. The by-product of this process is molasses.
Molasses (Black treacle in the UK) in moonshine
This dark syrup is a favourite in many dishes, especially around the holidays. It is also essential in a rum recipe. Without the molasses, you are simply making a sugar wash. While this is also a great option for someone looking for a simple option to make a spirit, it will not have the right flavour for rum. Using a pot still to make rum with this recipe will not produce your typical Bacardi flavour. This recipe will produce a rum similar to varieties typically found in the Caribbean.
Easy Rum Moonshine Recipe
Bring a taste of the Caribbean home with this easy rum moonshine recipe!
5.6kg raw cane sugar
41 Litres de-chlorinated water
4.5kg un-sulphured molasses
In a large pot over medium high heat, bring water to 49c.
Add sugar in fractions, stirring well to dissolve.
Once the sugar is dissolved, add the molasses and stir well to combine.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool to 21.1c/70°F once your mash has reached 21.1c/70F, add the yeast.
Pour your mash from your pot to your fermenting vessel 10 times to aerate your mash.
Add your mash to your fermentation bucket. Use sterilised bucket, airtight lid and an airlock.
Allow to ferment for about two weeks. Once fermentation is complete clear your mash or wait a week for it to settle. I found adding tablespoon of gelatine in a cup of warm water accelerates the clearing process without adding market sold chemicals.
Distil your rum in an alembic dome, also known as pot stilling.
Age in a Bourbon cask for a more mellow drinking experience, or use bourbon chips in large containers to speed this process up.
This recipe will yield 7 litres of 40% abv Rum