Handle The Proof: A Little Moonshine
Yeah, some of it reeks of burnt quinine and poisonous residue. The word brings to mind hardened heroes like Junior Johnson and others hauling jars of dubious spirit. And it's difficult not to think of Ozark (or Appalachian) backwoodsmen lazing on a porch surrounded by jugs bearing that notorious 'XXX.'
Maybe I just learned too much from Looney Tunes...
But over the years I've sampled--if that's the right word--some rather intriguing (and at least one impressive) distillates.
At its best, moonshine is just an unimproved spirit. Where vodka makers distill multiple times to smooth out the character and boost the alcohol, where whiskey masters turn to barrel aging, 'shiners just let it drip.
Kinda like a bad grappa.
In the Czech Republic, even today, you find better slivovice--also translated as brandy, but of fruit rather than grain--on Moravian farms than in commercial bottles. The best of these can be surprisingly mellow (the kick hits you later), with background notes of overripe fruit and the hodge-podge of skin, seeds and twigs that make their way into the process. This bonds the spirit with a pulpy base perfectly in tune with the main ingredient.
Oh, I've probably overstated the beauty of this liquor. It's not all that pretty--they distill once and just sieve out the remnants. Old timers who've been doing it for awhile know how to bring out a finished product with rough edges, but a clean, flavorful middle.
You gotta get over there and ask around, but the experience is worth it.