As city dwellers, the word “moonshine” evokes visions of outlaws hiding out on the edges of some dusty Western town, making homemade hooch in an old clawfoot tub. We’re no Jesse James, but these days DIY boozing is getting its due within city limits, from winemaking classes to home-brewing meet-ups. Though moonshining ain’t expressly legal, we were still curious about how to make the ol’ stiff drink from scratch.
Luckily for our curious minds, Colin Spoelman and David Haskell have been doing more than producing expertly crafted whiskeys inside the Kings County Distillery in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, They’ve also been hard at work penning their very own “Guide to Urban Moonshining,” a go-to book on how to make and drink the good stuff.
First things first, though: what is moonshine anyway? The drink takes its name from the fly-by-night ways in which the potent potable was once smuggled, quite literally under the shining light of the moon. Even before Prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920, the American government had banished moonshine because of the complex distilling process and the dangers it could hold for inexperienced folks attempting to make a batch. Yep, that whole blindness myth is true. Make a batch containing too much of the methanol byproduct (which comes from the yeast during fermentation) and we’d be liable to lose our vision.
Moonshining during Prohibition gradually grew into a bit larger and sophisticated business. Bootleggers set up shop in the mountains and caves of the Appalachians, spanning from Mississippi up through New York and Vermont. Today, the intrepid explorer can still find abandoned production equipment hidden around the country. To transport it out of the mountains, Al Capone lead one of the biggest distribution rings of the illegal alcohol in Chicago, as did other organized crime outfits in New York City.
Now, with the release of Spoelman and Haskell’s book, they’re taking a long look at what they call “America’s indigenous spirit.” According to their publisher, Abrams Books, “It answers many questions that have mystified amateurs and enthusiasts alike, including what, precisely, makes whiskey whiskey. And it is also a manual for how to make homemade whiskey, otherwise known as moonshine, safely and deliciously (if not quite legally).”
Want to learn more? Spoelman visits the historic chapel at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery on January 18 for a look at the new book, along with whiskey-soaked tales that feature some of the folks resting in peace there. Listen in, then grab an autographed copy of the book, get a special taste of Kings County’s whiskey and hop on the Green-Wood trolley for a look at whiskey-related sites around the cemetery. Get tickets here.
Can’t make it? Visit Kings County Distillery at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (through the Sands Street Gate.) The distillery is open for tours and tastings from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. every Saturday. No reservations are needed, tours, which include a tasting, are $8. Tours last about 45 minutes and run every 20-30 minutes.