So I'd like to lead into this story with a charming story about one of my aged relatives urinating in one of his bottles of bootleg beer to keep his sons from drinking it. I'd like to, but upon trying to relay it, I realize that the charming part is the charming Irish accent that the teller impersonates. Which doesn't come across in blog form. Your loss.
This post is about moonshine, homemade liquor. The term comes from England, where once moonshine referred to any job one did at night. The info comes from Stuff You Should Know, one of the super cool podcasts produced by HowStuffWorks.com.
Bootlegging is so called because bootleggers allegedly used to hide the booze in their boots. I highly doubt this was the preferred way of transporting the good stuff - it's not particularly efficient. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this was related to the fact that folks used to conceal weapons in their boots, which are a much more practical things to stick in one's boot. Although it certainly wouldn't be comfortable.
Bootlegging didn't start with the prohibition, as it turns out. It actually began to come into its own around the American revolution - liquor was legal, but taxed. Folks had just fought a whole war to stop paying taxes, and they were kind of grumpy about the fact that the new government were expecting them to do just that. So grumpy that many of them took over the city of Pittsburgh in what came to be called The Whiskey Rebellion. It was one of George Washington's first big domestic challenges as president. Washington also delivered his first presidential pardon to get a leader of the rebellion off the hook. He probably figured he'd killed a whole lot of redcoats to not pay taxes, and his only punishment was becoming the first president, so he should share the mercy.
So moonshine was traditionally made of corn mash and tastes, according to the guys on the podcasts, "having your throat ripped out by God." Which, because I'm an idiot, makes me totally want to try it. Moonshine differs from bourbon, also made from corn mash, because it's not aged - bourbon is aged for years in charred barrels, which give it that brown color. Moonshine is clear and goes right from the bathtub to the mason jar.
Actually, bathtub gin is a different thing, in that it's gin and not whiskey. it is not, according to Wikipedia, made in bathtub. It's just that the bottles they use to make it were so big they had to be filled from the bathtub, rather than the sink.
Interesting moonshine fact: moonshine actually gave rise to NASCAR. Bootleggers got quite skilled at outrunning the cops in small, cheaper cars through the mountains of Appalachia. Some got so good that they decided to make a sport of it. Interestingly, though modifying a stock car is illegal in NASCAR, it was common among bootleggers. In fact, the first winner of a NASCAR race was disqualified when it was discovered he'd modified the car he used in the race. Because he'd been using it to bootleg moonshine the previous week.
There's a hundred bottles of beer in this cupboard, and I pissed in one. /charming Irish accent.