Here's How Much Alcohol Is Actually In Moonshine

You probably know moonshine as the dangerous alcoholic drink that was made popular (and made illegally) during Prohibition. You might even know it as the alcohol that's strong enough to power a car, thanks to the movie Lawless - and moonshine actually can get your motor running if it's over 75 percent alcohol by volume (via Slate). However, with so much bad press regarding its dangerously high alcohol content, it might surprise you to learn that moonshine is not only widely available today but also no more dangerous than other high-proof alcohols (via Wide Open Eats).

The amount of alcohol in moonshine differs depending on the distillation process, but in the United States, moonshine can't legally be distilled to more than 80 percent ABV, and can't be bottled at more than 62.5 percent ABV, and many are much lower than that. For instance, Midnight Moon brand moonshine sells versions that range from 30 percent ABV to 50 percent ABV (via Midnight Moon). Keep in mind that vodka is generally 40 percent ABV, gin is between 35-55 percent ABV, and Everclear is between 60-95 percent ABV (via Alcohol Rehab Guide). For more understanding of how moonshine got such a dangerous reputation, it might help to have a little bit of background knowledge about this historical hooch.

The true dangers of moonshine

Moonshine was a term once used for any liquor that was made illegally, but nowadays it usually refers to a specific spirit, also known as white whiskey or corn whiskey. This is because moonshine is usually made from cornmeal, sugar, yeast, and water that has been distilled, creating a clear alcoholic liquid. This liquid is essentially bourbon that hasn't been aged (it's the aging process that gives bourbon its darker hue and distinctive flavor) and its alcohol percentage can actually vary widely.

During prohibition, unregulated moonshine wasn't only dangerously high in alcohol content (at about 75 percent ABV); it was also cut with a number of unsafe ingredients to make the drink pack more of a wallop, including bleach, rubbing alcohol, manure, and even paint thinner (via How Stuff Works). It's therefore no wonder the stuff made drinkers go blind and, in some cases, die.

Even today, when made without a license, moonshine can be unsanitary and unsafe to drink, since the conditions of the distillery aren't regulated. Luckily, you can get the legal, safe kind at most liquor stores and feel confident what you're drinking isn't any more dangerous than another high-proof liquor.