Most of the time, the specific drink of choice is rarely an issue when someone is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction. Beer, wine, liquor or liqueur – too much of one has relatively the same effect as too much of the other. But when the alcoholic beverage of choice is illegal moonshine, drinkers take on a whole new world of risks. In its illegal form, it’s dangerous and potentially toxic even in small amounts, and overuse of the substance can end the drinker’s life far more quickly than abuse of any combination of legal alcoholic beverages.

If alcohol use is a problem for your loved one, even if his or her drink of choice is illegal moonshine, treatment can help. Contact us at Black Bear Lodge today.

What Is Moonshine?

Moonshine is an alcoholic beverage that is made by using an apparatus called a still to ferment and then distill anything from apples or peaches to corn or rye into brandy, whisky, or another form of alcohol. Fermentation is the first step – the starches in the fruit or grain are broken down into sugar and the sugar then becomes alcohol. It’s a naturally slow process, but distillers speed it up by infusing the mixture with yeast, sugar, and/or malt and creating a mash.

Once this mash is created, it is then heated, a process that removes the alcohol from the mash and turns it into vapor. When cooled, the alcoholic vapor turns back into liquid, and this liquid is captured, bottled and called moonshine. No aging is necessary; it is just bottled and sold as-is.

Legal or Not?

Brown liquor, white liquor, or liquor made with any combination of fruit or grains – there are a number of different versions of moonshine, some of which are legally sold across the state of Georgia and around the country. The legal versions of moonshine are made in distilleries that are regulated and licensed. The illegal ones are made in any clandestine location that will best avoid notice by law enforcement with little to no attention to quality. The goal in the latter case is potency – the stronger, the better – and those who make it are interested in a profit and not necessarily in protecting the health of their customers.

For those who make the drink legally in Georgia, it’s a matter of pride. Some have roots in illegal moonshine, a family history that gave them the skills to turn a legitimate profit with their craft. Others are new to the process, which is termed “craft distilling,” and both are working together to create unique and interesting products within the context of a newly regulated industry for customers who are connoisseurs of alcoholic beverages and not necessarily just looking for a quick way to get drunk.

But there’s a big difference between the beverages legally made and sold in stores and bars and the stuff that’s also called moonshine, made in clandestine distilleries and sold on the black market. Commercially sold bottles with names that include the word “moonshine” are made within the bounds of the law, according to government standards, and the number of these small businesses grows by about 30 percent every year, according to the American Distilling Institute. And yet, there are a number of underground competitors who continue to produce moonshine outside the bounds of the law.

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Why? Perhaps they don’t want to go through the process of attaining the required licenses. The American Distilling Institute says that the following requirements are necessary in order to produce “certified craft distilled spirits”:

  • Be a certified craft producer
  • Independently own a distilled spirits plant (DSP)
  • Use a TTB-approved label that says “Distilled by” followed by the name of the distilled spirits plant
  • Sell no more than 100,000 proof gallons per year
  • Implement “hands-on production” that includes any combination of infusing, blending, fermenting, distilling, re-distilling, and warehousing

In order to own a business that legally sells certified “craft-blended” spirits, the seller must:

  • Be an independent owner of the DSP (less than 25 percent of the DSP can be owned or controlled by alcoholic beverage industry members who are not craft distillers)
  • Have max yearly sales that do not exceed 100,000 proof gallons
  • Utilize a combination of traditional and/or new techniques to create the spirits and ensure that the components of the beverage are varied

History of Moonshine

The making of moonshine has a long history in Georgia, going back as far as the 1800s. Introduced to the region by Scotch-Irish immigrants from Northern Ireland, farmers across the state created a variety of alcohol forms by distilling a range of grains and fruits and used the money they made to make ends meet, according to New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Problems arose when the federal government attempted to tax the money made on sales of the liquor; farmers who made moonshine and refused to pay the tax found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Despite the creation of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) during the Civil War, many moonshiners ducked out of paying the taxes – though making the moonshine was not yet illegal, avoiding the tax was. This became especially problematic for Georgian moonshiners when the war ended and Georgia rejoined the Union. Rather than discontinue making liquor, they began to make the spirits at night, thus earning the name “moonshine” for the beverage. It was not a practice that went unnoticed by the government: an estimated four-fifths of all federal cases in the mountains of Georgia in the late 1800s centered on illegal stills and moonshine making.

Around the turn of the century, public opinion turned against the moonshiners, and the temperance movement began. They viewed taxation of liquor as encouragement to avoid drinking altogether and portrayed moonshiners as violent criminals. The early 1900s saw the passage of the 18th Amendment and the implementation of the Volstead Act, which declared that all alcohol consumption and manufacture were illegal. This served to increase demand for moonshine across the state and the business became overrun by gangsters. The mountains of Georgia became a continuous showdown between “revenuers” (IRS employees) and moonshiners, often acted out in dangerous car chases that took lives from one or both sides.

Moonshine Today

Moonshine is extremely popular today, in its legal form. A variety of publications publish “best of” lists and remark upon new products out on the market. Even Huffington Post published The Best Legal Moonshine and listed their winners – though that term was used to dubiously define a ranked list of beverages that were often described as tasting like “soggy bread on fire” or “month-old Chinese white rice.” Names range from the simple (Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine) to quirky (Buffalo Trace White Dog, Mash #1), and the beverages are strong, ranging from 80 proof to 125 proof.

The Dangers of Moonshine

According to Medicinal Mixology, the only difference between legal and illegal moonshine lies in taxes: “Moonshine is liquor made by a person that doesn’t give the government the taxes it so loves to collect on liquor sales. So really, the only thing that separates a distiller from a bootlegger is money paid to Uncle Sam.”

But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) tells a different tale. Agents who are focused on busting those who would continue to make moonshine in hidden stills describe unsanitary conditions, poisons and excrement in the final brew, and effects on the drinker that range from blindness to paralysis to brain damage.

According to the ATF: “Moonshine’s poisonous punch is reflected in its nicknames: “white lightning,” “head-buster” and “popskull.” A Georgia agent observed that, “’Illicit producers sometimes add manure to make moonshine ferment faster, and we’ve found dead possums, rats and vermin floating in mash vats.’”

Even some of today’s moonshiners who proudly brand a safe moonshine product say that the product they formerly created was not fit to drink. It’s clear that without regulation, like many other illicit substances made on the black market, there are a number of dangers to consumers.

Alcohol Addiction: When Enough Is Enough

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Illegal moonshine can contribute to serious liver damage, seizures, alcohol poisoning and other acute medical issues, but even use of legal moonshine can contribute to an alcohol use disorder that requires treatment. According to Medline Plus, alcohol abuse is defined as regular drinking in any amount or frequency that leads to significant problems in life: drinking at home, drinking at work, problems with the law, trouble in relationships, and problems with personal health. Similarly, alcoholism is a clear problem when drinking is so significant that it causes all the same issues seen with alcohol abuse and compounds them with serious withdrawal symptoms when the person is without an alcoholic beverage for any period of time.

Whether alcohol abuse, alcoholism, or even binge drinking is a problem, and whether or not legal moonshine or illegal moonshine plays a part, alcohol rehabilitation can help. Treatment services should include all the resources necessary to help the patient stabilize in recovery without alcohol. That means that alcohol rehab should provide any combination of the following on an as-needed basis:

  • Thorough evaluation at intake
  • Medical stabilization
  • Medical detox
  • Medication and monitoring
  • A unique treatment plan
  • Personal therapy and one-on-one check-ins throughout treatment
  • Alternative therapies to create a well-rounded treatment program
  • Holistic treatment to increase overall wellness and lower stress
  • Treatment for co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders
  • Aftercare and follow-up for stabilization after the transition home

Here at Black Bear Lodge, we offer a range of treatment services that can help to address the physical and psychological dependence upon alcohol that is characteristic of many alcohol use disorders. We also provide treatment that can effectively address the underlying mental health issues experienced by patients in addition to or because of their use of alcohol.

Patients have access to medical care as well as intensive psychotherapeutic treatment that gives them the coping skills they need to quit drinking safely and start living a life defined by wellness and hope. Also, before returning home, patients can build an aftercare plan that will assist them in creating a strong foundation in their new life in recovery while also allowing them to continue growing in the therapies and treatments they began in rehab.

Contact us at Black Bear Lodge now to discuss the options available to your addicted loved one in alcohol treatment. He or she can begin a journey into a new life of sobriety starting right now. Call 706-914-2327 to set up an intake appointment or to tour our estate.