Moonshine! — A Book Review

In an effort to help educate folks in the art of fermentation, we like to include book reviews on the subject. After all, fermenting foods goes well beyond the head-of-cabbage-to-sauerkraut realm, as this review demonstrates. If fermented beverages (or how to make moonshine) are your thing, read on for Ashley’s insightful review of Moonshine! by Matthew B. Rowley.

Book Review: Moonshine! by Matthew B. Rowley

The art and science of fermentation has a long history, going back as far as the beginnings of human civilization.  With human civilization came more complex fermentation processing methods, such as distillation, and due to the risks (and rewards) involved, regulation seemed inevitable.

Moonshine! by Matthew B. Rowley takes the reader through that not always savory history, while discussing the science and cultural implications of small scale distillation.  As he promises, the book includes “recipes, tall tales, drinking songs, historical stuff, knee-slappers, how to make it, how to drink it, pleasing the law and recovering the next day.”

The chapter “Moonshine and the Law” stresses that un-permitted moonshine is not only illegal, but potentially dangerous.  While the author could go on to say, “though it’s illegal, and you’d never make any on your own, * wink * , here’s how to make it ‘for informational purposes only,’” the responsible author does no such thing.  His goal is to explain that moonshine is just as respectable (and tasty) as any other beverage, and that obtaining local and federal permits for a small scale distillery is attainable for even a small backyard distillation operation.  The well-researched book provides numerous examples of licensed, small backyard operations that operate within the law, but still produce items that are traditionally deemed “moonshine,” such as traditional corn whiskey.

This well-researched book takes you through the ins and outs of starting a small scale, legal home distillation operation, all while incorporating humor and history into the mix.  Detailed instructions are given for either purchasing the appropriate still or constructing your own.  Traditional recipes are shared so that if the reader does choose to go through the appropriate channels and become a licensed distillery old methods will not be lost forever.

Traditional recipes include “George Washington’s Rye Whisky” which you’ll learn is a type of whiskey made in a very profitable distillery run out of George Washington’s famous Mt. Vernon estate from 1797 to Washington’s death in 1799.

Other historical notes, beyond the pictures and stories of rum runners and their caches, caught my eye—especially the section about women in the moonshine business.  Historically, distillation, as well as home brewing and most fermentation in general, was considered the work of women.  The author notes that, in a guide to housekeeping in the “eighteenth century, distilling was as much a part of female domestic duties as cooking and cleaning.”

Most importantly, the author takes the reader through detailed information regarding alcohol chemistry and safety to stress the importance of a solid, how-to-make-moonshine process to prevent accidents and dangerous batches from harming anyone.

All in all I found Moonshine! to be a great read, for both it’s historical as well as practical significance.  It’s not common knowledge that backyard distilleries are not only potentially legal, but that small scale distillation is on the rise in the United States.  In my home state of Vermont, where a craft beer boom is currently underway, a lesser known craft distillation boom is also underway as a number of small scale distilleries have opened up to produce specialty spirits, often with a local flare including Vermont produced maple.  Our local technical college even recently taught an 11-day course on small scale distillation to encourage the distillation boom.

Slowly, fermentation is coming back into the hands of the people, through small scale home fermenters making their own sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, beer, wine and now, slowly but surely, their own legal moonshine!


While Fermentools does not manufacture stills, we do carry a complete line of tools to help you on your fermenting journey. Visit our store for all you need to turn your own canning jars into the best fermentation vessels you would want.


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