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Moonshine and Whiskey: What’s the Difference?

Old Tennessee Distilling Company / Moonshine  / Moonshine and Whiskey: What’s the Difference?
Moonshine and whiskey shots

Moonshine and Whiskey: What’s the Difference?

One is the stuff of outlaw legend, linked to prohibition and homemade distilleries in the South’s backwoods, while the other enjoys a more law-abiding reputation; but what is the difference between moonshine and whiskey? We will break down the similarities between moonshine and whiskey and give you a backstory on your favorite tipple.

What is Moonshine?

Historically, moonshine was distilled spirits illegally made and untaxed. Is moonshine illegal today? While it is still illegal to make homemade moonshine without the correct permits (and without paying taxes!), professional distilleries such as Old Tennessee Distilling Company produce legal versions of the alcohol once loved by bootleggers during prohibition. 

Moonshine ingredients, corn sugar, yeast, and water, are fermented and distilled to produce a clear spirit high in alcohol. Fermentation is a chemical process that converts sugars into alcohol which is then distilled several times, separating the alcohol from the water through evaporation and condensation to produce a purer alcohol which becomes moonshine. Once the distillation process is complete, the moonshine is bottled as is, without aging. 

Although various ingredients are used to make alcohol, such as rye or barley, corn has been the preferred base for moonshine makers for nearly two centuries. The final product is clear, and the flavor subtle, similar to vodka, which makes it ideal for experimenting with food and color. The variety of moonshine flavors makes it the perfect drink for any kind of party; think watermelon moonshine for summer cookouts or a S’mores and Cream moonshine cocktail for Thanksgiving. 

At Old Tennessee Distilling Company, we follow the distilling traditions of our ancestors, and our Master distillers have perfected smooth, crisp moonshine that’ll suit any rule-breaker.

What is Whiskey?

The honey-colored spirit we all love. Whether nursing a glass by a log fire or enjoying it in a cocktail, whiskey is one of the world’s most popular drinks, and that’s no different in Tennessee. 

Like moonshine, whiskey is typically made from a blend of grains called a mash, which has undergone fermentation. The mash follows a similar distillation process to moonshine. The spirit is distilled several times; the more the whiskey is distilled, the more refined (and smoother) it usually is. Once refined, the alcohol is transferred to a container, typically a barrel or cask, made from a specific type of wood to begin the aging process. Unlike moonshine, which is ready to drink without maturing, whiskey is stored in barrels for months and sometimes years to develop its complex flavor and golden-amber colors. 

The type of wood barrel used in the aging process is crucial to the final product. Tennessee whiskey (which is only produced in Tennessee) is aged in new charred oak barrels. Bourbon undergoes a similar process, so these two spirits are often confused. Oak is the most popular and commonly used wood in barrelling, as the American Oak infuses the whiskey with sweeter, caramel-like notes, while its European counterpart tends to lend a bit of spice to the spirit. 

Whiskey’s aging process is distinct from moonshine, but both spirits are excellent additions to your bar or your next event. 

Moonshine and Whiskey Tastings

If you want to compare moonshine and whiskey in person, stop by Old Tennessee Distilling Company near Sevierville, East TN. Our spirits are steeped in history, and our process honors tradition and is authentically farm-to-bottle. We stock various award-winning whiskeys and moonshine for every taste, so come for a complimentary tasting and stay for a famous $5 cocktail!



Kent Merritt

Gatlinburg native Kent Merrit oversees the behind-the-scenes operations at Old Tennessee Distilling Company. He has over 35 years of manufacturing and business management experience and is passionate about developing and promoting businesses with exceptional products and excellent customer service. He invites you to pop in at Old Tennessee Distilling Co. for a free tasting of moonshine and distilled spirits. "Take a moment, take a sip, and get a taste for Tennessee."

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Tennessee Frost Moonshine

Our 100 proof traditional moonshine is made from heirloom corn we grow right here in East Tennessee, Tennessee. This is shine the way it’’s been made for hundreds of years.

100 PROOF / 50% ALC BY VOL.