Moonshine vs Whiskey: What’s the Difference? (2023 Updated)

Last Updated on November 5, 2023 by Lydia Martin

Most of us have only heard tales about moonshine as a once-illegal beverage, with tales of shady roadside transactions and secret stills in barns.

However, not many people know that moonshine is literally just an untaxed whiskey. Have you ever wondered how different are they?

Our team spent 48 hours researching to find out the differences of moonshine vs whiskey

Whiskey or Moonshine: How Do They Differ?


The term moonshine is any alcohol that is produced illegally. Sometimes it is called white lightning or white whiskey.

The origins of moonshine may be traced back to the American Revolution when the government imposed heavy taxes on alcohol manufacturing. 

On the other hand, whiskeys are produced legally. Also, this alcohol can be made anywhere across the world. Whiskeys require a maturing process, unlike moonshine that does not. And whiskey can be classified into two: grain whiskey and malt whiskey.

A Closer Look At Their Differences

A Closer Look At Their Differences

Tax & Legality

The first difference between the two spirits is their tax and legality. The word moonshine is an alcoholic liquor produced illegally to evade the legal requirement for whiskey aging.

Moonshine’s origins may be traced back to the American Revolution when the government levied heavy taxes on the manufacture of alcohol.

On the other hand, producers can manufacture whiskeys everywhere. Around 25 countries or nations are producing whiskey. Scotland is the biggest producer globally, where scotch whiskey is made.

Also Read: What Does the “XXX” Label Mean on a Moonshine Jug?

Base Product

Crushed Corn

Another difference is their base product. Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage prepared from any fermented grain mash. Whiskey comes from barley, malted barley, rye, or wheat, depending on the geographical region or kind of whiskey being made [1].

Moonshine may be produced from grain or fruit, although corn is the most common. Because most individuals who make their drinks are farmers or reside in rural regions, they tend to use whatever crop they have for the distillation process of white whiskey.

Check out our favorite Ole Smoky Moonshine flavors here.

Production Method

There are several variants of the whiskey production process. Still, regardless of where it originates, it involves fermentation of fruits or grains, distillation, blending with some neutral spirits, and aging or storage in a barrel or cask.

The simplest method required maize meal, sugar, yeast, and water to manufacture moonshine. However, cornmeal can substitute other grains such as barley, rye, or any other grain mash.  

Aging Process

Oak Barrel

Like brandy, whiskey is also a distilled spirit that requires aging. When aged in wooden casks, other flavorings are added to produce different varieties. On the other hand, there’s no aging requirement to be called moonshine. Some makers store their moonshines in jars for 3-4 months.  

Also Read: How Much is a Dram of Whiskey?


Johnnie Walker

After being distilled, whiskey is aged in an oak barrel to get the golden brown and amber hues like rum. Whiskey must be aged in wooden casks before being called whiskey.

Depending on the restrictions, other flavorings are added to the alcohol. On the other hand, moonshine is often translucent and clear in appearance. 

Read: Is There Such A Thing As Clear Whiskey?

Tasting Notes

A glass of whiskey

So, what does moonshine taste like? Moonshine is created from fermented corn mash and distilled into alcohol, resulting in a strong taste. But, what percent of alcohol is in moonshine? Moonshines are usually high-proof alcohol and alcoholic content. Moonshine has 40-60% ABV alcohol content but can vary from 60-80% ABV.

Whiskey tastes sweet, fruity, peppery, oaky, or smoky. Almost like beer, single malt whiskey is a whiskey that originates from a single distillery and is then brewed with only one variety of malted grain in the mash with an oaky taste. So, what’s good to mix with whiskey?


Another difference is their price. Moonshine has become outdated due to large distilleries offering alcohol at cheap costs. A bottle of moonshine normally costs around $22 to $30. Several small distilleries in the US still make white whiskey safer.

Meanwhile, a bottle of whiskey usually costs about $20 to $500, while some cost less than $20 and others that cost more than $500.

Also Read:


Is moonshine just unaged whiskey?

Yes, moonshine is an unaged whiskey based on some moonshiners. Moonshiners define moonshine or white whiskey as homemade and unaged whiskey [2].

Is moonshine considered whiskey?

Yes, moonshine can be considered as whiskey. Rum and whiskey are the most common forms of moonshine. The distillation and ingredients used are strong indicators that this is a whiskey, and many experts agreed. 

Final Thoughts

There’s a huge difference between whiskey and moonshine. Moonshine is an illegally produced alcohol drink that goes by various names worldwide. Usually, it is made from fermented corn mash.

Unlike whiskey, moonshine does not need to be aged. Despite the differences, whiskey won this battle. Because it hasn’t matured, the flavor profile of moonshine will be less complex and rougher than whiskey that matured for years. 



Lydia Martin

Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here or feel free to give Lydia a tip.

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