Don't Worry, Drinking Moonshine Will Not Make You Blind
The number one thing you hear about Moonshine when talking to laymen is, "Won't that stuff make you blind?" The answer is no, drinking moonshine will not make you blind.
At least not any more so than other types of booze, we've all had those regretful mornings. The genesis of this concern comes from the fact that a byproduct of distilling, known as methanol, can indeed make one blind. Combine that fact with Moonshine's unregulated history and voila... horror stories have long lives.
Making Heads or Tails of Hearts
Like so many things, distilling is both science and art. A great distiller has his art down to science, making his product stand out in every way possible. This includes the mash, the temperatures, the timing, and any infusions he may have up his sleeve.
However, the first thing a great distiller will focus on is proper isolation of the hearts. This is likely the most important facet to finding great Moonshine. Great hearts require perfect timing, as well as a good nose and palate.
When doing a run of Moonshine, you heat your mash to a desired temperature. The mash has been fermenting, and is a slurry of all the stuff you want mixed with a bunch of stuff you don't want.
By heating it, you're taking advantage of the fact that the stuff you want will evaporate at different temperatures than the stuff you don't want. When you begin heating, the first distillate to come out the other end of your still is known as the foreshots. The foreshots are mostly methanol, and they will make you blind.
Next, comes the heads. The heads won't make you blind, but the volatile alcohols they contain will give you a whopping hangover. The product also smells and tastes terrible, this is because of the acetone that is present.
After the heads come the hearts. The hearts are arguably the most important step that separates delicious Moonshine from engine degreaser. Think of this transition as a gradient and you begin to see what makes it so difficult. Your first and last jars of hearts can be difficult to time, and often what smells/tastes ok to you will be laughed at by a seasoned shiner.
Finally we get to the tails, which get oily from water and proteins that are present. If you're drinking oily hooch, you're drinking tails. Gross.
If you want to learn more about this subject, Mile Hi Distilling has a great article on How to Make Moonshine.
So Where Do I Find the Good Stuff?
If you check online spirits retailers or if you have a decent spirits retailer near you, chances are good that you'll find a great brand of Moonshine there. Unfortunately, there's no way to say what brand is better than another because they all have their own corner of the market.
Maybe you like the traditional sweet-corn taste that comes from a full blown corn Whiskey mash. If so, check out Tim Smith's Climax Moonshine.
Or perhaps you're into flavored Moonshine made from a sugar mash that is built on a more neutral-tasting foundation. If this is your style, check out Ole Smokey Apple Pie Moonshine.
If you have distillers close to you, go give them a taste. If you smell a sweet ethanol and corn coming off the shine, you're probably in the right place.