How It Became White Lightnin'

Published by Broadslab Distillery

The American fascination of whiskey, moonshine, bootleggin’, outlaws, revenuers, car chases, hidden stashes, and stills in the woods both speaks to our Appalachian heritage and the “little bit of rebel” inside of us. But to understand what White Lightnin’ is we will first remind you of the difference between whiskey and moonshine.

Most traditional caramel-colored whiskies are made from a grain mash and aged in clean, unused oak barrels for a period of time—from a few months to several years. Whiskey derives its sugars from the grains themselves: being corn, rye, wheat, barley—they all have natural sugars that helps give each whiskey its unique taste. By law, to have the word “whiskey” on a label, the whiskey must be made from at least 80-percent grain.

In contrast, moonshine is made by fermentation of a mash of cane sugar water and corn—and it is un-aged for quick distribution and profit.  Moonshine derives its name from being made “by the light of the moon”—illegally—and away from regulations on distilling and distribution. It is the stuff that is produced and placed in gallon jugs—left in inconspicuous places for a prearranged pickup and then sent to an underground of buyers.

During the heyday of “Moonshining” in the early 1900s, a high proof Moonshine—bordering on being 150-proof—was called White Lightnin’. This was the moonshine that distillers sold in bulk to buyers they never saw. This “White Lightnin’” was exactly that: clear to the eye and lightning quick to burn everything in its path! An incarcerated individual quoted, “Back in my day, White Lightnin’ was high grain alcohol—you could use it to (fuel) a Zippo lighter and it made that stuff called ‘Everclear’ taste like Kool-Aid.” Further touting the potency of White Lightin’ was this experience: “Had a neighbor who would bring (White Lightnin’) home when he visited his hillbilly clan. HE drank it like water from an ice tea glass. My husband tried one swallow—it took his breath away, turned his face red, and he had me look in his throat to make sure everything was still there. He thought it burned his tonsils off!” Also a popular song by George Jones, the lyrics to White Lightnin’ go like this:

Well I asked my old pappy why he called his brew,

White lightning ‘stead of Mountain Dew,

I took a little sip and right away I knew,

As my eyes bugged out and my face turned blue!

Lightnin’ started flashin’ and thunder started crashin’

Shhhoooh… white lightning!

Ironically, most Appalachian moonshiners did not make White Lightnin’ to drink themselves. They would sell this quickly made and cheap White Lightnin’ off and then make a more refined “whiskey” using real corn, wheat, rye or barley to give the whiskey its depth of taste. This was called the “Keeper” whiskey—the whiskey they would drink and share with only close friends and family. So unless you were “in”—you’d never see it, nor taste it. Keeper whiskey was still called “Moonshine”—because it was still illegal to make—and drink.

Today distillers make a “white whiskey” that harkens to this novel time in moonshine history by using at least an 80-percent grain ratio and no or very little barrel aging. These clear whiskies are defined by their quality of grains, such as in our Premium Broadslab Silver Rum, where we use our own homegrown corn to produce the fine slow warmth you drink today—without that White Lightnin’ destructive and harrowing “burn”. Our Premium whiskies might curl your toes—but they’re smooth, legal, safe to drink, and have a rich history all of their own!


Please enjoy responsibly. 
If you break the seal, don’t get behind the wheel.

Broadslab Distillery produces natural, hand-crafted moonshine, whiskey and rum in Benson, NC. 
The American-made spirits are gluten-free and made without the use of anything artificial. It’s the real deal.