Maybelle patiently watches the hours-long final stage of the moonshining process — distillation. Fruit, grains, molasses or other sugary, starchy ingredients are mixed with water and yeast to form a “wort”, allowed to ferment for days, or weeks, then strained into a clean liquid “wash” prior to distillation. Hound dogs are optional, but strongly recommended. (WyoFile / Matthew Copeland)

Distilling is chemistry. Moonshining is rebellion.

Don’t let the attitude of the latter interfere with the discipline of the former. Because it’s not that hard to make poison. And open flames, pressurized equipment and combustible chemicals are poor company for the ill-informed.

“That’s your whole life right there,” is how one seasoned shiner — let’s call him “Doc” — put it recently, referring to the conspicuously high-tech digital temperature display atop his otherwise ramshackle still.

As the heady fermented homebrew heats in the “pot,” Doc explained in his rustic still-house, individual components evaporate at different temperatures, progress as gases through copper “column” and “reflux condenser,” then precipitate back into, more or less, separate liquids, before dribbling through the “parrot” and into the Mason jar.

The “foreshot” that arrives first will be methane heavy, and toxic. If you don’t recognize it by production temperature, its sharp medicinal odor should tip you off. Heaven help you if it doesn’t.

Use it to light a campfire. You’ll need something else to watch all day in addition to the thermometer.

The “head” will come next. Label it and set it aside for future reruns through your still.

The “heart” of the run is really what you’re after, so settle in. It’ll drip and trickle away for hours, smelling of hot cereal and candy corn, until, finally, the watery “tails” arrive near sundown.

Stringed instruments can help pass the time. You might want to keep a hound dog on hand too. And fire extinguishers.

It’s a lot of effort and risk, really, for a few jars of something you could get cheaper, and easier, at the local liquor store.

But, of course, the factory-produced, safety-sealed, inspector-stamped stuff won’t satisfy your need for a line in the sand and a declaration that on my own little, bought and paid for, corner of God’s green Earth, my personal conduct requires no government oversight, and will abide no meddling, and that as a freeborn American adult, who is hurting no one, I will damn well pursue happiness anyway I see fit.

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And though the “don’t tread on me” sentiment that compels some to grow their own garden, can their own fruit, hunt their own meat, fell their own firewood and disregard the law for an occasional nip of grandpa’s old cough medicine may, in fact, be widely shared here in Wyoming, it doesn’t make moonshining legal, or free from the full consequence of law.

So keep your mouth shut. Never sell the stuff. Don’t share it with litigious friends or reckless family.

And keep the hound dog out of the mash.

Matthew Copeland is the chief executive & editor of WyoFile. Contact him at or (307) 287-2839. Follow Matt on Twitter at @WyoCope

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