Moonshine is any distilled spirit made in an unlicensed still. As with all distilled spirits, yeast ferments a sugar source to produce alcohol; the alcohol is then extracted through by means of distillation.
Because of its illegal nature, moonshine is rarely aged in barrels like proper whiskey, and it sometimes contains impurities and off flavors. On rare occasions, it may contain dangerous levels of toxic alcohols such as methanol. The off flavors may come from improper mashing, fermentation and/or distillation, and unsuitable storage containers. In popular culture, moonshine is usually presented as being extremely strong and in North America is commonly associated with the Southern United States, Appalachia and Atlantic Canada.
Moonshining is usually done using small-scale stills. Typically, the still is built by the moonshine producer, thus avoiding the legal ramifications of obtaining a still commercially. The pot still is made of copper or stainless steel, and a water filled barrel with a copper tubing coil for a condenser, is the traditional type of still, being popular with early moonshine producers due to its simplicity and ease of construction. More efficient Reflux stills are available to the modern moonshiner, either self-built, assembled from a kit, or purchased fully assembled. Lately, do-it-yourself still designs have become widely available on the Internet. "Moonshine" and "Still Making Moonshine" are two documentaries that depict the life of a modern Appalachian moonshiner: the making of a three-stage still from sheets of copper, putting up corn mash, and running whiskey.