Behind the Scenes: Moonshine Rocket Fuel

Moonshine to the Stars

Photo: Working on the rocket

Photograph by NGC and Flight 33

Tim Evans, Supervising Producer

Travis said he could do it: “Just make us some moonshine and put it into a rocket. The first Mercury missions were fired off with alcohol fuel, why couldn’t we do it?” 

Well, actually, the first Mercury missions DID use alcohol fuel, but they had a pretty big budget… and they weren’t trying to make the alcohol in their backyard. And what Travis was suggesting was making white lightning in an old-fashioned backwoods still… then using it as fuel for this gigantic 8-foot-tall model rocket.

As a city guy, I found the notion of brewing southern white lightning, and I know that there is a long tradition in rural America of homemade spirits. But if the Redneck Team wanted to brew their own moonshine, I felt they were going to have to get some help. Some unofficial help.

We discovered that there was a fairly large “Moonshine Community” in that part of Alabama but, not surprisingly, these shadowy fellows had no interest in going on TV to describe their illegal activities.

Next we reached out to more legitimate support. Pritchard’s Distillery is one of the finest small-batch whiskey distilleries in the south, and Phil Pritchard gave us a tour of his establishment and showed us how the “real deal” is made. The Rednecks left with a bucket of pre-fermented whiskey mash to get our brewing started… but we still were no closer to any first-hand experience with making home-made white lightning.

Oddly enough, however, Daddy was working away busily with copper-tubing and a copper bucket… easily figuring out heat sources and condensers… and handily building a small whiskey still. Without any written instructions. Which I found surprising. 

And once the refined spirits began to drip out, it was Daddy who knew how to figure out the alcohol content and proof. So I asked him, off camera, how he’d discovered this. “Y’know,” he shrugged vaguely, “I guess I heard it from old-timers.”

So after a great deal of work, some hitches, and young Michael pulling an all-nighter in front of the bubbling and dripping still, the Boys got their refined moonshine, poured it into a giant rocket, and fired that sucker nearly a thousand feet on homemade white lightning. Success.

And then the secret came out. Daddy Taylor knew so much because he was once part of the shadowy Moonshine Community. 

When Daddy was a child, his father and his uncles used to produce a “product” that was highly regarded in the region. Daddy had witnessed old-time moonshining first-hand. In fact, as a kid, Travis found the remains of Grandpa’s old still hidden inside a limestone cave to disguise it from the revenuers. 

So it turns out that moonshining runs in the Taylor family. And that old family recipe seems to be powerful enough to be REAL rocket fuel.

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