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Moonshine vs Vodka

Will Beck
Last Updated: February 28th, 2023

Moonshine vs Vodka is a choice between two clear liquors. At a glance, they look exactly the same but dig a little deeper and some differences quickly appear.

Just by looking at them, we know that the fictional character Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation isn’t a fan. He believes that “clear alcohols are for rich women on diets.”

Looking at Moonshine vs Vodka, the two may seem similar in both their clear appearance and high proof, but Moonshine is a lot closer to spirits like Whiskey. It just has a different process and history.

Moonshine vs Vodka

Moonshine or Vodka-1

Until a few years ago Moonshine vs Vodka wouldn’t even be a matchup worth talking about. That’s because historically Moonshine has been illegal.

Moonshine is a clear, high-proof, non-aged Whiskey. Since Moonshine has similar production to Whiskey or Bourbon it also has a similar taste. Similar but sharper and stronger due to the high alcohol percentage and lack of barrel smoothness.

Moonshine didn’t originate in the United States but has become synonymous with being produced in the southern United States. The history goes back further but Moonshine saw a huge bump in (illegal) production during prohibition which started in 1920.

There are certainly still illegal Moonshine operations going on but some Moonshine producers started going legit in the mid-2000s. That’s why Moonshine is now available on shelves and joining this liquor showdown.

Moonshine or Vodka-2

Some may argue that the Vodka vs Moonshine discussion isn’t fair to Vodka. Vodka after all doesn’t have an illicit past and it’s one of the most popular spirits in the world.

In terms of worldwide acceptance, this is a David and Goliath matchup where Vodka is the Goliath.

Vodka’s roots start in the Vodka belt hundreds, and possibly over a thousand, years ago. The Vodka belt does include Russia which is the country most associated with Vodka production.

The Vodka belt also includes many countries including Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Poland.

Vodka is versatile and approachable alcohol. A lot of this versatility is due to its neutral taste, though some Vodka lovers wince when they see it described as neutral.

Neutral doesn’t mean bad. Subtle flavor could be another word to describe the non-flavored Vodka varieties. It can be served straight, mixed with soda, or in a cocktail.

How Are They Made?

Vodka is a distilled spirit and while distillation is an important step it is one of many. The first step is to combine the base ingredients with yeast and water.

This mixture is heated to allow for fermentation and alcohol production as the yeast eats sugar. Once fermented the resulting alcohol is strained and distilled.

Distillation purifies and concentrates the alcohol. The Vodka is then filtered (sometimes many times), diluted, and bottled. If flavoring is added it will typically happen post distillation.

As mentioned, Moonshine is made in a similar fashion to Whiskey and is not all that different from Vodka production.

The big difference between Moonshine and Whiskey is that Moonshine is not aged in barrels after it is distilled. This is why it can be made much faster and is clear in color unless flavors are added.

Moonshine production starts by making a mash that consists of grains, water, and yeast. The mash is heated to start fermentation.

The fermentation lasts for days and weeks until the proper alcohol levels have been achieved. Once levels have been reached the liquid is strained, distilled, and flavoring is added (if applicable) and bottled.

What Are They Made Of?

Moonshine can technically be made from any fruits or grains that break down into sugar but corn is the most popular starting ingredient.

Moonshine is sometimes referred to as corn whiskey. More and more you’ll see Moonshine with fruit or other sweet flavors added.

Similarly, Vodka can be made with a lot of different starting ingredients. Some Vodka is made with potatoes but you can also use wheat, corn, rye, beets, rice, or any other cereal grains.

Flavored Vodka is also on the rise which can be anything from pepper to fruit to many other sweet and savory flavors.

How Are They Similar?

how are they similar

Both Vodka and Moonshine are versatile distilled spirits. Versatile in that even though they each have their own distinct flavors they also can be used in many ways like neat, in mixers, or in cocktails.

Both spirits are also not aged after they are distilled. This means they can be produced much faster than Bourbon, Whiskey, Scotch, or any other liquor that requires a long aging period. This also explains why Moonshine and Vodka are both clear.

Price, Size, Color, Alcohol Percentage Comparison

price, size, color, alcohol percentage comparison

Since Moonshine is relatively new to the legal liquor market the price range is a bit smaller than some alcohol. You can expect to pay in the range of $20-$30 for a 750 ml bottle of quality Moonshine.

This would include brands like Ole Smoky and Midnight Moon. There are a few at a slightly higher range as well. Vodka on the other hand has been available in the marketplace for a long time.

There is Vodka available at very low price points up to very expensive prices. For under $15 you can get a bottle of Pinnacle Vodka, UV Vodka, or Smirnoff Vodka. For $20-$30, there are bottles of Belvedere Vodka, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, or Grey Goose Vodka.

Both Vodka and Moonshine are offered in many different sizes. They range from single-serve 50 ml bottles all the way up to 1.75 L. The most common size is the standard 750 ml bottle.

Vodka bottles come in many shapes from the standard to some that come in the shape of a skull. Moonshine also has different bottle types but often Moonshine is sold in mason jars as an homage to its days being sold illegally.

As mentioned the pure versions of Moonshine and Vodka are clear in color. It’s only when flavors are added that the color can change to just about anything under the sun.

One very major item to mention is the alcohol percentage of each of these alcohols. They are both very high in alcohol percentage although historically Moonshine is an extremely powerful beverage.

Vodka typically falls in the range of 80 to 100 Proof (40 to 50 percent alcohol by volume). Moonshine on the other hand also starts at 80 Proof on the low end but goes all the way up to 190 Proof at the top.

The most common range for widely available Moonshine is between 80 Proof and 150 Proof (40 to 70 percent alcohol by volume).

How to Drink?

Vodka can be savored neat but it is most often combined with soda or tonic. There are also many exciting cocktails made with Vodkas like a Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, Black Russian, Vodka Martini, or Moscow Mule.

moscow mule

Moscow Mule

  • 1.5 oz Vodka
  • 0.5 oz Lime Juice
  • Ice Cubes
  • ½ Cup Ginger Beer
  • Lime Wedge (for Garnish)

Add Vodka and lime juice into a copper mule mug with ice. Top with ginger beer, garnish with the lime wedge, and enjoy.

In the old days, Moonshine was often sipped on straight out of a jug or mason jar. It is still imbibed neat but also over ice in the form of flavored Moonshine often mixed in a cocktail.

summer shine

Summer Shine

  • 2 oz Ole Smoky Sour Lime Moonshine
  • 2 oz Lemonade
  • 2 oz Orange Juice
  • 0.25 oz Lemon Lime Soda
  • Lime Wedge (for Garnish)

Mix liquid ingredients in a shaker, shake well, pour over ice, and garnish with a lime wedge.


Most Moonshine fans are fans due to the bold taste and high alcohol percentage. With those qualifications in mind, the best alternatives are Everclear and other high-proof Whiskey or Bourbon.

Everclear is a super potent clear grain alcohol and some great high proof Whiskeys are Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve or Woodford Reserve.

Vodka’s best alternatives are Tequila and Gin. Both of these are most often clear and versatile. They are both acceptable mixers with soda water or tonic and also work in many cocktails.


Which came first?

Moonshine and Vodka have both been around a long time. Vodka however takes the title of oldest liquor in this matchup.

Which is more popular?

This is somewhat dependent on where the question is asked but globally Vodka is more popular. Moonshine is newer to the retail scene so watch out for its rise.

Which is stronger?

Both are high-proof alcohol but Moonshine is consistently a higher proof than Vodka.

Are they Gluten Free?

Both Moonshine and Vodka are gluten free since distillation removes gluten. Watch out for added flavoring though.

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About The Author

Will Beck

Will is a true digital nomad, taking his work on the road at every opportunity. His first love is coffee, with whiskey a close 2nd. He loves nothing more than enjoying a perfectly brewed coffee with spectacular scenery whilst he coordinates behind the scenes of the Drink Stack blog!

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