Could moonshiners in the US South made Rum?
I have been thinking about a time when cane syrup was made in communities all over the Southern United States. Using sugar in a mash is not as daunting as all grain that had to be further broken into fermentable sugars using cooking of grains and amalyzase. So therefore, you hear about the moonshiners using a mixture of corn( rye or any grain), sugar and yeast to make booze quite frequently. So why don’t we hear about people using cane syrup or molasses, since every farming family generally grew a patch of sugar cane specifically for syrup. In the south, there were three pieces of agricultural processing equipment that held a community together and they are a grist mill, cane mill, and a liquor still. Noting, not every family had all three pieces of equipment. The grist mill and the cane mill by themselves, were not illegal but they were critical for the community to be self-sufficient. The community grist mill owner would often grind corn for the moonshiner but what the distiller used the corn for was his/her business. The syrup mill owner would often make syrup for the community. The miller or syrup manufacturer would grind or make syrup on portions, meaning taking a portion of the end product would count as Payment for services provided. To get rid of the excess, either the miller would sell to other people in the community or could they sell to the underground in house value add agricultural processer, the moonshiner. Now the liquor still was illegal and it had the power to generate a much more lucrative income than grinding cane or corn on a barter type arrangement, creating another level of self-sufficiency.
Not everyone could afford a grist mill or cane mill, as they were a very expensive piece of equipment that could not be made in the community like a good old still. Everyone did not know how to make a good still, let alone operate it. The cane mill had a seasonal component to it in regards to when it was used. When the annual sugar cane or sorghum was ready for harvest, it had to be squeezed and processed in a timely manner. One thing about sugar cane or sorghum, once it is harvested it has to be squeezed and converted into another form right away. IF one does not squeeze the juice from the cane stalk right away, it will start to dry up immediately. Therefore, the few ways of preserving the juice is to make cane syrup, molasses, or alcohol. In the latter, one could make rum right after squeezing and allowing fermentation to occur. Or if one made syrup or molasses during the syrupmaking season, jars of syrup could be put way for later in the year, thus preventing the need to purchase sugar. In lieu of buying sugar could the old bootleggers and moonshiners be making rum, Agricole when in season and regular rum in the off season. Then when rum could not be made, we will corn as an aid to help provide flavor and serve as indicator on fermentation. Those same jars for storing the syrup could also be repurposed in the woods to bring the finish spirits out, if rinsed out. So were some of the old moonshiners were making rum in the south. I believe they would ferment (or get to working) whatever they had before distilling.
The verdict is unknown as I have not been able to confirm any oral history on this yet, but I am putting out feelers on this. I do know that that the alcohol would last forever unlike the cane syrup, once it is fermented and distilled, but a community would not allow that to happen either. The distilled spirit, could be converted to cash easier than syrup. Now the cane syrup would last at best one year, maybe two years. So fermenting and pot stilling the molasses or cane syrup is essentially rum. I am just an engineer looking at the data in making spirits, since where I grew up, most of what I talk about now is bbq but on the other side that I have not talked much about is moonshine culture.