Is there a name for liquor that might have been produced legally, or using professional technologies, but then has been smuggled, either bypassing customs, or into prohibition area and/or is being sold illegally?

"Moonshine" is the common name for suspicious quality liquor made using makeshift, illegal still, but that usually implies local, unprofessional production. "Contraband" is the general name for smuggled, illegal goods, not just liquor.

  • 'bootlegged' is a more informal adjectival version of 'contraband', capturing everything you want except the idea of liquor.
    – Mitch
    May 29, 2012 at 12:07
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    @Mitch: I would have thought bootleg was exactly right (liquor is certinly the origin). Why not make that an answer? May 29, 2012 at 12:19
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    Bootleg can apply to things other than liquor. Bootleg recordings from concerts, for example. May 29, 2012 at 12:21
  • I believe moonshine originally meant smuggled liquor in England, but the meaning changed at some point in early American English. See this dictionary of slang from 1896. Since both illegal distilling and smuggling are generally thought of as night-time activities, the name is appropriate for both. May 29, 2012 at 14:57

4 Answers 4



describes anything that is reproduced and distributed informally but illegally (similar to 'black market'). Currently it is almost always applied to music or movie recordings, either recorded live by an unofficial source or copying the medium and redistributing against regulations. In the past, it was primarily associated with liquor production and distribution during the American Prohibition era, but the word originated earlier referring simplify to hiding a flask in the leg of one's boot.

  • I agree, but please note that bootleg is much more common than bootlegged. (Google Ngram: goo.gl/E2C6o)
    – Pitarou
    Jun 23, 2012 at 2:33

Hooch is used to refer to illicit liquor.

"Whisky or any strong liquor, esp if illicitly made or acquired" (Chambers)

Similarly, moonshine could refer to either illicitly distilled or smuggled liquor.

"Smuggled or illicit spirit." (OED)

"Spirits illicitly distilled or smuggled (chiefly N American)" (Chambers)

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    Does this refer to smuggled alcohol or more to illicitly-distilled liquor?
    – Andrew Leach
    May 29, 2012 at 13:30
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    @AndrewLeach: Could be both illegal preparation or acquisition.
    – Bravo
    May 29, 2012 at 13:36
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    I would say that hooch and moonshine both imply illicitly made
    – mgb
    May 29, 2012 at 16:24
  • I'm pretty sure the name "Moonshine" comes from "distilled in the moonlight", usually an illicit, homemade outdoor still operating at night somewhere deep in the wilderness. Not brand quality alcohol smuggled bypassing tax and customs.
    – SF.
    May 30, 2012 at 7:41
  • @SF. Etymologies and meanings are totally different; see this link: writinghood.com/style/grammar/…
    – Bravo
    May 30, 2012 at 8:07

Isnt the word you want Contraband? That means illegal goods quite often alcohol or duty free products being smuggled?http://www.just-drinks.com/news/contraband-alcohol-seized-on-way-to-uk_id104802.aspx

  • I think contraband, like bootleg, has taken on a much broader meaning recently; the OP wants something that only means illegally obtained liquor.
    – KutuluMike
    May 29, 2012 at 16:33

I've met a nice euphemism to describe this:

Excise-free liquor

The fact that the excise tax is bypassed illegally is conveniently omitted.

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