By Rieva Lesonsky

White lightning, otherwise known as moonshine, is the stuff legends are made of. Most Americans think making (and selling) moonshine is illegal-and it is-but there are legal versions, which are becoming so popular that American Way magazine calls moonshine the “hottest new thing in cold drinks.”

Moonshine is whiskey-kind of. Whiskey by law, according to American Way, “has to spend time in a barrel” (that is, age), which is what gives it its golden color. Some white whiskey (as some call their moonshine) manufacturers put their alcohol in a barrel for a day, enabling them to call it whiskey. Those who don’t want to lose that time can’t call their alcohol whiskey. So you’ll see some bottles labeled “grain spirits.”

There are a number of small craft distilleries springing up across the country, all brewing their own special versions of legal moonshine. The “hitch” is that this industry is highly regulated, and legal moonshiners must be licensed at the local, state and federal levels. It’s not a low-cost startup, either, but that’s not stopping some entrepreneurs. The American Distilling Institute (ADI) says there are more than 350 licensed distilleries in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and there are at least 50 currently under construction, up from only 24 in 2000.

Industry experts are attributing the growth to various factors, including the new “farm-to-table movement.” And one bar owner told American Way that making and selling legal moonshine has “a cool factor.”

Interested? The ADI website offers a lot of information, including startup tips and a fact-filled white paper.