Thursday, August 27, 2015

Shine and Shinney

Not too long ago I was reading up on some Southern phrases and such and came up on one I had forgotten. Shinney. Pronounced like "mini" this single word brings to mind someone going quickly up a tree. "Shinney up that tree there and get that kitten for me, bubba!"  But shinney is a Southern word with a distinctly Southern meaning that's been around longer than most can remember. 

In the literary classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" Scout recounts of baked gloriousness:
"Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight."
Sounds like my kinda cake! A Lane Cake is a layered white cake that has both a bourbon soaked fruit filling as well as a bourbon butter cream frosting. Proof of Age obviously required.

Shinney, as it turns out is a Southern word for Bourbon or Whiskey. I found this out after a bit of research (read: trip to visit neighbor Bubba.) When I also asked about the etymology of the word, Bubba looked at me like I had insulted his momma.  So I said "History, Bubba, History of the word."

There is little known about the word shinney as it pertains to Bourbon.  Bubba was quick to tell me that shinney means "Bourbon" and not just any whiskey, though most good ol' boys would use it either way since at one time there was no distinction.  Now, in case you didn't know, there is a very important difference between bourbon and whiskey.

The simple answer is that bourbon is always whiskey, but whiskey is not always bourbon. If a bit confusing, note that a strict set of federal trade regulations defines what's what.

Whiskey spelled with an "e" is a distilled spirit made from fermented grain and usually aged in an oak barrel. The various types (rye, rye malt, malt, wheat, bourbon and corn) each require different ingredients and distilling processes in accordance with specific alcohol trade regulations, called the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits.

Bourbon is the most popular type of whiskey in the U.S. It was traditionally distilled in and around present-day Bourbon County, Kentucky. While bourbon whiskey has its roots in Kentucky, and continues to be primarily produced there, it is now manufactured in distilleries all over the United States. Manufacturers must meet the following requirements in order to advertise their whiskey product as "bourbon":

It must be produced in the U.S. from a grain mixture (called "mash") made up of at least 51 percent corn. It must be distilled to a maximum strength of 160 proof, bottled at a strength of at least 80 proof, and barreled for aging at no more than 125 proof. It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. To qualify as "straight bourbon," the spirits must meet the above requirements as well as being aged for at least two years and containing no added coloring, flavoring or other spirits.

But none of that explains the origin of the word 'shinney.' So, I turned to the source of all knowledge Southern, Neighbor Bubba!  Bubba  explains that shinney is the darker cousin of shine, and by that he means moonshine.  Used as far back as the days of the American Revolution, shinney was a quick way to ask for a  certain type of beverage. You headed out for a little backwoods "shine" or into town for a bit of shinney at the tavern.

Moonshine is usually made from corn, but in truth, and in history, moonshine can be made from anything including wood!  The vast differences in both ingredients and manufacture of moonshine made it dangerous during it's heyday, but these days moonshine has even become a bit respectable (though to be sure, still illegal.)

So, whether you make your own shine in the bathroom tub or drive down to the local pub for a shinney, you can now at least use the vernacular and espouse the etymology with confidence.  Just don't' drink and drive.

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