How to Determine Moonshine Alcohol Content

How to Determine Moonshine Alcohol Content

Learn how to determine moonshine alcohol content with our simple step-by-step guide. 


Why Should You Know Your Moonshine Alcohol Content? 

If you’re out visiting the backwoods and someone offers you a drink of moonshine, it’s good for you to know what exactly it is you’re drinking. For your safety before consuming, you should ask 'what’s the moonshine alcohol content'? 

It is also important to know when you’re making it yourself.


This is the time to be analytical, keep some records, and know exactly what it is you are getting out of each batch. 


Commercial alcoholic beverages such as Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort ring in at 80proof or 40% alcohol by volume while Wild Turkey is 101proof and thought to be really strong. 


Did you know the alcohol content of your moonshine will vary significantly based on the type of still you are using?



How Does your Still Impact the ABV of your Moonshine? 



Pot stills will give you a final product in the 130 to 150proof range. Reflux stills, which are quite popular these days, get the proof all the way up to the range of 160 to 190proof.

That’s pretty high, and these are giving you a really high grade spirit that is neutral in flavor but high in moonshine alcohol content. 



copper moonshine still



In this article, you’ll learn just how easy it is to determine the alcohol content of the moonshine you would be soon drinking. You’ll also have the chance to watch videos to confirm what you are reading. 


What You’ll Need to Determine Moonshine Alcohol Content 

There are a few different ways you could determine the moonshine alcohol content. The first way is a generic way that will tell you it’s either high or low; and you’ll never have an exact number such as 10% alcohol or 60% alcohol. This method is called the Shake Test. It’s good if you’re vacationing and left your tools of the trade at home. 



hydrometer for determining ABV


The second way is with a hydrometer, which resembles a thermometer. It measures specific gravity of a fluid and from this, you will also see the potential percentage of alcohol scale. It’s really a matter of matching up the two scales, and quite easy. We’ll get into it in a little while. 

And the third way is with a Proof and Trale Hydrometer. This is a brand name hydrometer that can be obtained either online or at specialty brewing and distillery equipment stores. It also looks like a thermometer and gives you the scale you need to determine alcohol content. It’s probably the easiest way to determine moonshine alcohol content. 

There’s one other piece of equipment that comes in handy called a Parrot. This is usually a piece of copper tubing and its purpose is to give you alcohol content feedback of your distillate. (Thus, it’s not necessary at all for those who are traveling!) 


Step-by-Step Instructions for Determining your ABV




  1. The ShakeTest 



The Shake Test is where you basically shake the closed container of the moonshine and look for bubbles, discerning how long the bubbles last and how big they are. 

Here’s the two-step process: 

  1. Shake the bottle. 
  1. Look at the Bubbles 

Are the bubbles big? Do they pop fast? If so, it’s a higher proof alcohol. 

Now, it’s a good idea to understand a little of the science that gives you the background of why big bubbles that pop fast are related to being a higher proof alcohol.  

Here’s another video from moonshiner Tiny at Mellomoon that explains the science: 



It all has to do with air competing with alcohol to fill the void between alcohol molecules. He’ll show you the Shake Test for water, 100 proof alcohol, and 150 proof alcohol. 

Now here’s a real life application to why you should know your moonshine alcohol content. These moonshiners were forced to stop brewing when a storm came in. 



2.The Specific Gravity Hydrometer 


You’ll discover that the hydrometer for specific gravity s called a triple scale and it actually tests for gravity, Brix levels (used only by the Europeans), and the percentage potential alcohol scale. 

Here is the Process Step by Step:


  1. Put Device Into Moonshine: Drop the hydrometer into a beaker of your moonshine. 
  1. Read the Scale. Then look at the scale for the alcohol percentage by volume. 
  1. Interpret the Scale. 

If the level says 1.008, you’re at 1% potential alcohol by volume.

If it’s 1.038, you’re at 5%.

If it’s at 1.076, you’re at 10%.

And if it’s 1.0, you’re at 14% potential alcohol by volume.

The scale goes to 1.170, which is 22% alcohol by volume.

If it was at 14% potential alcohol by volume, it means that if you are making a 5 gallon bucket, 14% of it – or about 3⁄4 of a gallon – will be alcohol content. 

As you can see, this method is really for moonshine makers because it can tell them if their wine will be very dry or needs extra sweetening power.

This method can help you determine how much of the sugar has gone through the fermentation process by the yeast. Of course, taste will tell you that also. 

It will also help beer makers who are after a certain percentage of alcohol, as some will want 9-10% instead of the usual 4.7 to 5.5% alcohol content. 



3. The Proof and Tralle Hydrometer 



The Proof and Tralle Hydrometer (PTH) is for proofing products you make from your distillers. It’s different from a specific gravity hydrometer. It’s also called an alcoholometer and has a larger bulb at the bottom than the specific gravity hydrometer. 

For this way of testing moonshine alcohol content, you’ll have to have a bit of background info. First of all, water is heavier than alcohol. Thus, if you’re 

testing for moonshine alcohol content, you’ll put the PTH in water and it will float high. If you put it in alcohol, it will float lower. 

Here’s the Procedure for a Proof and Tralle Hydrometer

  1. Get Your Equipment Ready. Remove the PTH from the tube. 
  1. Get Your Moonshine Ready to Test. Put your moonshine in the tube that the PTH comes inside. Add the PTH to the tube. 
  1. Read the Reading. 

Now read the scale. 200 proof is high on the scale. If our moonshine  is 200 proof (not going to happen!), then the level of the floating will be at 200proof on the scale. Just so you know, about 192 proof is about the best you can ever get with moonshine. 

Now, when you are distilling your moonshine, you can use the PTH to help you alter the moonshine alcohol content. For example, if the alcohol content is too high, you can add distilled water to your product to bring down the level. This is the time you would need that parrot piece of equipment. 


Questions About Determining Moonshine Alcohol Content 


  1. Is Moonshine 100 percent Alcohol? 

Rarely. It may be as high as 192proof or 96% alcohol, and that’s pretty high. 


  1. Is Homemade Moonshine Safe to Drink? 

Depending on the alcohol content, you may want to dilute the moonshine with water to make it less potent. 


  1. How Strong is Moonshine Alcohol? 

It ranges from pretty strong to not as strong. Much moonshine can be as low as 40 or 60 proof. 


  1. Does Moonshine get you Drunk? 

It can, depending on the proof level. 



  1. What Should you use to Dilute the Alcohol? 

Distilled water. 


  1. Is Everclear Stronger than Moonshine? 

Everclear is 190proof. Thus, depending on your still, you can approach 190 proof with your moonshine. 


Ready to Start Shinin' ?


copper coil whiskey moonshine still


At How to Moonshine we want to help you every step of the way. That is why many of our moonshine still kits include a hydrometer. 

Our Magnum Copper Coil All-in-One still kit includes just about everything you need to get started including a hydrometer. 

The unique design of the Magnum includes dual vapor chambers and copper coils. This means that you can get an ever higher proof of shine in a single run. The copper coils provide an exceptional ability to conduct heat as well as neutralize the sulfur in your mash.



whiskey copper still  



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