Making your own spirits at home is something anyone can do with the right tools and ingredients. While many people are aware of kits available to make their own beer or wine, they may not be aware that you can actually make your own whiskey, bourbon, gin or vodka just as easily.
How? Well it is a simple process called moonshining. No, this is not something you will be making outdoors or in secret. This is a simple three step process to turn sugar, water and yeast into tasty spirits from the comforts of home.
While traditional spirits come from large distilleries from around the world, there are simple at home still kits that allow you to take the same technology (scaled down of course) and use it at home. With the popularity of all-in-one kits and even air-still kits, moonshining is no longer only for those who are able to make their own equipment. Instead, everyone can easily get everything they need to get started making their own moonshine.
How do you Make Moonshine?
Making moonshine is not a new hobby. In fact, its history is even older than the United States itself. Fermentation, which is the second step in moonshining, has been traced back to 7000 BC. Of course this process was not strictly linked to the production of moonshine. Rather it was tied to the production of food as well as drink.
Simply put, making moonshine is a three step process: making a mash, fermenting, and distilling.
Making moonshine is a fun and rewarding hobby. However, it is not something that can be achieved in a day. In fact, the fermentation process alone takes about 7-10 days on average. However, the results are well worth it.
All you really need to make moonshine is sugar, yeast and water. The yeast will essentially ‘eat’ the sugar and the result can be distilled into moonshine.
Most moonshine recipes use grains that are turned into sugar. This process is called making a mash. This can also be called making a wash.
This process can seem intimidating, but in reality you are just cooking grains to release their enzymes and then adding malted barley. However, first timers can even make their first wash using nothing more than sugar and water. The more you practice this step, the more confident you will become.
Making a Mash
Making a mash is more comparable to baking than to cooking. While this may sound funny, it is because making a mash does require technical details that need to be followed. Some of the most important factors when making your mash are volume, temperature and texture. As you start feeling more comfortable with the basics of making a mash you can start experimenting to discover different ways to customize your moonshine.
For example, there is a simple process to making mash, but as you become more advanced there are extra steps that can be taken to adjust the PH of your mash, as well as choices in technique. Some people choose to remove the solids from their wash before fermentation and others do it after. Both techniques will work. It just ends up coming down to your personal preference and how you want to make your shine.
Another difference is what is actually used to make your mash. Traditionally, many farmers discovered that by fermenting their corn into whiskey they can actually sell it for much more. So many traditionalists will want to use corn to make their moonshine. However, moonshine cannot be made with only corn, it also needs malted barley in order to work.
In addition to corn, moonshine can be made with almost any type of grain. Early pioneers would often use rye or barley. However, corn is the most popular method.
First time moonshiners can even make a mash from regular granulated sugar. While this mash will not produce the highest quality moonshine, it is a great way to get started with ingredients you have around the house.
Equipment Needed for Making your Mash
- A Large stainless steel or copper pot
- A Long spoon
- A strainer or Cheesecloth
- A Cooking thermometer
Simple Sugar Wash
This simple mash will produce a lesser quality mash that is perfect for first timers learning the art of moonshining.
Pour two gallons of water into a large pot and heat to boiling. Do not allow the heat to go above 120°F. Add the sugar a few pounds at a time and let it dissolve. Keep adding sugar until all 8 lbs. are dissolved.
- Once the sugar is dissolved add the wash to a fermentation bucket.
- Add the remaining water. Feel free to use cooler water since we want to cool down the wash.
- Once your wash has cooled down to 70°F you can add the yeast.
- You can add an airtight lid and shake your wash to aerate it for about 60 seconds.
- Add an airlock into your lid and leave in a temperate area for a week to ferment and another week to settle.*If you want a faster turnaround time go to our section for clearing the mash*
- Siphon your mash to distill.
Once you have conquered this simple sugar shine you are ready to try take the next step in moonshining- a corn mash. Making a mash from corn is a recipe rooted in tradition. Corn produces a sweet tasting and smooth moonshine that packs quite a punch.
Corn Mash Recipe
This corn mash recipe is the next level in moonshining. Instead of dissolving sugar, this mash will produce a solid grain mass and liquid wash. When making a traditional mash like this you have the option to remove your grains before fermentation or after fermentation has been achieved. This will come down to personal preference. However, it is important to know that all grains need to be removed before distillation as they will burn in your still.
Some all-in-one kits come with a built in strainer. This can be handy to avoid using another straining option, such as cheesecloth.
5 Gallons (18.9 litres) of Water
8.5 lbs (3.85 kg) of flaked maize
1.5 lbs (.68 kg) of malted barley
- Pour water into a large pot and heat to 165°F.
- Once you have reached 165°F turn off the heat and add your corn.
- Stir the mash continuously for five minutes and then about once every five minutes until the temperature drops to 152°F.
- Once the temperature hits 152°F add the malted barley.
- Cover. Let sit for 90 minutes giving it a good stir every 15 minutes.
- After 90 minutes all of your grains should be converted into sugars.
*You can choose to drain your grains at this point using a cheesecloth or a strainer or you can wait until after fermentation.
*You can do an iodine test to see if your grains have converted into sugars. (see our section on iodine tests)
- Before you add yeast, your mash needs to be 70°F. Some moonshiners will use equipment like immersion chillers to achieve this quickly, however, you can simply let your mash sit for a few hours to do this the simple way.
- Once your mash has reached 70°F you can add your yeast. Add an airtight lid and aerate your wash by shaking it for 60 seconds. If your lid has a hole for your airlock don’t forget to block it before you shake!
- Add your airlock and let your mash ferment in a temperate area for about a week or two. Let settle for about a week and you are ready to distill.
How to Make a Mash with Fruit
One of the coolest things about making moonshine is the fact that you can make it out of so many things. One of the reasons that moonshine became so popular with early settlers in the United States was the fact that they could turn something they had an excess of (corn) into something that was worth much more money (whiskey).
Of course, it is not only grains that can be turned into moonshine. Fruit and vegetables can also be converted with ease. This is a good option for those who have fruit trees on their property. It is also a good opportunity to travel to nearby farms at the end of season to get overripe fruit for a deal (ask if you can pay with moonshine!)
Either way, making mash with fruit is a great way for moonshiners to challenge themselves with something new or for those with access to overripe fruit to turn it into something way more fun than jam or jelly.
In addition to making mash with fruit, there are also opportunities to make mash with fruit cider. One example is our AppleJack Moonshine. It is one way to make a fruit flavored mash without all the peeling and cutting.
Peach Brandy Moonshine Mash
Do you want to make that summertime feeling of biting into a fresh peach last well into the fall? Turn a ½ bushel of peaches and some sugar into some sweet moonshine you can enjoy all year long.
- Cutting board and sharp knife
- Food processor
- Two 5 gallon buckets (one with an airtight lid)
- Large stainless steel or copper pot
- Heat source
- Long spoon
- Immersion chiller* optional
- Cooking thermometer
- 12 mason jars
½ bushel of peaches (about 25 lbs)
6 lbs of cane sugar
2 packets of bread yeast
- The first step is to wash your peaches well. You want to make sure to remove any pesticides as well as natural yeasts on the skin.
- Next, quarter your peaches and remove the pit.
- Place in your food processor to chop your peaches into small chunks.
- Pour your peaches into your large pot
- Heat to 160°F to kill any bacteria or wild yeast.
- Once you have reached 160°F pour your mash into your fermentation bucket.
- Add four lbs. of sugar and stir well with a spoon until fully dissolved.
- Add cold water to the mash until the fermenting bucket hits 5.5 gallons.
- Stir well to incorporate all the ingredients in the mash.
- Take a gravity reading with your refractometer. Add sugar until your refractometer reads 1.060.
- Allow your mash to cool to 70°F. You can use an immersion chiller for this step or simply wait a few hours.
- Once your mash reaches 70°F you can add your yeast and aerate the mash by pouring it from one 5 gallon bucket to the other.
- Place on the airtight lid and airlock. Place your bucket in a temperate area for about 7-14 days. Look for no activity in your airlock for two days.
- Remember to strain your mash before distillation!
What Type of Yeast Should I Use?
Yeast is arguably the most important ingredient in your mash. While it only amounts to a tablespoon or two, it does all of the heavy lifting during the fermentation process. Many people who are new to the craft of moonshine have a lot of questions around yeast. After all, many of the recipes available online gloss around the subject-yet it is of the utmost importance.
One of the reasons that most recipes do not specify the amount of yeast to use is that it will often vary depending on the type used. Of course to someone new to moonshining who is trying to gather their ingredients for their first mash this can be very frustrating.
Knowing how much yeast to buy is only half the battle. There is also the very important question of what type of yeast to buy. Of course, this can come down to personal preference. There are many different types of yeast available that will work-even the bread yeast you probably have in your cupboard!
Beer/Champagne Yeast: This type of yeast is usually packaged so that one packet is used for 5 gallons of mash. Unless otherwise written on the directions, use one package for 5 gallons of mash.
Distillers Yeast: If you are using distillers yeast it is important to first refer to the directions on the package. If there are no directions available, use 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons of mash.
Bread Yeast: Bread yeast is readily available, inexpensive and works well. Bread yeast can be purchased in individual packets or in bulk. You can use one tablespoon of yeast per 5 gallons of mash or follow the directions below to make a yeast starter.
How to Make a Yeast Starter
Making a yeast starter is a great idea. It is one small extra step that can make a big difference to your end results. By making a yeast starter you are adding healthy yeast cells to your mash. It is a great way to ensure an accelerated fermentation and to ward off the growth of wild bacteria which can alter the final taste of your moonshine.
If you have ever baked a loaf of bread you will have an advantage for this step since you have already made a yeast starter. The process is pretty much identical for making a yeast starter for your mash. In fact, you can even use bread yeast!
Yeast Starter Recipe
The following is a yeast starter recipe for 5 gallons of mash.
½ cup Warm Water
2 teaspoons of sugar
2 packets of yeast (1 TBSP or 14 grams if using bulk yeast)
- Heat water to 110°F and add to a sterilized jar
- Add your sugar to the water and mix thoroughly
- Add both packets of yeast
- Swirl the jar to mix the ingredients thoroughly.
- Place plastic wrap over the top.
- Let the jar sit for 20 minutes (or until your yeast has doubled in size.)
- Add to your mash and aerate.
Advanced Mash Techniques
While we have described how to make a basic mash as you become more familiar with the steps and equipment, you can advance into some additional techniques for refining your mash. These techniques will help you to craft your own unique style and spirit and learn more about the science behind moonshining.
Of course, we don’t want to throw too much information at you at once. This is why we have described some basic techniques to master first, and then some more complicated steps that are optional but will enhance your final product.
Using an Immersion Chiller
Some moonshiners prefer to use an immersion chiller to reduce the temperature of their mash quickly after cooking. Using an immersion chiller is basically placing metal coils (usually copper) which have cold water running through them into your mash to quickly bring down the temperature. While waiting for the temperature to drop naturally could take several hours some immersion chillers can bring the temperatures down in about 15 minutes.
Some immersion chillers will have the ability to connect to a kitchen faucet or garden home for easy at home use.
It isn’t only the amount of time saved that attracts home distillers to immersion chillers. They are worried about their mash getting contaminated by bacteria. Bacteria love warm moist environments. By chilling your mash quickly you are discouraging the growth of bacteria by cooling off the mash quickly.
Of course, you can also always go the DIY route by filling your kitchen sink with ice water to cool your mash. Many moonshiners report this step only takes about 30 minutes. You can pick up bags of ice at the local corner store fairly cheaply.
Sparging the Grains
While cooking the mash some moonshiners will recirculate the water over the grains to release all the sugars. This is much more easily done when there is a space between the bottom of the pot and the grains. Some cooking pots have a built in ‘tap’ to drain the liquid and then it can be recirculated manually. This is done by filling a pot and then adding a metal strainer on top of the pot so as to not disturb the grain bed too much. Once the pot is filled up you can slowly pour the mash water over the grain bed.
This is an advanced technique and is not necessary, especially for beginners.
How To Lauter Your Mash
Lautering your mash is the technique of removing the spent grains from your mash. This can be done at different points during the moonshine making process. For some, they will remove the grains after cooking the mash once all the fermentable sugars have been removed from the grains. For others they will wait and filter out the solids from the liquid after fermentation.
Many home distillers do choose not to filter out their solids and even keep them in during the distillation process. They do this by using a double boiler or ‘steam’ distillation method so that the grains do not burn on the bottom of the still.
While this process may work generally well. It does leave a lot of room for error. Traces of spent grain that get into the still can affect the taste of your moonshine. Some describe it as leaving a chemical or even a garlic-like taste to their shine.
How to Determine your ABV -Alcohol by Volume
One of the things you will notice about moonshining is that there are a lot of scientific terms. This is because as fun as the final product is-making moonshine is really nothing more than a three step science experiment. Along with the scientific methods used to produce your moonshine, there are also scientific terms and tools to learn along the way.
One important tool in making moonshine is a hydrometer. This is a tool that is used to determine the potential ABV of your mash. It can also be used to determine whether or not fermentation is complete. It is a useful tool in moonshining and is fairly simple to use once you get the hang of it.
Of course, using a hydrometer is not strictly necessary in making moonshine. Some moonshiners will simply add their mash to their fermentation bucket and wait for the activity to stop in the airlock. This is perfectly acceptable, especially for those new to the craft. However, if your batches are not coming out properly or your alcohol volumes are low, this could be the reason why.
Using a Hydrometer
A Hydrometer is used to determine the density or specific gravity (SG) of a liquid in comparison to water. Alcohol is thinner than water so the higher the volume of alcohol, the lower the float will sink. Alcohol has a SG of 1.000 on the hydrometer scale.
Temperature will also play a role in the hydrometer reading. Your hydrometer should indicate the temperature it is calibrated to (a standard reading temperature is 70°F or 20°C). Your hydrometer should also include a conversion chart if your mash is reading at a different temperature than what your hydrometer is calibrated to.
Determining your Original Gravity
Before you add your yeast it is important to measure the gravity in your mash. To do this is fairly simple. Add your liquid mash into your hydrometer to fill it about ⅔ of the way to the top. Insert the hydrometer slowly. Roll it gently between your hands to remove any air bubbles. Read where the surface of the liquid hits the hydrometer.
This number can help to predict the potential alcohol of your mash.
Original Gravity – Potential Alcohol
- 062 → 7.875%
- 064 → 8.125%
- 066 → 8.375%
- 068 → 8.625
- 070 → 8.875%
- 072 → 9.125%
- 074 → 9.375%
- 076 → 9.75%
- 078 → 10%
- 080 → 10.25%
- 082 → 10.5%
- 084 → 10.75%
- 086 → 11%
- 088 → 11.25%
- 090 → 11.5%
- 092 → 11.75%
- 094 → 12.125%
- 096 → 12.375%
- 098 → 12.75%
- 100 → 13%
- 102 → 13.25%
- 104 → 13.5%
- 106 → 13.875%
- 108 → 14.125%
Once you have noticed the activity in your airlock is slowing down, you can take a final gravity reading to determine if your mash is ready for fermentation. If your reading is 1.000 or less it is definitely done. If your reading is 1.020 or higher, you should wait a few days. However, if your reading has not changed after three days, your fermentation is complete.
You can then use your readings to help determine what your ABV will be once your distillation is complete. Simply use the following formula to determine your ABV.
ABV = (OG – FG) x 131
While these numbers are not a 100% guarantee, it gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect after distillation.
Adjusting the PH of your Mash
While certainly not a step that beginners need to worry themselves with, adjusting the PH of your mash is a helpful additional step to improve the health of your yeast as well as enhance what you can expect to extract from grain.
A PH scale runs from 1 to 14 with 7 as neutral. Everything below seven is acidic and everything above 7 is alkaline (also called base).
The ideal PH reading for a mash prior to fermentation is between 4 and 4.5. The ideal PH reading for meads, ciders and wines are 3.4. Anything below a 7 is good for beer.
You can use precision test strips for testing PH, however not all strips are good for reading the entire PH scale. Make sure you get the right strips for the type of distilling you are doing. You can also use a PH reader that will read the entire scale and give you a precise reading.
The second step to making moonshine is fermentation. Compared to cooking your mash and distilling, this step is pretty much a breeze. Fermentation requires a whole lot of time and not much else from you-other than patience that is. That is because the act of fermentation is one that does not require oxygen. So opening your airtight lid to check on the contents is never a good idea-unless you are pretty sure you are done.
What is Fermentation?
The scientific explanation for fermentation is as follows: the process in which molecules like glucose are broken down anaerobically (without requiring oxygen.) In ethanol fermentation, one glucose molecule is broken down to two ethanol molecules and three carbon dioxide molecules.
For those of us without a science degree, or simply those who did not pay enough attention during their high school science classes, this is the act in which the beneﬁcial microbes (yeast) react to the sugars in the mash to produce ethanol. Once fermentation is complete you will be removing the ethanol from the water in your wash by distilling it.
Ethanol fermentation is only one of the three types of fermentation. There is also lactic acid fermentation and acetic acid fermentation.
Some examples of lactic acid fermentation are sourdough bread, pickles, kimchi and yogurt. Some examples of acetic acid fermentation are apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar and kombucha.
Fun fact: the word ferment comes from the Latin word ‘fervere’ which means ‘to boil’ yet fermentation is possible without heat!
During the moonshine process, fermentation requires a few key elements in order to happen. One of the most important elements is healthy yeast. This is one of the reasons that many moonshiners choose to make a ‘yeast starter’ to make sure that their yeast is as healthy as possible before adding it to their mash.
What Makes Yeast Healthy?
Oxygen: Yeast needs oxygen to jumpstart fermentation and this is why it is important to aerate your mash before fermentation. You can aerate your mash by pouring it from one bucket to another about 12 times or picking up your bucket and shaking it for about 60 seconds. No matter how you choose to aerate, the most important thing is that you do it. Your yeast depends on it.
PH: A good PH reading is essential to give your yeast a healthy environment to thrive. It is one extra step that many experienced moonshiners understand can make the difference between a good batch and a great one. Refer to our PH section above for how to calculate and adjust the PH of your mash.
Temperature: Your temperature needs will depend on the manufacturer’s instructions on the yeast you have used. However, keeping a steady temperature is ideal. Make sure that where you are storing your mash is going to be out of direct sunlight or drafts where an even temperature can be maintained. Some people will even wrap their mash with a blanket in order to help maintain an ideal temperature.
Nutrients: Nutrients are needed as yeast is a living organism and it needs nutrients to survive. Fortunately, grain batches made with rye, wheat or malted barley that are geared towards making a wash of 5 to 10 % alcohol should already contain enough nutrients to allow healthy yeast to thrive.
Sanitization: This is a good rule of thumb not only during fermentation but during the entire moonshining process. Sanitize all of your equipment and use an airlock filled with sanitized water.
What Happens to Yeast when it is Stressed?
Healthy yeast is required for good fermentation. During the fermentation process healthy yeast will produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. However, if the yeast becomes stressed you can have some undesirable effects that can hurt your mash.
These undesirable effects can include:
Fusel alcohols: While these chemical compounds will not affect the smell or taste of your moonshine, it will produce a horrible hangover. While these unwanted compounds can be removed while making your cuts (we will discuss this more in the distillation section) it is always better to keep the production of fusel alcohols to a minimum. You can do this by adhering to the recommended temperature on your yeast and keeping it as consistent as possible. Even a small blip in temperature can encourage this type of unwanted production of metabolic by-product.
Sulfur: Is there anything worse than spending a bunch of time and money on making moonshine only to have it taste like rotten eggs? You can avoid this stinky fate by removing as much sulfur as you can from your wash. Most of the sulfur is removed naturally from the carbon dioxide produced by your yeast. Using a yeast starter is a great way to ensure the removal of sulfur. Additionally, using a copper still can also be helpful in removing sulfur during the distillation process.
Acetaldehyde: This nasty compound is one of the reasons that foreshots should never be consumed (more about that during the distillation section). In beer acetaldehyde tastes like green apples and can happen when a mash does not finish fermentation, when a wash is oxygenated or when a mash sits too long without being distilled.
Phenols: These nasty compounds can cause your mash to have a medicinal, plastic or ‘band-aid’ type taste. Wild yeast contamination can contribute to the presence of phenolic compounds. To avoid this, it is important to use bottled or filtered water in your mash (to avoid using chlorinated water) and to sanitize all the equipment you use to make your mash.
Overly Sweet: If your mash is overly sweet there are two possible reasons. One is that you may have ended up with too many non-fermentable sugars before the fermentation process. This can also occur if the mash is not allowed to ferment long enough to convert all of the fermentable sugars into alcohol.
Overly Dry: If your mash has absolutely no sweetness-or taste-your yeast is to blame. In some cases yeast will power through and consume everything in a mash. This can often happen with champagne yeast or distillers yeast.
How long does Fermentation Take?
Fermentation may be the easiest step of making moonshine, but it is also the longest. In general, fermentation takes a steady temperature, good environment and lots of patience. There are several factors that can influence how long your mash will take to ferment.
Temperature: A steady temperature is ideal for a good fermentation process, but a warmer temperature will speed up the process. It is important to check your yeast package to know what temperature is necessary for good fermentation and go with those guidelines. However, the warmer the temperature the faster fermentation will complete.
Sugar content: The more sugar in your mash, the longer fermentation will take. This makes complete sense when you consider that fermentation is the transformation of sugar into alcohol. The more work your yeast has to do, the longer it will take for the process to complete.
Type of Yeast: The type of yeast used will also determine how long fermentation will take.
How to Tell When Fermentation is Complete
There are several ways to tell when fermentation is complete. One of the easiest ways is to use an airtight container with an airlock for fermentation. The airlock will show activity so you can essentially check in on your mash without lifting the lid. Remember oxygen is not good to be introduced into the fermentation process after aeration.
With this type of ‘set it and forget it’ system is not exactly scientific, but pretty simple and effective. If you want to use this method simply check your airlock between 18 hours and 48 hours after you add your yeast. You should see bubbles every minute or two. This will tell you that the fermentation is working properly.
What if I don’t see any bubbles?
If you don’t see any bubbles in your airlock after 18-48 hours then check to make sure your bucket is airtight. If your bucket is airtight, swirl the contents to mix them well. Check for activity after 12 hours. If you still do not see any activity after 12 hours add a new yeast starter. Also check to make sure your mash is warm enough. Bread yeast does best in temperatures of about 74-78°F or 23 to 25°C.
Once you get this confirmation that the process is taking place, you can leave your mash for 14 days. After 14 days, check your airlock.
Essentially, your airlock will show bubbles to let you know that the yeast is still working. Remember that fermentation is turning the sugars into ethanol as well as carbon dioxide (which is producing those bubbles). A general rule of thumb is to watch for a cease in activity in your airlock. When you don’t see any bubbles for two days, you can check to see if your fermentation is complete.
Open Air Fermentation
While most home distillers will use the method of fermentation that includes an airtight seal and an airlock to let gas out while keeping air in. However, open air fermentation is another option that many home brewers and even breweries choose. While you may run the risk of contamination, there are also benefits to open air fermentation.
Tradition: Many moonshiners want to make their shine the old-fashioned way. Traditionally many moonshiners would ferment in the open-air. This could be because of the illicit nature of moonshining and the need to ferment large amounts of mash in secret.
Gas: By allowing an open air environment gas can more easily. However, it is not as simple as leaving the lid off of your bucket. The ideal shape is wide and shallow to more easily produce esters, which is a reason this practice is popular for many breweries. Esters help add flavor and aroma to beer.
Open Air Fermentation and Sanitation
If you watched the clip of fermentation above, you may notice a few ‘red flags’ when it comes to sanitation. This type of open air fermentation leaves your mash vulnerable to the elements. Dirt, dust, bugs and bacteria can all impact the taste and quality of your final product.
Also, it is never advisable to put any non sanitized object into your mash, especially your hands!
Using Iodine to Check your Fermentation
Making a mash is basically a 10th grade science experiment. The act of immersing grains in water and adding malt to convert the grains into sugar is a simple one that involves heat and water.
If you want to check if your mash is ready for distillation you can do so with a simple iodine test. All you need for this test is:
- A white plate (side plate or saucer will do)
- A small amount of liquid mash
- Keep in mind that you want your mash to be cool when performing the test. This is easily done by placing the small plate or saucer in the fridge for about 30 minutes to get it nice and cool before you test.
- Remove a small amount of liquid from your mash (no solids) and place on the plate
- Add a few drops of iodine.
- If the mixture turns blue there are still some starches in your mash and you need to continue to ferment.
- If the mixture does not change color, you are ready to distill.
- Remember to dispose of your test batch and do not add it back to your mash.
Using a Hydrometer to Check for Fermentation
The only scientific way to check for fermentation is to use a Hydrometer. Using a hydrometer before adding your yeast to get your Original Gravity Reading (OG) and your final gravity reading (FG) after fermentation can help to determine your ABV (alcohol by volume).
If all of these steps seem a little too much for your right now, don’t worry. You can simply use your hydrometer to tell you if your mash is done fermenting. Using a hydrometer is simple and it can tell you exactly what you need to know to get started with the distillation process.
How to Use your Hydrometer
To use your hydrometer is not a difficult task. Simply fill the hydrometer ⅔ of the way full. Gently add your hydrometer and roll the hydrometer slowly in your hands to remove any bubbles. When the hydrometer falls take the reading. If your reading is 1.000 your mash is ready to distill. If the reading is 1.020 or above, you still need to ferment for a day or two. If your reading is above 1.020 but has not changed in the last three days, your fermentation is complete.
Clearing your Mash
Clearing your mash is an important step to maintain the integrity of your moonshine. While this is not a necessary step, failing to do this step can result in the particles in your wash/mash getting burned on the bottom of your still.
Anyone who has ever allowed a sauce to burn on the stove knows that not only does it result in a big mess to scrape off, but also a burn taste in your entire batch. The same is true for moonshine.
Before you clarify, it is important to release the carbon dioxide from your mash. When the yeast in your mash/wash eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol, it also releases carbon dioxide. It is important to release this carbon dioxide before you clear your mash because it can easily interfere with the process.
Clearing your mash is essentially getting all the sediment to settle so you can remove the liquid from the particles. If you have trapped carbon dioxide in the liquid it can act as a barrier that stops this process from happening.
How to Release the Carbon Dioxide in your Shine/Mash
Releasing the carbon dioxide in your mash can be as simple as shaking your fermentation bucket, removing the lid to allow the carbon dioxide to escape and repeating as necessary. You can also use a big whisk to agitate your wash/mash and then let the carbon dioxide escape out of the top.
Different Techniques to Clear your Mash/Shine
Now that you have removed the carbon dioxide from your mash/shine, it is time to clarify. There are a few different ways to do this, all using different additives and with different time frames.
- Gravity: This is the most cost effective method as it requires you to add nothing to your mash or shine. You simply need to wait for all the particles in your mixture to settle to the bottom of your fermentation vessel. This usually takes about two to three weeks depending on the size of your mash and the ingredients used.
- Bentonite: This is essentially a clay that acts as a sieve for your mash. It will absorb water, expand and then slowly settle to the bottom grabbing the particles from your mixture as it falls. Bentonite will usually clear your mash in about 24-48 hours.
- Sparkolloid: This works in the same way as bentonite except you add water to this sparkolloid before you add it to your mash. Sparkolloid will usually clear your mash in about 24-48 hours.
- Turbo-Clear: This comes in 2 parts: A and B. These two chemicals are positive and negatively charged. You put in part A and then about 20 minutes later you put in part B. Your batch will clear in about 24-48 hours.
- Gelatin: Do not use jello! It has to be unflavored gelatin with no sugar in it. The small packs of gelatin come with four different sachets of power. Two sachets should be enough for a 5 gallon mash. However, it is important to note two things for this method. The first, in order for this method to work your mash needs to be chilled. If your fermentation bucket is too large for your fridge or you don’t have the ability to chill your mash then choose another method. The second is that you need to prepare the gelatin with water according to the instructions. Do not simply pour it in.
- Cold crashing: If you have a chest freezer, you can put your mash in the chest freezer. The fatty acids in your mash will solidify and act as a sieve to clarify your mash in about 24-48 hours.
Once you have clarified your mash you can siphon out the liquid from the top of the fermentation bucket and get ready to do your first run.
So you have completed fermentation and are ready for your first run. This is a fun and exciting step and one that requires a little bit of prep to get a great final product.
What is distillation?
Distillation is the process in which your alcohol is going to be separated from your mash to be bottled and enjoyed. This is essentially the pot of gold at the end of your moonshin’ rainbow, but for first-timers, it can be a little intimidating.
Distillation doesn’t have to be intimidating, especially if you know what you are doing. In this section we will go over everything you need to know to use your distiller from the assembly, operation, fractioning and clean-up. You will easily become an expert in no time with lots of delicious spirits to share with family and friends.
How does Distillation Work?
The distillation process is essentially taking a liquid made up of different elements and separating them by heating and cooling them. The distillation process starts with heating your mash to a boiling point. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, the alcohol will become a vapor and then get cooled back into a liquid state. This process removes the alcohol from your mash and makes your moonshine. This process will take your moonshine from being a fermented mash to becoming a distillate. Through the distillation process many impurities are left behind.
Your distiller will either use cold water or a fan to cool down the liquid. Distillers that use fans are called air stills and are a bit easier to set up.
Water has a higher boiling point than alcohol. The boiling point of water is 212°F (100°C) and the boiling point of ethanol is 173°F (78.3°C). This is why temperature plays such an important factor in distilling. By holding your temperature steady at 175°F you can vaporize the ethanol out of your mash and leave the water behind.
However, ethanol is not the only substance that will be distilled. Along with ethanol, there are other concerning elements within your moonshine that can affect the smell, taste and hangover caused by your final product. Temperature plays an important role in eliminating these undesirables as well. There is a simple process called fractionating that keeps these unwanted items from your final product. This is the part of distillation that you will hone over time to perfect your spirits, however, there are some simple steps to take to make sure you get a tasty yield.
Cuts and Fractions
Once you have your still set up and heated up you will start to notice some liquid coming out. Success! You have made some moonshine. Well...not exactly.
Pot still distillation requires a little bit more than just collecting your moonshine out of your still. In order to get a quality (and safe) product, you need to fractionate your yield. While it sounds complicated, it really is a learned skill that comes with practice.
What are Cuts and Fractions?
Cuts or fractions are predetermined points in which you will separate your yield and collect it in a different vessel. Each vessel will have a different taste, quality and ABV. In order to learn where to make the cuts in your run you need to first understand the fractions of your run and to recognize their characteristics. Your run can be broken down into the following fractions:
There are three different ways to recognize these fractions: by still temperature, by ABV and by appearance. As you get to know the actual performance of your still as well as the science of moonshining, this will become easier and easier to recognize.
Different elements vaporize at different temperatures, however, for your moonshine you only want to collect ethanol. So keeping a steady temperature and monitoring temperature closely is essential in fractionating. As your still heats up and liquid appears at the output it is not ethanol. By referring to the chart below you will be able to more or less pinpoint what the output could be.
Keep or Toss?
134°F or 56.5°C
147°F or 64°C
171°F or 77.1°C
Keep for a second distillation or toss
172°F or 78°C
207°F or 82°C
Keep for a second distillation or toss
207°F or 97°C
Keep for a second distillation or toss
212°F or 100°C
Keep for a second distillation or toss
Keep for a second distillation or toss
280°F or 137.8°F
Keep for a second distillation or toss
322°F or 161°C
Keep for a second distillation or toss
- Foreshots – About the first 10% of your yield is considered the foreshots. This is the stuff you do not want to drink. Many of the tales of going blind from moonshine and other such dangers come from drinking the foreshots. This is because the foreshots contain a large amount of acetone, which is not something you want to put in your body. You will notice an output from your still starting at about 106°F or 50°F. This needs to be collected and tossed.
- Heads: When you get to the heads fraction of your moonshine you will notice a sweet smell with a mix of solvent. The Heads Fraction is a mixture of acetone, methanol, ethyl-acetate and ethanol. Some people choose to toss the heads and others will keep it to distill again. It depends on your comfort level and personal preference. Your heads will contain a good amount of ethanol so it is worth it to try a second distillation.
- Hearts: are the goal of your run. The hearts fraction contains the largest amount of ethanol but unlike the heads, will have a clean taste without a bite in it. It can be collected between 172.4°F and 179.6°F (78-82°C). Hearts should always be the base of your shine if you plan on blending your fractions.
- Tails: Do you smell a wet dog? This is one of the tell-tale signs you are at the ‘tails’. The Tails fraction contains large amounts of fusel oils which cause unwanted flavors in your product. However, there are still many rich flavors and ethanol in the tails which can be beneficial if you are making rum or whiskey. Collection of the tails can be ended when still temperatures reach 201°F and 203°F (94 – 95°C )
Pro tip: Use 12 jars to collect your Moonshine!
Those new to moonshining will benefit from using about 12 mason jars to collect their moonshine. By collecting your jars in smaller batches and labelling them one to 12, you can closely observe the smell and taste of your moonshine so you are better able to fraction your run and differ between the foreshots, heads, hearts, and tails. By collecting in small amounts it will be easier to try and determine where the jar falls in your run after the fact rather than trying to make these types of decisions on the fly.
Congratulations on your purchase of the Appalachian Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit. This kit is a great option for those getting into the craft of moonshining as it has everything you need to get started. The built in thermometer makes it easy to monitor your temperature, which is very important in every step of moonshining.
First step: Sanitization
The first step after unpacking your kit is to clean it very well with soap and water. Sanitation is an important step in moonshining. Even if you cleaned your still after your last use, we would still recommend cleaning your equipment BEFORE you use it, especially if it has been sitting around for a while.
Second Step: Gather your Equipment
While your kit comes with everything you need to create your moonshine, if you are planning to cook your mash and ferment in the same pot, we suggest having another Large stainless steel or copper pot on hand to use while straining your mash.
A water pump is also necessary during the distillation process. If you complete the steps included in your kit you can get a water pump for free.
It is also necessary to have a Long spoon or paddle to stir your ingredients.
Once you have your equipment prepared. It is time to get your ingredients together. You can try the recipes we have included in this guide. Looking for more inspiration? Check out our recipes!
Assemble your Stovetop Still
Remove all of the individual pieces of equipment from the box. Many of the items are located inside of your all-in-one pot. You should receive:
- Large cooking/fermenting/distillation pot with lid and seal
- Silicone hose
- Cooling pot with copper coil pipe and 2 stainless steel legs
- Metal thermometer
- Stainless steel plate with three feet
- Gauze bag
- Metal clamp and bracket
- Airlock & exhaust valve
- Silicone plug
- Extended output
Assembling your cooking/fermenter pot
- Place the three feet on the stainless steel plate. They should just snap in place. Then place the stainless steel plate in the bottom of the pot. This will help keep the solids in your mash from scorching.
- There are two holes on the lid. Place the thermometer on one of the holes, remove the nut from the thermometer and use it to secure your thermometer to the lid.
Now you are ready to cook
- Connect the exhaust valve to the airlock. Open the red exhaust valve.
- Make sure the seal is around the circumference of the pot.
*Optional-You can use the included gauze bag to strain your mash. Some moonshiners prefer to strain the solids out prior to fermentation and others wait until after. We do not recommend leaving the solids in for distillation.*
Now you are ready to ferment
- Screw the two legs to the bottom of the cooling pot
- Use the clamp and the gasket to connect the cooling pot to the pot.
- Close the red exhaust valve and remove the airlock
- Measure and cut the hose into two equal pieces
- Attach one hose to each of the exhaust valves on the cooling chamber.
- The lower exhaust valve is your water input.
- The upper exhaust valve is your water output.
- Attach a water pump to the water input.
- These valves need to be open during distillation
Now you are ready to distill
Check out this simple video to assemble your stovetop still.
Once your mash has finished fermenting (look above at the fermentation section for how to determine if fermentation is complete) you are ready to distil. Make sure that you have completely strained all of the solids out of your mash before beginning the distillation process. You can use a second pot or bucket (make sure they are sanitized) and wrap the gauze around the top of the bucket or pot to catch all the solids. You can even squeeze out the bag (using sanitized hands) to be sure to remove all of the liquids.
Once you have cleaned your pot. Start assembling your kit so you are ready to distill. Pour the mash into the pot and place the pot on your stove. Turn on the heat to medium high to start heating up your still. Temperature is an important part of the distillation process and it is important to monitor it properly.
Too much heat will cause your still to boil over and ‘puke’ into your collection vessel. This causes your moonshine to become cloudy. Too little heat can cause your run to take longer, but will not ruin it. Start with your heat lower and raise it slowly. When your temperature is correct, your still should produce between 2 and 4 drops per second. If your still has liquid pouring out, turn down the temperature. If it is less output than two to four drops per second, turn it up.
Make sure you have lots of jars to collect the different fractions.
Connect the water hoses and put them in the kitchen sink filled with ice water. Place the water pump into the water and plug in.
Refer to the fractionating chart above to see what output to expect at each temperature. Collect your hearts and bottle in a sanitized mason jar with a lid. You can freeze your moonshine or refrigerate for 6 months.
Congratulations on the purchase of your Mist 1 Gallon Mini Airstill! This still is a great option for beginners, those with limited space, or those who want to distill without using water. One of the best features of this mini still is its ability to distill quickly with very little effort from its user. Many consider it similar to a tea kettle both in size and the amount of effort that needs to be put forward by the user.
First Step: Sanitization
The first step in making spirits is always to sanitize all your equipment. Unlike many preconceived notions about making moonshine, it is something that should always be done in an extremely clean environment with sanitized equipment.
Second Step: Gather your Equipment
While your airstill is a one-stop shop when it comes to distilling spirits, this is actually the final step in making spirits. It is important to gather all the equipment you need to cook your mash/shine and ferment.
- Large stainless steel or copper pot for cooking for ingredients
- Long spoon
- At least one fermentation bucket (two is preferable for aeration) with an airtight lid
- Cooking thermometer
- 12 mason jars
Once you have all your equipment, you are ready to get started. Many beginners like to start with our sugar shine recipe to get their feet wet. This is an easy way to get started with simple ingredients. Sugar shine also does not produce any unwanted elements, like methanol, so it does not require fractionation. However, with sugar you are looking for essentially an odorless and tasteless vodka as your final product. This is a great base for many of our fun cocktail recipes, such as Strawberry Lemonade or Butterscotch Moonshine.
Once you have your equipment prepared. It is time to get your ingredients together. You can try the recipes we have included in this guide. Looking for more inspiration? Check out our recipes!
Now it is time to cook and then ferment your mash. It is important to follow our recipes closely as they are part recipe, part science experiment. While making moonshine is a fun process, it is one that requires a good attention to detail.
Once you have cooked you mash, fermented and clarified it, you are ready to distill. Now we can finally try out our airstill!
Using your Airstill
The best part about using an airstill is that it really is a hands-off process.
- Fill the airstill with your mash to the 4L mark.
- Add the ceramic boil enhancers (they look a little a bigger version of fish tank gravel) and your distilling conditioner (used to prevent surge boiling).
- Make sure the extension nozzle and glass moonshine collection vessel are attached and ready to go.
- Press the reset button
- Fit the top cover of the still in place and plug the fan lead into the socket in the still body.
- Connect the main power cord between the still and the mains power socket and turn on the mains power socket switch. You will hear the fan in the top cover of the still start immediately
- After you turn on your airstill it will take about an hour for it to heat up to the point that liquid will be coming out of the airstill.
- Allow the liquid to collect until you have about 700 ml (23.6 US fl oz) of alcohol. This will be at a strength of 60% ABV and you can use this to make up a 1 L (1 US qt) bottle at 38 - 40 % alcohol.
- Turn off your machine and allow it to cool at least 20 minutes before removing the cover.
If you are not making a sugar wash recipe, you need to fractionate your mash. Read over our section on fractionating to make sure you are removing all the harmful agents from your moonshine.
Congratulations on the purchase of your Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Stainless Steel/Copper Moonshine Still Kit! This kit combines a fermenting container with a distiller to make creating your own moonshine simple and fun.
First Step: Sanitation
Despite the fact that early moonshiners often worked in less than sanitary conditions, today’s shiners know the importance of clean equipment and tools. It is a good practice to sanitize your equipment before each use, and clean it before putting it away. This is just a step to ensure that you are starting off with the cleanest conditions possible.
Second Step: Gather your Equipment
The great thing about purchasing an all-in-one kit like the Blue Ridge is that you really don’t need to gather much equipment! While you could cook in your fermenter pot (it even has a built in thermometer) you will need another vessel to help strain your mash into. So another pot or bucket is helpful at minimum.
Large stainless steel or copper pot for cooking for ingredients
Assembling your cooking/fermenter pot
1. Place the three feet on the stainless steel plate. They should just snap in place.
2. Then place the stainless steel plate in the bottom of the pot. This will help keep the solids in your mash from scorching.
3. Add the thermometer sticker to the pot to monitor the temperature
4. The lid of your cooking pot has a gasket, blind flange and a clamp to use a regular lid. For fermentation, you will replace these items with the silicone stopper and the airlock. It is very important to make this change as the airlock allows for the carbon dioxide to escape.
Create Your Mash
Create your mash by closely following one of the recipes in this guide, or refer to our recipe list.
You can choose to strain your mash after cooking or after fermentation.
Fermentation can take about 7 -10 days. However, this can vary widely depending on the sugar content of your mash, the temperature and other factors. Check out our fermentation section for some tips and how to check if your mash is finished fermenting.
Check out our section on clarifying your mash to make sure you get all the sediment out before you start distilling.
Finally we are ready for the big show! To understand the steps of distillation, you need to have a basic understanding of the process. When we distill the mash, we are essentially heating it up to its boiling point so it turns into vapor, cooling it down so it turns back into liquid and collecting it. We are going to use the stove to heat it up and water to cool it down.
Many people like to add as little solids as possible into their distiller to avoid any possibility of it scorching. This can ruin both the distiller and the taste of your mash. Your distiller comes with a false bottom. You will attach the legs to the false bottom and place it into the bottom of your distiller pot.
If you want to distill with solids in your mash, you can simply put the solids in the included cheese cloth. First place the false bottom into the distiller pot and then pour the liquid in. Finally add the bag of mash solids.
If you want to only add liquid you can still put in the false bottom, just throw away the solids before distillation (that is if you have not filtered them out before fermentation). The false bottom can still help to stop scorching of sedimentation that you may not have gotten out in the clarification process.
Your kit will come with a silicone tube which should be cut in half to make two separate tubes for the water in and water out. Connect your tubes to the pot and the included water pump. Fill your kitchen sink with ice water and put in the pump. Plug the pump in.
Now it is time to start distillation. Refer to our chart in the cuts and fractions section to learn what temperatures you should be looking for. It is very important to fragment your output to avoid consuming anything other than the ethanol you are looking for. Once you are done try out one of our recipes like the Banana Brandy Moonshine Recipe!
Moonshining Q & A
We have the answers to all the most common questions about making your own spirits at home.
Can you make moonshine at home?
Of course! Making moonshine is easier than ever, especially with our user-friendly all-in-one kits and airstills. Finding the ingredients for making your favorite recipes are easier than ever with online shopping and modern moonshining equipment takes up less space.
Not only can you make moonshine at home, but with airstills, you can make moonshine just about anywhere with access to power. Since our airstills do not need water to condense the vapor back into liquid, they are perfect for your boat, camper and for those who are living off the grid.
How do you drink moonshine?
There are several different ways to enjoy moonshine. In fact, the way you enjoy moonshine is as unique as the person who is creating it.
Can you drink moonshine straight?
Of course you can drink moonshine straight, even if it is not always advisable. This is because, along with any high proof alcohol, even a little bit of moonshine can have a high impact. Also, while you are still learning to fractionate your yields, it is important to err on the side of caution.
If you do want to drink your moonshine straight, try drinking smaller portions. We recommend sipping small amounts.
Drink plenty of water. Moonshine, like any high proof alcohol, is very dehydrating. We recommend alternating between water and moonshine to keep hydrated and avoid a nasty hangover.
Drink pickle juice. Moonshine can definitely burn. Drinking pickle juice can help. This is because the salt in pickle juice can help counteract the burn from the moonshine.
Can you make moonshine cocktails?
Absolutely! Moonshine can be used to make many delicious cocktails. Check out our recipes for butterscotch moonshine, strawberry lemonade moonshine, and creamsicle moonshine recipe. These recipes are a sweet and delicious way for those who enjoy sweet drinks but want to enjoy their own moonshine. A word of warning, however, these drinks may not taste strong, but they certainly are. Sip slowly and drink at your own risk.
Can moonshine make you go blind?
Moonshine will not make you go blind, but large doses of methanol can. Methanol is produced during the fermentation process, especially in fruit batches. Methanol is not only present in moonshine, but is produced when making wine and beer as well. The reason that so many are concerned with the production of moonshine vs. the production of wine or beer is that the methanol in wine and beer is spread amongst the entire batch. However, with moonshine methanol output comes out in the foreshots as it boils at a lower temperature than ethanol. So in theory if you were to drink the foreshots you could end up with a nasty hangover, although not nearly enough methanol to make you blind.
One of the reasons that there is so much concern around moonshine production is that many moonshiners in the past have used dangerous practices to increase the alcohol content of their moonshine. These moonshiners would add rubbing alcohol to increase the proof of their moonshine. Rubbing alcohol has methanol as an added ingredient. Adding rubbing alcohol to moonshine is a dangerous practice that produces unhealthy results.
Is making moonshine illegal?
In the United States, making moonshine is illegal, however, owning a still is not. Owning a still is perfectly fine as long as you are using it to distill water, or to make essential oils. Fortunately, our stills can also be used to make all of these things.
Individuals can obtain a permit to use their still to make ethanol for fuel for their lawn mowers or to use for a commercial operation.
In Canada it is illegal to make moonshine without a federal license to do so. Depending on the province you live in, you may also require a provincial license.
Getting a federal license is not hard, but is expensive and requires a bit of paperwork. In fact, prior to 1985, it was illegal to brew beer or wine in your home without a federal permit. Perhaps, in time the permit will no longer be necessary for making your own spirits.
Many home distillers have commented that home brewing is not typically enforced because it is actually a violation of a tax law. Most local detachments are not concerned about home brewing as long as it is not being sold, given to minors and is limited to small personal amounts.
How can you tell if moonshine is safe?
The best way to make sure your moonshine is safe is to follow our guidelines for fractionating your yield. While there have been many reports of people getting very sick or dying from drinking moonshine, this was a result of moonshiners adding poisonous elements to their moonshine to increase the proof or ‘kick’ in their shine. When making your own moonshine, usually the biggest concern is the fact that your end product has a high concentration of alcohol and should be sipped.
What proof is moonshine usually?
When made properly moonshine can be up to 150 proof. Moonshine is known for being a really strong alcohol with a hard kick because it has not been aged. However, it is possible to age your moonshine. Check out our bourbon mash recipe.
Why is my moonshine cloudy?
When distilled properly, moonshine should be crystal clear. However, many moonshiners, especially those who are new to moonshining, will experience cloudy moonshine.
One of the biggest contributors to cloudy moonshine is when your still ‘pukes’ into the collection vessel. The reason this happens is because your still has boiled over. Monitoring temperature is an important factor in making moonshine. If your still is puking, your heat is too high. Turn down the heat to prevent this from happening. You know your temperature is right when your still is producing between 2 and 4 drops per second.
Another reason for cloudiness in your moonshine is because you have tails in your final products. In some cases your moonshine may appear clear at first, but then will turn cloudy once chilled.
Aside from producing cloudiness, having tails in your moonshine will also compromise the taste and smell in your final product.
Now you are Ready!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read through our moonshine guide. We want to help you along with your journey. Whether you need some recipe inspiration, equipment or even a brand new still. We are here to help you every step of the way.