How to Determine Moonshine Alcohol Content

How to Determine Moonshine Alcohol Content

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. What’s the moonshine alcohol content?

Another time is 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 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. 


But here’s what is interesting: Depending on what type of still is used for making moonshine, you could have a significantly higher alcohol content for the moonshine you’re drinking. 


How Stills Affect your ABV


pot still abv


Pot stills will give you a 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 whiskey 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. 




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 

  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 test on video:

Here’s the two-step process: 

  1. Shake 

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 150proof 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. Take a look:

  • The Specific Gravity Hydrometer 
  • The video that really explains this well is found here:

    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. 

    The process is this: 

    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, too... 

    This method 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. 

    Another video to explain more is found here:


    1. The Proof and Trale Hydrometer 

    The Proof and Trale Hydrometer (PTH) is for proofing products you make from your distillers. It’s different than 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: 

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

    And here’s a bit of extra information about the process, if you want to go a lot deeper:

    Other Questions About Determining Moonshine Alcohol Content 

    From all this information, you can easily answer the following questions: 

    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 do 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. 


    It’s important for you as a moonshiner to know what you are doing and especially to know the moonshine alcohol content of your final product batch. Similarly, if you are traveling and taste alcoholic beverages at an ole smoky Tennessee moonshine distillery, you’ll want to have an idea what the proof is. 

    Let us know what you think of the article! And if you like it, send it to some of your friends!