Do you want to make moonshine but are unsure how to start? Check out our step by step guide to making your first batch of delicious corn whiskey.
There are many different ingredients you can use to make moonshine. However, when it comes to keeping it ‘old school’ and traditional-nothing says moonshine like a good corn mash recipe.
In fact, many moonshiners refused to use anything but the traditional corn as the base of their shine, take Popcorn Sutton for example. He is one of the most famous American moonshiners due to his appearance in several documentaries as well as writing his book, "Me and My Likker", and starring in self-produced instructional home videos.
Popcorn Sutton would only make his moonshine with his family’s 100-year-old recipe which used corn as its base and open-air fermentation. While many do not choose this fermentation style, Sutton likely chose this method as he was mass-producing ‘shine in order to sell it.
Modern shiners often prefer to ferment indoors with an airlock. In fact, our all-in-one stills actually act as a fermenter and a still all in one to make moonshining simple and affordable.
Equipment Needed for Making your Mash
- A Large stainless steel or copper pot
- A Long spoon
- A strainer or Cheesecloth
- A Cooking thermometer
Equipment Needed for Fermenting your Mash
- Blue Ridge All-in-one Stovetop still (which is also a fermentor)
Equipment Needed for Distilling your Moonshine
Ingredients for Corn Whiskey
Since we mentioned Popcorn Sutton in this article, why not try out his secret family recipe? Can’t get a hold of these speciality ingredients? Why not try making moonshine with cereal instead?
- 5 lbs of Sugar
- 4 gallons filtered water
- 2 1/2 lbs of coarse ground white cornmeal
- 1 small packet yeast (preferably Distiller's Yeast)
- 1 gallon of malt (rye, corn or barley)
- Add 1 gallon of water to the pot and bring it to boil.
- Add cornmeal cook at 165 °F. Don't forget to stir occasionally.
- Remove the heat and let the cornmeal cool down to 150°F.
- Once cooled to 150 °F, add the remaining water, then mix in the sugar and ground malt.
- Let it cool to 70 °F.
- Transfer mixture into the fermenter and then add yeast or a yeast starter.
- Place the airtight lid on the bucket and insert the airlock.
- Let the mash ferment completely for about a week until no visible activity can be detected.
- Strain the mash using the cheesecloth to remove any solids that can burn during the distillation process.
- Distill the wash as normal.
The Three Steps of a Great Corn Whiskey
Making moonshine is not a new pastime, but it is one that has a bit of a learning curve. This is because making moonshine is basically like performing a little science experiment in the kitchen. The act of making moonshine is actually a three-step process that takes about two to three weeks to accomplish. However, it can be created in as little as a week using specialty ingredients.
Making a Mash
The first step to making moonshine is called making a mash. This is the process in which starches are converted into fermentable sugars. This process is completed by heating up the starches to a certain temperature. In the case of corn, we need to gelatinize the corn (the result is exactly how it sounds-a thick gel-like substance) in order to release the starch.
However, this is not the only step in this process. We also need to add something to the mash in order to help the starches convert into sugar. There are two options when it comes to this step.
The first option is to use malted barley. It is important that you use malted barley for this step. Otherwise, it will not work. Malted barley contains enzymes that will help convert your corn from starch into fermentable sugar. If this conversion does not happen, your yeast will have nothing to convert during the fermentation process.
The second option is to use amylase. This is an enzyme that will also convert starch into fermentable sugars. This is a good option as it can work with a wide range of ingredients and at many temperatures. However, it does not add anything in terms of taste to your mash.
Fermenting your Mash
While your mash requires a high temperature in order to break down the starch, fermentation requires a stable 70°F and a lot of time. In fact, temperature plays a big role in the process of making moonshine. After heating up your mash to convert the grains into fermentable sugars, it needs to cool to 70°F before you can add your yeast. There are several ways to do this. You can use an immersion chiller, put your cooking pot in a sink of ice water, or simply wait.
Once your mash has reached 70°F, you can add it to your fermentation bucket. A siphon can be helpful in transferring the liquid. Many choose to strain the solids from their mash at this point. Removing the liquid with a siphon can make this process easier.
Once you have filled your fermentation bucket with your mash, it is time to add your yeast. Some yeast, such as Turbo yeast, can speed this process up. We find that using bread yeast is effective and inexpensive for most recipes.
One great way to set yourself up for fermentation success is to make a yeast starter. While you can simply add your yeast and aerate (either by pouring your mash between your cooking pot and fermentation vessel or by shaking your fermentation bucket) a yeast starter is like giving your mash a head start. Check out the video below.
Clearing your Mash
The fermentation process usually takes between 7 and 14 days to complete. Keep an eye on your airlock. This will bubble to show the release of carbon dioxide in your mash. Similar to how if you look at a glass of soda closely you will notice tiny bubbles rising to the surface. Your mash is doing the same thing. This is because while the yeast is converting the fermentable sugars into alcohol, it is also releasing carbon dioxide. The airlock allows the carbon dioxide to be released rather than build-up (which is potentially dangerous).
Once you have noticed the activity (bubbles) in the airlock has stopped for about two days, fermentation is complete.
Once fermentation is complete, you want to give your mash a good stir and remove the lid. This is to release carbon dioxide. If you fail to perform this step, it will be more difficult to clear your mash. This is because carbon dioxide can act as a barrier and prevent the particles in your mash from falling to the bottom of your fermentation bucket.
Clearing your mash is basically letting all the small particles fall to the bottom. This is an important step as small particles in your mash can scorch in your still. Have you ever burned a pot on the stove? Just as a burned pot will ruin the taste of its contents, a scorched still will also ruin the quality of its run.
There are several ways to clear your mash. Some cost money and others are completely free.
The easiest way is to simply wait. It will take about a week for the particles to settle in the bottom of the fermentation bucket or vessel and then you can siphon out the mash and run it. You can also cold crash your mash. This is simply placing your fermentation bucket in a chest freezer. The fatty acids in your mash will freeze and act as a sieve to pull the particles of your mash to the bottom.
There are also several additives you can purchase that will also act as a sieve. These include Bentonite, Sparkolloid, Turbo-Clear, and Gelatin. For more information on how these additives work, check out our How to Make Moonshine guide.
Distilling your Mash
For many, this step is the most intimidating. It usually involves heat and water and yes, it results in moonshine. If you are interested in making your own moonshine but too scared to use a traditional distiller, an air still can be a great first step.
Our Mist 1 Gallon Air Still is as easy to use as an electric kettle but produces something far more fun than your morning cup of tea!
Many shiners love using an air still because they can scale down the recipes to yield one gallon (most are written for 5 gallon stills) and use their regular kitchen equipment for cooking. Distilling is as simple as pressing a button and there is no large equipment to store.
If you are ready to take on a five-gallon still, we recommend the Blue Ridge all-in-one stovetop still. This still acts as both a fermenter and a still which saves you money and makes the process far less complicated. Its smart design also means that this still can easily be changed from a fermenter to a still in about two minutes. It also includes both a water pump and a hydrometer. It really couldn’t be any easier.
The Blue Ridge Still uses your stove as a heat source (which means less to buy) and your sink as a cooling source. All you need to do to run your still is assemble it, add the water pump into a sink of ice water and turn your stove on medium heat. The rule of thumb for running a still is to start with the temperature low and slow and then increase if necessary. The Blue Ridge Still has a built-in thermometer to make monitoring your temperature easy.
A big part of distilling your mash is fractionating your yield. This means using temperature to help gauge what part of your yield is safe to consume (ethanol) and what part of your yield is not safe to drink. Before you distill, please read our section on cuts and fractions in our How to Make Moonshine guide.
Our How to Make Moonshine guide is your best resource for in depth information on all things moonshine. We go through step by step on how to make different recipes, use different equipment and break down the process of making moonshine so it is easy to understand. Are you ready to make your first run? Check out our quality stills and let us help get you started.