How a Moonshine Still Works

How a Moonshine Still Works

Making moonshine can seem intimidating, especially if you don't understand how a moonshine still works. Let us give you the lowdown. 

What is a Moonshine Still?




Moonshine still refers to a device used in the production of moonshine, a distilled alcoholic beverage typically produced illicitly in rural areas.


Moonshine has a longstanding history. While it may be closely linked with the prohibition era, the truth is moonshine was around long before that. 

In fact, the term moonshine has been traced back to the late 15th century having been created during the prohibition era in the United States when alcohol was banned.


The term "moonshine" itself emerged from the secretive nature of the distillation process, often taking place under the moonlight to avoid detection.


Therefore, a moonshine still is the apparatus utilized to distill homemade alcohol, allowing individuals to produce their own spirits outside the realm of commercial liquor production.

Although its production remains largely illegal in many countries, the allure of moonshine stills persists today, attracting both hobbyists and those wishing to engage in the "old-fashioned" process of crafting small-batch spirits.


History of Moonshine Still




Moonshine stills have a long and captivating history, with a significant role during Prohibition in the United States. During this period from 1920 to 1933, the production, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages were banned, leading to a surge in illegal alcohol production. Moonshine stills, homemade distillation devices, played a vital role in this underground trade.

Moonshiners utilized various tactics to evade authorities and continue their illegal operations. To avoid detection, many stills were hidden deep in the woods or remote areas, making them hard to find.

Moonshiners also developed ingenious ways to disguise their activities, such as integrating stills into seemingly innocuous objects like water towers or even car engines. Additionally, they often operated at night to minimize the risk of being caught.


Despite the dangers and constant threat of arrest, moonshining thrived during Prohibition due to the high demand for alcohol.


However, the decline of illegal alcohol production began in 1933 when Prohibition was repealed. This allowed legal breweries and distilleries to resume operations, offering consumers safer and regulated options.

Today, while illegal alcohol production continues in certain regions, it is considerably smaller in scale and less pervasive compared to the Prohibition era.

Nevertheless, the cultural significance of moonshining and its historical ties to American rebellion and ingenuity have left a lasting impact on the nation's identity.

Parts of a Moonshine Still



A moonshine still is a device used to distill or purify alcohol, typically to create homemade spirits such as moonshine.


The process involves heating a liquid mixture, collecting the vapor that evaporates, and condensing it back into a liquid form.


Moonshine stills consist of several essential parts that work together to facilitate this distillation process. By understanding the purpose and function of each part, you can gain a deeper appreciation of the fascinating world of moonshine production.

Thump Kegs

Thump Kegs play a fundamental role in the distillation process, especially in the production of spirits like moonshine.


These unique apparatuses are used as a second distillation step to achieve high alcohol content and enhance the flavor profile of the spirits.



Thump Kegs are placed between the stillpot and the condenser in a distillation setup. They operate by intercepting the steam vapor produced during the initial distillation process.


This steam, rich in alcohol, then flows into the Thump Keg where it undergoes a second distillation.


The primary purpose of Thump Kegs is to remove impurities and increase the alcohol content of the distillate. This happens due to the temperature variation and the unique shape of the Thump Keg, which creates both reflux and condensation.

In this process, the alcohol-rich vapors are separated from any undesirable components present in the liquid.

Thump Kegs can be made from various materials like copper, stainless steel, or wood. Each material brings its own unique properties and characteristics to the distillation process.

Copper Thump Kegs are a popular choice due to their excellent heat conductivity and ability to remove sulfides, while stainless steel offers durability and ease of cleaning.

Wooden Thump Kegs are less common, but they can impart distinct flavors and aromas to the spirits.


Heat Source


There are several options for heating sources for moonshine distillers. Heating bands are fastened outside the moonshine still and plugged into an electric outlet. 



Some moonshine stills have a built-in electric heating system. The Moonshine Cherry is an electric air still. Unlike a traditional moonshine still which uses an outside water source to condense the vapors back into a liquid, the Moonshine Cherry uses a built in fan. 

This feature makes the still easier to operate and perfect for any shiners who want to take a simple approach to making their own spirits at home. 




The Standard reflux still also features a built in electric heating system, which is very rare to see in a larger still. This makes running the still an easier process so shiners can get a better end result with a moonshine still that is easy to operate. Unlike the Moonshine Cherry, The Standard does require a water pump and external water source. 

Another heating option is to use a stove or hot plate. It is important to look at the weight restrictions when using a hot plate as they cannot accomodate all stills.




Our Magnum All-in-One Moonshine Still can be heated on the stove. It is a great option for those who want a big still on a budget. Not only does the Magnum not require the purchase of an additional heat source, but the barrel of the still can also be used as a fermentor! 

The choice of heating method in moonshine production often intertwines tradition, personal preference, and practical considerations, creating a diverse landscape of techniques among those passionate about the craft.



A fermenter bucket is a vessel used for the fermentation process in making moonshine. 

Its purpose is to provide a controlled environment for the fermentation of sugars by yeast, resulting in the production of alcohol and other desired by-products. 

It is important to do your fermenting in a climate controlled environment. 


How Does a Moonshine Still Work?




Moonshine, a term typically associated with bootlegged and illegal alcohol, has a mysterious allure and a long history.

The process of making moonshine involves a device known as a moonshine still, which acts as the key component in distilling homemade alcohol. But how exactly does a moonshine still work?

Whether you are a curious beginner or a seasoned home distiller, understanding the inner mechanisms of a moonshine still is essential for producing a smooth and flavorful batch of homemade spirits.

Preparing the Mash for Distillation




Preparing the mash for distillation involves several important steps to ensure the production of high-quality spirits.

The process begins by heating water to the required temperature. This step is crucial for activating the enzymes present in the malted barley, which play a significant role in converting starches into fermentable sugars.

Once the water is heated, the next step is to add corn and malted barley into the vessel. The corn acts as a primary source of fermentable sugars, while the malted barley acts as a source of enzymes needed for the conversion process.

The proportion of corn and malted barley may vary depending on the desired recipe or type of spirit being produced.




After the corn and malted barley are added, the mixture is stirred thoroughly to promote proper enzyme activity and sugar extraction. This helps maximize the yield of fermentable sugars, which are essential for the subsequent fermentation step.

The next important step is to cool the mash down to an optimal temperature for fermentation. This is typically done by transferring the mash to a separate vessel or using a heat exchanger.


Cooling the mash prevents the growth of unwanted microorganisms and provides an ideal environment for yeast to ferment the sugars.



Heating the Mash to Produce Alcohol Vapors




Heating the mash is an essential step in the production of alcohol vapors. This process involves applying heat to the fermented mash, which consists of grains, fruits, or vegetables that have undergone fermentation to convert sugars into alcohol.


The purpose of heating is to separate the alcohol from other compounds present in the mash.


To carry out this step, a moonshine distiller is necessary. The moonshine still usually consists of a pot or boiler, a condenser, and a collection vessel.


The mash is heated in the pot or boiler, and the alcohol vapors are collected and condensed in the condenser, resulting in purified alcohol.


The temperature requirements vary depending on the type of alcohol being produced. For example, ethanol, the most common type of alcohol, has a boiling point of 173.1°F (78.37°C). Therefore, the heating process must reach and maintain a temperature above this to ensure only alcohol vapors are produced.

Various heating methods can be employed, including direct heat sources like gas burners or electric heaters.


It is critical to maintain a controlled temperature throughout the process to prevent the production of unwanted substances or the degradation of the alcohol.


This can be achieved by using a temperature regulator or monitoring system.


Condensing and Cooling the Alcohol Vapors into Liquid Form




Condensing and cooling alcohol vapors into liquid form is a crucial step in the process of distillation.


Once the alcohol has been vaporized, it needs to be condensed back into its liquid state, resulting in a more concentrated and purified form of the desired spirit.


To achieve this, the hot alcohol vapors are directed towards a condenser. The condenser is a device typically made of copper coils or tubes that are carefully designed to maximize the efficiency of the cooling process.

The condenser is cooled by a coolant, usually water, which enters from the bottom and exits from the top. As the hot vapor meets the cool copper coils, heat is rapidly transferred from the vapor to the coolant.


This cooling process causes the alcohol vapor to lose energy and condense into a liquid form, which trickles down the copper coils or tubes.


Once the alcohol vapors have been condensed into liquid form, they enter a spirit safe or parrot. This allows for the separation of the desired spirit from any impurities that may have been carried over during the distillation process.

The liquid alcohol collected in the spirit safe or parrot is now ready for further refinement or bottling.


Amount of Water Used in Distillation

During the distillation process, water plays a vital role in the production of high proof spirits. The amount of water used in distillation varies depending on different factors such as the type of stills used and their efficiency.


The exact amount of water required in the distillation process can vary, but generally, a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 (water to product) is commonly used.


Water is used primarily as a cooling agent to condense the vapors produced during distillation. The evaporated alcohol vapors rise through the still, and as they come into contact with the cold condenser, they condense back into liquid form. This cooling process is crucial for separating the desired alcohol from impurities and producing higher proof spirits.

Two types of stills are commonly used in distillation: pot stills and column stills. Pot stills, traditionally made from copper, are known for producing flavorful spirits with distinct character. They are less efficient and require more water to maintain the desired temperature throughout the process.



On the other hand, column stills are more efficient and require less water due to their ability to continuously separate alcohol from impurities. They are commonly used in the production of high proof spirits, such as vodka.

The amount of water used in distillation depends on factors such as the type of still used and its efficiency. Water serves as a cooling agent, allowing the separation of alcohol from impurities and the production of high proof spirits.