Get the ultimate moonshine equipment list with advice from our experts!
Making moonshine is easy and fun, especially when you have the right equipment. Having a good quality still is paramount, but what else is needed to make quality moonshine at home?
Like with any craft, the process of making moonshine can be frustrating or rewarding and this is largely dependent on using the right equipment for the job. Getting tried and tested products that are designed to make moonshine can really make the process simple and fun, no matter what your experience level!
A Drink with a Great History
Just like the process of moonshining has evolved, so has the equipment available to make moonshine. Fermentation, which is the second step in moonshining, has been traced back to 7000 BC. Of course this process was not developed specifically for moonshining, but rather for a variety of different foods and drinks.
In the United States, moonshining is older to the country itself as it was developed by many early pioneers as a way of preserving excess grains. Farmers realized that the whiskey produced by fermenting corn was worth much more than the corn itself. The hobby quickly caught on and whiskey was even used as a form of currency.
Of course, this all changed when Alexander Hamilton (yes, the founding father featured in the hit musical) decided that taxing whiskey would be a great way to pay back the debt caused by the American Revolution. Of course, this led to a further rebellion and more lives lost. It also caused the act of moonshining to become illicit and for it to go underground.
With moonshining becoming illegal, shiners of the past needed to be creative in order to make the equipment needed to complete the moonshine process. Today's shiners have it easy and can get high quality equipment delivered right to their door.
Making the Mash
Making Moonshine is a three step process. Each process needs its own equipment although some all-in-one kits have equipment that can do double or even triple duty.
The first step of moonshining is called making the mash. During this step, simple starches are broken down to become fermentable sugars. For this to happen they need to be cooked so the molecules are able to sufficiently break down.
Best Pot for Cooking your Mash
In order to cook your mash you will need a large pot. Most experienced moonshiners will use stainless steel or even copper to cook their mash, but aluminum is also fine.
There are many debates among moonshiners as to whether aluminum is acceptable or even safe to use. There are many rumors that the use of aluminum can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. However, this is not proven to be true.
Aluminum is a more affordable option in comparison to stainless steel and especially copper. It is readily available, and also used in everyday cooking. However, for our recommendations, we have gone with two stainless steel options.
The Bayou Classic 44 Quart Stainless Steel Pot
The Bayou Classic 44 Quart Stainless Steel pot is made from surgical grade 304 stainless steel with a vented lid and heavy duty welded handles. It has a strong perforated basket that while it will still need to be lined with cheesecloth, will make it easy to remove solids from your mash. Advanced shiners can also lift the basket to siphon the wash to spurge the grains.
This pot is easy to clean and is a great multipurpose pot for the kitchen as it can also be used for deep frying.
The Parlynies Stainless Steel Stockpot
Parlynies Stainless Steel Stockpot is a great stainless steel option for those who will be using an air still and want to only make enough moonshine for a single run. When distilling moonshine is as simple as pushing a few buttons, why not make it fresh for friends and parties? This 5-ply stainless steel pot offers even heat distribution and can heat up quickly. It is the perfect multipurpose pot that offers great value at a convenient size.
Best Tools for Stirring your Mash
Cooking large quantities of mash requires that you are able to fully incorporate your ingredients with a quality tool. Many typical kitchens do not require these types of long spoons or sieves and therefore moonshiners need to buy them specifically in order to cook their mash properly.
Our Favorite Spoon:
We love the HIC Brands that Cook 97050 15-Inch Helen Chen's Asian Kitchen Bamboo Kitchen Spoon. We love the length of this spoon and its 100% natural materials. Make sure you choose the 15 inch option so you have the length you need to get all the way to the bottom.
Our Favorite Spurtle:
Spurtles are a traditional favorite for making porridge and are also a great option for stirring your mash. A spurtle is a great tool because the narrow tapered shaft allows a whisking action without spilling out of the saucepan. The unique beaded foot is designed to prevent sticking in the bottom of the pan. We love the Creamore Mill Made in England Natural Beech Porridge Spurtle.
Our recommendation:HABOR Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer
Reaching and maintaining the right temperatures are an important elements of making moonshine. At its core, making moonshine is basically a 10th grade science experiment, so having the right equipment, ingredients and especially the right temperature are critical.
In some still kits, like our Appalachian Complete Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit a cooking thermometer is built into the still, however, you would still need a cooking thermometer if you planned on using a separate pot to cook your mash.
While some kits, like the Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit can be used with a regular kitchen stove, others require a heating element or induction burner. Many more expensive heating sources will allow you to set your heat to a certain temperature. However, it is a much more economical option to use a stove top still and simply purchase a cooking thermometer.
We like the HABOR Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer as it is inexpensive, accurate and has an extra long probe and can read temperatures from -58℉ to 572℉(-50℃ to 300℃). This makes it perfect for moonshining.
Using an Immersion Chiller
After you cook your mash you need to wait for the temperature to drop before you can add your yeast. Remember that temperature and time play an important role in making moonshine. It is important to follow the directions properly in order to get a good quality product.
Once your mash has cooked, you have a few options in cooling it. You can simply wait a few hours, place your cooking pot in a sink full of ice water to help the process along, or use an immersion chiller.
An immersion chiller is an important tool to many moonshiners who don’t want to wait for their mash to cool on its own. Many believe that it is important to cool your mash quickly to avoid the risk of contaminants such as bacteria.
While waiting for your mash to cool naturally may take several hours, using an immersion chiller usually takes only about 15 minutes.
An immersion chiller is a set of metal coils (usually copper) into your mash and then using a water source to cool the coils which cools the mash.
We like this option by Homebrew Stuff for a few reasons. First of all, this immersion chiller is copper, which has up to 28 times the thermal conductivity of stainless steel. It also has adapters for either the garden hose or kitchen faucet so it offers options depending on how you want to cool your mash. This is an important feature, especially if you are cooking a mash in winter and don’t have the option of using your garden hose.
When it comes to straining your mash, it all comes down to personal preference. Some moonshiners like to strain their mash before fermenting, others wait until fermentation is complete. Some moonshiners even cook with their solids in their distiller.
Many moonshiners like to separate their solids and liquids well before distilling. The reason for this is because any solids that enter a still can end up scorching. If you have ever burnt the bottom of a saucepan you know that when you burn something it does not only ruin a pan, but it also ruins the taste of the entire dish. Adding solids to your distiller runs the same risks.
Our Favorite Cheesecloth
So what is the best strainer for moonshining? Well, our suggested Bayou Classic 1144 44-Quart All Purpose Stainless Steel Stockpot with Steam and Boil Basket comes with a removable basket. While this is not small enough to strain your mash, it is ideal for lining with a simple cheesecloth and helpful for removing your solids easily.
We like the Olicity Cheese Cloth because it is large (20 x 20 inches) unbleached and ultra fine and reusable. One order comes with four pieces so it offers good quality and good value.
Many moonshiners like that they can actually squeeze a cheesecloth (with sanitized hands of course) to get all the liquids out.
Our favorite Strainer
Of course a strainer is also an easy option for removing the solids from your mash. This Stainless Steel Colander is made from food grade stainless steel with heat resistant handles to make straining your mash a breeze. It offers a large capacity and micro perforations so draining is quick and easy.
Testing your Mash with Iodine
The act of cooking your mash is used to convert your grains into fermentable sugars. Moonshine recipes will provide times and temperatures to guide you in this process. However, if you are unsure whether this process has been completed, there is a way to test your mash.
Performing an iodine test is a simple way to check if your mash is ready to ferment. All you need for this test is:
- A small white plate or saucer
- A small amount of mash
- Take a small amount of mash from your pot and put it on your white plate. Place this plate in your fridge for about 30 minutes to get it nice and chilled. It is important for your mash to be chilled before you perform this test.
- Remove the plate from your fridge and 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.
Our recommendations: Home Brew Ohio glass fermenter with twin bubble airlock and Home Brew Ohio
Fermenting your mash using the proper equipment is imperative to prevent bacterial contamination. While early shiners (and a lot of old school varieties) used open-air fermentation outdoors, most modern moonshiners do not. This is because the chance of bacteria, dirt, dust and bugs getting into the shine outweighs their desire to kick it old school. Instead, modern moonshiners use fermentation vessels that offer an airtight lid to prevent bacteria, dirt and pests from entering and an airlock to allow carbon dioxide to escape. This airlock is paramount in fermenting safely as you do not want carbon dioxide to build up without a way for it to naturally disperse.
One of the benefits of owning and operating a large still, like the Appalachian Complete Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit, is that it can produce large runs. Large runs mean that you can make a lot of moonshine all at once. Of course, you need a fermentation vessel large enough to accommodate that volume of mash.
Of course, the beauty of an all-in-one kit is that the fermentor is also the still. How is this possible? Well the same stainless steel still that is going to be used to distill your run can also be used to ferment it thanks to the built in stainless steel airtight lid, and included airlock. This means less equipment for you to buy as well as less equipment for you to store.
It also takes the guesswork out of finding a fermenting bucket with the right capacity for your volume of mash. Having the right equipment really takes all of the guesswork out of moonshining and makes the process fun and easy.
So if you have purchased the Appalachian Complete Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit, or the Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit you don’t have to worry about purchasing a fermenting bucket, lid or airlock. You have everything you need to ferment and distill right there in your kit.
If you have purchased the Mist 1 Gallon Air Still, you do need a fermentation bucket. The bucket you choose will depend on the amount of mash you want to ferment. While many recipes call for about 5 gallons of mash, the Mist 1 Gallon Air Still will only distill one gallon at a time. Instead of distilling in several batches, you can choose to simply cook and distill the amount you need.
This is why for the Mist 1 Gallon Air Still we recommend smaller sized products for smaller sized batches. The Mist Airstill is a space saving still that is both easy to use and perfect for those living in tiny homes or off the grid. It makes sense to have smaller equipment to go along with it.
While you absolutely can still make large batches of mash and distill in batches, you can also choose to cut down any recipe by four fifths (80%) and instead only make what you can distill in one batch. For example, if a recipe calls for 5 liters of water change it to one litre. Five cups of sugar can be switched to one cup and so on.
Our Favorite Small Fermentor
When it comes to fermenting, you can go with a smaller option or a larger one. For the smaller option, we love the Home Brew Ohio glass fermenter with twin bubble airlock. This fermenter can hold one gallon of mash and is USDA certified food grade glass. It is compact and easy to store.
Our Favorite Large Fermentor
Of course if you want to distill in batches you can use a standard 6.5 gallon size fermenting bucket with lid. We like this option by Home Brew Ohio, although it does not come with an airlock and is quite expensive. However, it does offer a spigot at the bottom which is a nice feature to have.
Again, if you have purchased either the Appalachian Complete Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit, or the Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit you don’t have to worry about purchasing a fermenting bucket, lid or airlock. You have everything you need to ferment and distill right there in your kit.
If you do want a large fermenting bucket like the one above you will also need to purchase an airlock. Again, with the small fermentor and the Appalachian Complete Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit, or the Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit you do not need to purchase an additional airlock.
If you do require an airlock for your fermentation bucket we recommend this option from Rilla Mart. This fermentation airlock is made of high quality BPA-free polypropylene and the stopper is made of food grade rubber, perfect for fermenting moonshine, beer and wine.
Using a Hydrometer to Check for Fermentation
The only scientific way to check for fermentation is to use a Hydrometer. If you are an advanced moonshiner and you want to determine your ABV (alcohol by volume) you would do so using a hydrometer. All you need to do is use 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).
This is an additional step that is not necessary, especially if you are not even sure what your ABV will mean. However, you may still want a hydrometer to determine if you mash is done fermenting.
If you have purchased the Blue Ridge Still, your all-in-one kit will include a hydrometer!
How to Use your Hydrometer
Using a Hydrometer is easy and it will tell you if your mash is ready to distill.
- 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.
We recommend this hydrometer which is American made and exceeds the standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Once your mash has fermented, you need to clear it. This is the process of removing all of the solid particles from your mash before you distill it. Again, distilling your mash with solids intact will run the risk of scorching, which has the potential of ruining your run.
Before you clear your mash it is important to release any remaining carbon dioxide. When yeast eats sugar it releases carbon dioxide. This is very similar to the way that bubbles will come to the surface of a glass of soda. You will notice the carbon is released through the airlock of your fermentation bucket. However, not all of the carbon dioxide is able to escape. This carbon dioxide can act as a bubbly layer which will prevent your mash from clearing. So it is important to first release the carbon dioxide from your mash before you start the clearing process.
How to Release the Carbon Dioxide in your Shine/Mash
Releasing the carbon dioxide from your mash is done the same way you would make a soda flat. You can simply shake your fermentation bucket and then remove the lid to allow the carbon dioxide to escape. Another option is to stir up your fermentation bucket and then again, remove the lid to allow the carbon dioxide to escape.
Different Techniques and Products to Clear your Mash/Shine
Now that you have removed the carbon dioxide from your mash/shine, it is time to clarify. The good news about this step is that you have options that cost no money but take some time and options that take much less time but cost a little bit of money. There are a few different ways to do this, all using different additives and with different time frames.
- Gravity: This option is the easiest and the cheapest. If you release the carbon dioxide you can simply let gravity pull all the particles to the bottom of your fermentation vessel and you will be ready to run your mash in about a week or two.
- Bentonite: This is a clay that will absorb water, expand and then act as a net to catch any particles in your mash and bring them to the bottom of your fermentation vessel. Bentonite will usually clear your mash in about 24-48 hours.
- Sparkolloid: This works similarly to bentonite with the exception that you add water to the sparkolloid before you add it to your mash. Sparkolloid will usually clear your mash in about 24-48 hours.
- Turbo-Clear: This is a little bit more complicated to use as it comes in two parts. 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: This is a cost effective way to clear your mash if you have enough room in your fridge to fit your fermentation vessel. You need to chill your mash in order for your gelatin to set and this method to work. Keep in mind this process uses gelatin and not jello. Jello will add sugar to your mash and ruin it. It has to be unflavored gelatin with no sugar in it. Two sachets of gelatin should be enough for a 5 gallon mash. For this method 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. A siphon is important as you cannot simply pour your mash out of your fermentation vessel as this will undo all the hard work you put into clearing the mash.
For siphoning we recommend the Grip Clip siphon as it features Unique couplers that have better holding power so you aren’t losing mash from ill fitting hoses. It is also simple to use and is very economical to buy.
The Best Distillers for Moonshine
Of course, the most important equipment to purchase for your moonshine journey is a quality still. Investing in a quality piece of equipment will make the process of moonshining easier and yield much better results.
At How to Moonshine, we stand behind our quality products and work tirelessly to help people like yourself make quality spirits from the comforts of home.
Our all in one stove top kits are a great option for those who want an economical way to start brewing moonshine at home. Not only do these kits not require specialized heating sources, but they act as a fermenter and still all in one.
The Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Still
The Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Still has the option to come with or without copper tubing. Copper tubing is a great asset in distilling as it reacts on a molecular level with the sulfurs that naturally occur by fermenting yeast. Copper will remove the sulfur taste from your moonshine and create a smoother shine.
In addition to the opportunity to add copper tubing to the still, the Blue Ridge Stove Top Still is a great option for a moonshiner who is looking for an all in one product that does not require a lot of additional equipment. This still offers an unique all in one product that combines a fermenter and still. This means that you need to buy less, store less and enjoy your moonshine with less investment.
This efficient design features food grade stainless steel and can produce approximately 3 to 4 litres of spirit in about 1 to 2 hours.
The Appalachian Easy to Use Stove Top Still
The Appalachian is another example of an all in one kit that is both a fermenter and a distiller. This kit comes with almost everything you need to make your first batch of moonshine (except for the ingredients of course). This still is made from food grade materials. Along with moonshine you can also make ethanol, distilled water and essential oils.
While we would recommend a separate cooking pot, spoon and siphon this kit has almost everything else you need to make your first batch. It is a great option for both beginners and seasoned moonshiners who want a solution that is cost effective and takes up less space.
This kit includes:
- Built-in Thermometer (Celsius & Fahrenheit Readings)
- Stainless Steam Plate and Gauze Bag
- Thumper keg
- Cooling coil cooler: 98.5 inch in length copper pipe to shape
The Mist 1 Gallon Air Still
While the Mist air still may still require some extra equipment, it also has many amazing features.
For starters, the Mist only takes up about the same amount of space as the average kettle or coffee machine. This means it is the perfect option for those who are living in smaller homes or tighter spaces. It is the ideal still for your boat, cottage, or trailer.
In addition to its compact size, the Mist is also a beautiful machine. It will easily find a place on your counter. As the Mist is an air still, it does not require water to distill. This is an ideal option for those living with limited access to water. It is also a simple process that only requires you to press a few buttons. This is perfect for those who want more of a hands off approach.
While you may need to purchase a separate fermenting vessel, it does not have to be big. With its smaller size and capacity, the Mist can create smaller volumes of shine and use many regular household items to do it. You do not have to buy large speciality pots to cook enough mash as the still only holds one gallon of liquid. Simply reduce your recipes accordingly.
Extra Equipment you may Require
Of course with any project, you can buy extra equipment if needed. With our distillers, you have the option of using a stove top with either Appalachian Complete Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit, or the Blue Ridge 5 Gallon Stove Top Moonshine Still Kit or an electric outlet for the Mist 1 Gallon Air Still.
However, some may want to try a different heating method, especially if they want more control over the temperature or don’t want to cook in their house. This can also be used for cooking your mash as well as distilling.
We like the Sandoo because it is economical while allowing you to program the temperature you want. This gives you more control over the temperature while you are cooking. In fact, it has 15 temperature levels from 120℉~ 465℉. It also has a built in timer.
The Cusimax is a close second with 9 temperature settings 140 ℉ to 464 ℉ and a built in timer. It is also slightly cheaper.
In addition to cooking and distilling, you also need to consider how you will store your shine. Of course, many traditionalists would insist on using mason jars. Getting a set of mason jars is a great way to separate your foreshots, heads, hearts and tails as well as storing your shine once you are finished. With mason jars soaring in popularity for rustic weddings and events, they are also a great way to serve your moonshine as well.