Making moonshine is a fun hobby that delivers delicious results. After all, how many people can say their favorite hobby produces delicious moonshine?
Of course, the first step to shinin’ is getting yourself a high quality still. Check out our guide for the best moonshine still for beginners.
Moonshine has gone Mainstream
The reason for these blind spots is obvious. Moonshine is not a hobby that many people participate in, let alone speak about. However, it seems that is starting to change.
Making moonshine used to be an illicit act that was closely guarded by those who participated. However, it seems those days are now behind us.
Today’s moonshiners are not only happy to partake in ‘white whiskey’ but they also want to share the love with their families, friends and even social media.
Perhaps this change was due to the popularity of Discovery’s Moonshiners, or Covid forcing many of us to get a hobby. If that hobby happens to make drinking quality spirits even cheaper, all the better.
No matter what the reason for this shift into pop culture, many people are ready to start shinin’ and want to know how to get started.
The good news is, at How to Moonshine, we take you step by step through the shinin’ process from buying your first still, making your first mash and even fractioning your first run. We’ve got you covered every step of the way.
How to Get Started in Moonshining
Starting any new activity or hobby can be intimidating. This is especially true when your hobby requires specialized equipment.
Many people want to get started with moonshining, but lose their nerve when they see the wide range of stills. Of course, going in with little or no knowledge of distilling can make investing in a still seem overwhelming. Of course, we are here to help you!
Taking the First Step
The first step in making moonshine is to think about where you want to start and where you want to go.
This may seem like an obvious task, but often when making purchases we impulsively grab what looks to be the best deal or the shiniest object, without actually thinking about the repercussions.
When it comes to choosing the best moonshine still for beginners, there are several factors you need to take into account.
One Lid or Two?
The first decision you'll need to make is whether you want a one-lid or two-lid design. A one-lid design is more compact and portable but can be difficult to clean. A two-lid design is easier to clean but takes up more space.
When it comes to space, it should be a major consideration before any still purchase. After all, you will need to have the room to both operate and store your still as well as any other equipment involved.
This is why many moonshiners choose to look for a still that can also act as a fermentor. This will not only save space, but is an economical option as well.
Does Size Really Matter?
Size is an important factor to consider. If you're planning to use your moonshine still outdoors, a larger model will be more efficient and produce better-tasting liquor faster. However, if space is at a premium or you plan on taking it camping with you then size isn't as important as portability.
For example, at How to Moonshine, the shiniest object in our still catalogue is easily our Magnum. At 50L, it truly lives up to its name.
It also has some premium features that experienced moonshiners know to look for such as a double vapor chamber to increase ABV, and steam release valves to help burn off methanol.
Buying a Magnum should be a no-brainer right?
Actually, no. While the Magnum is certainly impressive, it could easily be too much too soon for a first time shiner. It’s sheer size alone could easily be intimidating to those new to the hobby and while its premium features could easily be lost on an inexperienced shiner.
Spend Less, Learn More
Also, investing in a premium still before your first run can be putting the cart before the horse. Of course, we love shinin’ and sharing the ‘fruits of our labor’ but not every hobby is right for every person.
Starting off with a smaller investment and the ability to upgrade down the line can often be a good call.
The most important thing a newbie moonshiner can do is learn the basics of shining. This is why at How to Moonshine, we offer a FREE How to Make Moonshine e-book!
This is usually best accomplished on a simple still that is easy to operate and manage. Starting off on a premium still with all the bells and whistles could easily be lost on a shiner who is learning how to maintain consistent heat or learn how to fraction.
What Should a Beginner Look for in a Moonshine Still?
Just because you are new to moonshining does not mean you don’t need premium features in your moonshine still. Of course, even if you are a newbie you still need a quality still to work with.
In addition to a quality product, it is also important to find a still that is straightforward to use and produces great results.
Best Materials for a Moonshine Still for Beginners
The material in which your still is constructed is a very important factor in your final decision.
When it comes to making moonshine, you will need to make sure that your still is made from materials that will not only make shine that is safe to consume, but also tastes great.
Traditionally, moonshine stills were made from copper. The reason for this is very simple.
Copper is able to neutralize the sulphur in your shine which converts into copper sulfate. This will line your stil and remain on your still instead of remaining in your moonshine. By removing the copper sulfate your moonshine will taste better.
Buying a copper still may seem like a no-brainer, however, there are some downsides to this type of still.
Copper stills can be difficult to clean which can extend the time it takes to run your batch.
Buying stills that are only made of copper are also extremely expensive. The cost of a copper still alone can put off a newbie from pulling the trigger.
Stainless Steel Stills
Stainless steel moonshine stills are a great option for beginners. The most obvious reason being that they are much more affordable than their copper counterparts.
In addition, these types of stills are also easy to clean. However, without copper to neutralize the sulphur in your mash your moonshine and it will affect its taste.
A great option for beginners is a hybrid still that is both food-grade stainless steel with copper coils.
By combining a stainless steel body with copper coils, you are able to produce a still that is both high performing and cost effective. It is for this reason that many moonshiners choose to purchase this type of hybrid still.
Stainless Steel/Copper Hybrid Stills
Many moonshiners want high performance with a great return on their investment. For those who want great tasting shine for an economical price a hybrid still is often the answer.
Stainless steel is much less expensive than copper and is also easier to clean. A clean still is extremely important when making moonshine.
Not only do you need to clean your still after a run, but you also need to clean the still before a run.
Any moonshine produced for consumption needs to be made in a sterile environment with food grade materials. Using stainless steel for the body of a still makes it easier to keep clean.
Ease of Use
Ease of use may not be what many consider first when purchasing a still (likely because beginners may not understand how to use ANY still) but it should be.
After all, you won’t get much use out of a still that you are too intimidated to operate. By choosing a still that is easy to use you are much more likely to moonshine more often (in our experience at least!)
Of course, if your still is easy to use you are also more likely to operate it properly, which increases both safety and the likelihood you will end up with a good result.
Most would-be shiners anticipate making moonshine will be complicated, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, with the Moonshine Cherry Air Still making moonshine is as easy as operating the kitchen kettle.
Capacity is also a good consideration. Do you want to be able to make enough shine to share with friends and family or are you just making moonshine for your personal consumption.?
Of course, personal consumption will vary greatly, so the capacity needs will vary.
Stills come as small as 1 gallon. While this is a great option for those who want to make small amounts of shine for personal use, many recipes are for much larger volumes of mash. This means you could be doing run after run to complete your mash.
Of course, a still with too large of a capacity is also not great. Of course, you could always double or triple your recipe to make the most of your still, but you also have to store all that shine as well as that huge still. It is certainly something to consider before making your purchase.
So if you are like Goldilocks and need a still that is 'just right' you are likely looking for a still with about 10 litre capacity.
Pot Still vs. Column Still
Two prominent methods in this process are the pot still and the column still, each with its unique set of benefits that cater to different aspects of distillation.
The pot still is the traditional choice and its primary advantage is its ability to produce full-bodied spirits.
The pot still is known for producing spirits with a rich, full-bodied flavor profile, as it allows for the retention of more congeners, flavorful compounds that contribute to the final product's complexity.
This traditional method is often favored for the production of whiskey, brandy, and rum, where the emphasis is on the distinctiveness of the base ingredients.
A Versatile Still
One of the key benefits of the pot still is its versatility in handling a wide range of ingredients. It is particularly well-suited for small-batch and artisanal production, allowing distillers to experiment with different grains, fruits, or molasses to create unique and characterful spirits.
The pot still's slower distillation process and direct contact with the heating source contribute to the development of rich and nuanced flavors, appealing to enthusiasts who appreciate the craft and authenticity of traditional distillation methods.
Benefits of a Column Still
On the other hand, the column still, a more modern and efficient approach to distillation, offers distinct advantages that cater to mass production and the production of lighter, more neutral spirits.
One of the primary benefits of the column still is its continuous distillation process, which allows for a higher level of alcohol purity.
This efficiency is especially valuable in the production of vodka, gin, and light rum, where a clean and neutral spirit serves as a blank canvas for the addition of botanicals or other flavoring agents.
The column still's ability to separate and collect different fractions of the distillate based on boiling points contributes to the production of spirits with a smooth and consistent flavor profile.
This precision is crucial in industries where maintaining a standardized product is essential.
Additionally, the column still's automated and continuous operation reduces labor costs and increases overall production efficiency, making it a preferred choice for large-scale distilleries aiming for high output.
Affordability of Your Moonshine Still
The cost of your still also needs to be an important consideration. Moonshine stills can vary widely in price and quality.
Of course, a bigger price does not always equal a better product, especially if you are a beginner.
The trick is to find an affordable moonshine still that has all the features you want. Affordability should not trump the quality of the build and materials used.
Instead, find a moonshine still company that you trust, read the reviews and make an informed choice.
Should I Buy a 'Starter Still'?
It often makes sense to purchase a ‘starter’ moonshine still to see if you enjoy moonshining before investing in your dream still. After all, you may not know what features you will want in your dream still until you have a few runs under your belt.
What Type of Moonshine Still Should I Buy?
The type of still to buy may not be at the top of mind for those new to shining, especially since they may not know the difference between the different types of stills.
An air still is the easiest type of still to operate by far. If you are brand new to moonshining, an air still is not that big of a leap from your common kitchen appliances. In fact, our Moonshine Cherry is only slightly bigger than the average kitchen kettle and just as easy to use.
If you are looking for press and play technology, the air still is a great option for you. Not only can you operate this still at the press of a button, running it is also fairly hands-off.
While you will still need to toss your heads, you don’t have to worry about maintaining a constant temperature, or running a water pump.
In fact, this type of still does not require any additional water at all; which makes it perfect for the camper, cottage, boat or for anyone living off the grid.
Air stills are also a safer choice for moonshine still. Safety is a big concern when running a still as you are producing an extremely flammable substance near an open flame. It is for this reason that moonshiners are encouraged to run their stills away from their homes and in open air areas to reduce their risk.
Check out: Is it Safe to Make Moonshine?
Air stills use electricity to heat up the still and a built in fan to cool down the vapors. The risk is far less than a typical moonshine still.
Disadvantages of Owning an Air Still
So why doesn’t everyone run an air still? Well, of course, there are also disadvantages to owning an air still.
Air stills are great for making a simple sugar shine because it doesn’t require as strict fractionation as a grain recipe. However, with an air still there is usually no indication of the temperature, so it is hard to control the temperature and fractionating will be difficult.
Air stills also have a smaller capacity. So while it is great for storing, it is time consuming to do run after run just to complete a standard recipe.
A classic pot still is usually a good option for those who are new to shining but want to run more than just sugar shine.
Pot stills are great for beginners because there is a lot of control over the process. You can closely monitor your temperature to make your cuts (foreshots, heads, hearts and tails).
In addition, you can also choose how many distillations you do because you will manually do a single, double, or triple distillation.
Pot stills are also fairly compact while still offering enough capacity for many of the standard moonshine recipes.
They also deliver a more complex tasting moonshine as the flavor is a mix of different types of alcohols, congeners, and esters.
Pot stills also work well with thumper kegs which are used to increase the ABV in a single run.
Accessories are always a bonus when it comes to buying anything. After all, they can feel like getting a little bonus or a free add on.
One of the smartest investments for a first-time shiner is to purchase a moonshine still kit.
When you purchase a still kit, your still is both your fermentor and your pot still.
This means less for you to buy and less for you to store. Considering some fermentation buckets can run over $100, this is a great buy.
These kits also include many items that you are not even aware that you need, but will be happy you have such as:
- An airlock
- A water pump
- A hydrometer
It is always a bonus when your kit comes with everything you need to get started. There is nothing more frustrating than ordering a new ‘toy’ , getting it out of the box and discovering you need to now spend more money to actually make it work.
It’s like Christmas morning without any batteries. It just sucks.
With our Magnum All in One Still Kit, you have everything you need to get started right out of the box. Other than a large pot to cook your mash, you are ready to rock and roll once the box hits your doorway.
The beauty of this still kit is that not only does it do double duty as both a fermentor and a still, but it is also extremely versatile.
You can use this still on both an electric or gas stove or even run it on an induction burner. This means that you don’t have to purchase an additional heating element like many other stills on the market.
The safety of your still is always an important consideration. It is important to educate yourself on the possible dangers of making moonshine in order to protect yourself and the area that you run your still in.
One of the most important things to consider when making moonshine is where you will run your still.
Keep in mind that you are producing an incredibly flammable liquid in an area close to extreme heat and even an open flame. While this may seem extremely alarming, there are ways to minimize your risk.
Use High Quality Equipment
For example, using a well made still with high safety ratings is a good start. It is also important to use a heat source you are comfortable with. Some stills offer a lot of different heating options, so you can operate your still outside of your home.
The Standard Moonshine Still is an electric still that does not require any outside heat source to run. This means you can run your still anywhere you can access an outlet.
Air Stills are an option that many prefer if safety is a concern. The Moonshine Cherry uses electricity and a fan to maintain their temperature and for many are a much better option if you want to operate your still indoors.
The Moonshine Cherry 1 Gallon Air Still
The Moonshine Cherry is about the size of a large kitchen kettle and just as safe and easy to use. This is a great option for those who are running a still for the first time and may not realize the safety issues that come with larger stills.
The Moonshine Charry is also very user friendly. Instead of worrying about water pumps and steady heat, you simply need to plug it in and set your temperature.
It really could not be any simpler to make your first batch of moonshine.
The Moonshine Cherry is also extremely affordable. Premium stills can cost hundreds of dollars. The Mist is only $169.99! This means that the money you save in making your own spirits will quickly allow the Moonshine Cherry to pay for itself.
Of course, if you want to take your shinin’ to the next level and are ready to invest in something a little more advanced, The Standard is a great option.
The Standard Moonshine Still
Elevate your spirits game with The Standard - a high-quality column still with copper mesh packing for exceptional high-proof spirits in one go.
With the built-in electric heating system, temperature management is a breeze. Just set it and let the still do its thing! Plus, the simple drain spout makes draining effortless, so you can spend more time enjoying your shine.
The Standard serves two purposes - it's not only a top-tier still, but also a distiller. Prepare to elevate to The Standard and experience exceptional brilliance today!
Still Height: 45.5 inches or 116 cm
Barrel height: 29.5 cm or 11.5 inches
Diameter of the reflux column: 38 mm or 1.5 inches
- Dry burn prevention
- Electric power with temperature control
- Drainage tap
- 20L barrel (5.25 gallons)
Take the First Step
Lastly, what's the most important part of any distilling operation? The mash! Moonshine stills are only useful for producing distilled liquors from fermented mash - they can not make alcohol out of nothing. Therefore, using high-quality ingredients is an absolute must if you want great-tasting spirits in return for all that work!
No matter which still you choose, you are continuing an American tradition. Take the first step to continue a past time as American as apple pie.
At How to Moonshine, we are with you every step of the way. From our quality craft stills, how-to guides and step-by-step recipes, we have everything you need to get you from a newbie to an experienced shiner.