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
Choosing the best moonshine still for beginners can be tricky. There are several things to consider, many of which are not obvious at first glance. For example, do you want a one-lid or two-lid design? What about the material - stainless steel or copper? How important is size to you?
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 even quarantine 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
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!
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. 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.
Is Bigger Really Better?
Size is another 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 copper pipes to neutralize sulphur, 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 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.
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.
Stainless Steel/Copper Hybrid Stills
A great option for those who want an affordable still that delivers great results is a stainless steel still with copper coils.
By combining these two materials you can have the best of both worlds. Stainless steel body keeps the price affordable and makes for easy cleaning and the copper coils neutralize the sulphur in your mash and improves the taste.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Type of Moonshine Still
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 Mist 1 Gallon Air Still 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.
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 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 Appalachian All-in-One Stove Top 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.
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 use a method you are comfortable with.
The Appalachian Moonshine Still Kit can be used on any stove top, whether you use gas or electric. It can also be used on an induction burner if you prefer to operate your still outside or even in a shed or garage. This can be a helpful way to minimize your risk.
Check out Is it Safe to Make Moonshine?
Air Stills are an option that many prefer if safety is a concern. These stills use 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 Mist 1 Gallon Air Still
When it comes to doing your first run of moonshine, there is nothing simpler than the Mist 1 Gallon Air Still.
The Mist 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 Mist is also very user friendly. Instead of worrying about water pumps and steady heat, you simply need to plug the Mist in and press a button. It really could not be any simpler to make your first batch of moonshine.
The Mist is also extremely affordable. Premium stills can cost hundreds of dollars. The Mist is only $159.99! This means that the money you save in making your own spirits will quickly allow the Mist 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 Appalachian is a great option.
The Appalachian All-in-One Stove Top Still
The Appalachian Moonshine Still Kit is a great option for those who want to tackle more complicated moonshine recipes and have more control over your outcome.
The Appalchian offers a generous 5.5 gallon (21 litre) barrel to get much more bang for your buck. It has a false bottom to keep all your solids from scorching and its barrel does double duty as both a still and a fermentor.
The Appalachian features copper coils and a stainless steel body. Stainless steel means that the still is affordable to purchase and easier to clean. The copper coils neutralize the sulphur in your mash to make great tasting shine every time.
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.