How to Make Moonshine

by Karl | Last Updated: January 13, 2021

Ever watched movies and wondered how they say they make moonshine in their bathtub at home? Well, it’s not like rocket science! It’s actually pretty easy to make it at home.

Check out this guide on how to make moonshine yourself, which includes interesting information on moonshine!

What Is Moonshine?

Moonshine is a distilled alcohol made from any grain or fruit, depending on what is accessible to you. The classic uses corn as the fermentable sugar.

While you can always use some other alcohol like Everclear from your drinks, where’s the fun in that?

History of Moonshine

Before we get started on how to make your first run of homemade moonshine, here’s some information about it that’s really interesting.

The term moonshine came from its illegality, which forced people to make it at night or under the light (or shine) of the moon.

In the historic run, farmers used this to earn extra money because low-value corn crops could be made into high-value whisky. The U.S. government had a hand in this because of how highly they taxed alcohol.

When the Prohibition era began, all alcohol became illegal in the U.S.

Overnight, illegal alcohol, like moonshine, became one of the most profitable businesses in the country. This was also the time when speakeasies became popular (complete with passwords, secret doors, and more!)

This good run ended when alcohol became legal again. But every time you sip on this alcohol, remember that you are drinking something that played a huge part in American history!

Choosing Your Type of Moonshine Mash

You can make moonshine from different mash made of different ingredients. There are also various recipes you can try, depending on the flavor you want to bring out.

In this guide, we’ll give you the most basic recipe so you can build on it for future purposes.

The Classic: Corn Whiskey

So, purists opt for a corn whiskey mash, which will give you the classic, smooth, full-flavored moonshine.

This is the recipe we will be tackling in this guide. However, experiment and figure out what you like best!

The Sugar Shine

Nowadays, many people are opting to make the sugar shine.

This is most popular for beginners and those looking to really experiment with the flavors of their shine because it doesn’t require any mash and you still get the same abv.

With a good stilling kit, moonshiners can make anything, even apple pie and chocolate-flavored moonshine! It all depends on the recipe you decide to follow or create.

The basic process requires you to dissolve sugar into water, pasteurize it (optional), then add the yeast nutrient and yeast to the good stuff.

The Hybrid

This mash is just a mix of the previous two. Many people use this because it is a more convenient and economical mash the achieves something pretty close to the classic taste of moonshine.

It replaces some corn with table sugar, which allows you to double your yield using the same amount of corn.

How to Make Moonshine: What You Will Need

Basic Moonshine Ingredients

  1. 5 gallons of water
  2. 8.5 lbs. of flaked corn maize
  3. 1.5 lbs. of crushed malted barley
  4. Bread yeast
  5. Sugar (optional)

Some recipes call for a 1:1 ratio. For example, you will use 1 gallon of water to 1 pound of sugar and 1 pound of corn meal. Feel free to experiment and see what works for you!

Equipment

For Creating the Mash

  1. Mashpot
  2. Fermentation bucket
  3. Heat source with temperature control
  4. Thermometer
  5. Long spoon
  6. Weighing scale
  7. 2 separate containers

Note: Make sure your bucket has a lid and air-lock.

For the Fermentation Process

  1. Hydrometer
  2. PH Meter (optional; for advanced)
  3. Siphon
  4. Cheesecloth
  5. Citric acid

For Distilling

  1. Moonshine still
  2. Fermented and strained mash water
  3. Cleaning products
  4. Column packing
  5. Mason jars

How to Make Moonshine: The Process

Step#1: Creating A Mash

The first thing you’ll need for making moonshine is a mash. This part of the process will depend on the flavor you want.

  1. Weigh and measure out all your ingredients.
  2. Place your mash pot on your heat source and turn it on.
  3. Pour in 5 gallons of water and boil it to 165 °F.
  4. Once it reaches 165 °F, turn off your heat source.
  5. Immediately stir in your measured amount of flaked corn maize.
  6. Stir the mixture continuously for 7 minutes.
  7. Check the temperature and keep stirring several times. Do this for 30 seconds every 5 minutes until the product cools down to 152 °F.
  8. Once cooled to 152 °F, stir in your measured amount of crushed malted barley
  9. Check the temperature again. Stir for 30 seconds every 20 minutes until the mixture has cooled down to 70 °F. While this can take hours, you can also opt to speed this up by using an immersion cooler.
  10. Once cooled to the proper temperature, add yeast.
  11. Aerate the mixture by transferring it back and forth between separate containers for 5 minutes.
  12. Pour the mixture into your fermentation bucket.

Note that the ingredients we mentioned above will differ, depending on the recipe you follow if you are making something other than the classic corn-barley-yeast moonshine.

Step #2: Fermenting Your Mash

Fermentation

Now that you have your mash, store it to ferment for 1 to 2 weeks at room temperature.

Remember that the temperature is critical to your success. If it gets too cold, the fermentation can stop because the yeast will go dormant. Remember that yeast likes it warm and moist.

The yeast is what will eat up all the sugar content and turn it into alcohol.

To get the best results, we recommend using a hydrometer to check the specific gravity at the start of the fermentation and when fermentation is done to ensure that your mixture has used up all the sugar.

By doing this, you can use a formula to figure out how much ABV (alcohol by volume) your fermentation has produced.

Write the specific gravity reading at the start of fermentation and at the end of the process.

Straining

After the fermentation period is done, siphon the mash water out of the mixture. Ensure that you leave all the solid material and sediment behind by straining everything through a cheesecloth.

Place the strained mash water into a container.

Advanced Step (Optional):

Some distillers add 2 tsp. of gypsum to the mash water at this step. Then they test the pH of the mash water.

Ideally, the pH level should be between 5.8 to 6.0. You can bring the pH down by adding citric acid and bring it up by adding calcium carbonate.

Step #3: Distilling

You’ve done the most difficult step in making mash water for your moonshine. Now, you just need to distill your mash water and separate all the alcohol content into a purified form.

Remember that just like making mash, the distillation part is both a science and an art form. It will take a lot of practice and trial and error before you get great at this, so be patient with yourself.

We highly recommend taking down notes throughout your distilling and moonshine-making process so you know what to improve on whenever you start a new batch.

Prepping Your Still

You need to make sure you still are always clean, even when you’re not using it. This means that even if you cleaned it after the last time you used it, you need to wash it again if you let it sit empty for a while.

This is critical, especially if you are using copper stills that are showing some salt buildup already.

So, before transferring your mash water, make sure you wash and clean your still again.

Now, add packing to your column. Pack it with the right amount of packing that is suitable for your setup.

If your setup has a condenser, hook it up to your water input and output.

After all that prep work, it’s finally time to add your mash water to the still.

Use cheesecloth or auto-siphon to transfer the mash water into your still, including none of the solid material that may be leftover.

Remember that you always want to reduce the amount of sediment in your corn mash water as much as possible.

Running Your Still

Distilling refers to the process that separates different chemicals from one another by taking advantage of different evaporation temperatures between the chemicals.

This process does not create alcohol, because the yeast already made that for you during fermentation.

This is probably one of the most important steps in making your alcohol. It only separates the alcohol from the other substances in your mash water.

Make sure your still is positioned so that its drips go into a glass container.

So here’s what you have to do:

  1. Slowly increase the temperature up to 150 °F. 
  2. Once you reach this, turn on the condensing water if your setup has a condenser.
  3. Increase the heat to high until the still produces drips. Keep it between water and alcohol’s boiling point (173°F and 212 °F)
  4. Time the drips as they speed until you reach 3 to 5 drips per second.
  5. Once you reach this drip rate, decrease the heat to maintain it. You can usually reach this by dialing it down to the medium setting.

PRO TIP:

Avoid letting your moonshine drip into a plastic container, because this can lace your drink with BPA and may cause other issues.

Step #4: Collecting Your Distillate

Now, you’ve successfully finished making moonshine! All you need to do is collect it with the yield of your distillation.

Collecting Foreshots

The first 5% of the liquid separated by your distilling process is the foreshots. The foreshots has the earliest-evaporating alcohols in your corn mash water.

Remember that this should never be ingested.

Foreshots may contain methanol, which is dangerous if you consume it. Methanol can end up making you blind and cause other health problems. If you’re going to do that, you may as well consume rocket fuel.

Collect the foreshots in a separate container and throw it out.

Collecting Heads

Just like the foreshots, the heads contain volatile alcohols that you should try to avoid consuming. While this will not blind you, it will give you one hell of a hangover which isn’t really pleasant.

The heads make up the next 30% of your product after you have removed the foreshots.

They have a distinct “solvent” smell that comes from its alcohols, such as the acetone present in the heads.

Again, collect the heads in a separate container and throw it out.

Collecting Hearts

The next 30% yielded by your distilling process contains mostly ethanol. This is the good stuff you want to collect and store.

By now, your product should lose the harsh, solvent smell you found in the heads. The flavor of your moonshine or whatever flavor you want from your recipes should now come out.

Your product should taste smooth and sweet.

This is when your skill and experience will come into play. It’s important that you isolate the hearts well to maximize your production.

Collecting Tails

Now that you are reaching the end of your product, you will get to the end of the ethanol and hit the last stage: the tails.

The tails make up about 35% of your production. They will also have a unique taste from the hearts.

You’ll notice there will be a significant drop in the sweetness from the sugar. You will even see an oily top layer on your alcohol.

It will also feel slippery between your fingers because of the water, carbohydrates, and proteins in it.

You can either set the tails aside for distillation later or throw it out.

Step #5: Proper Storage

Congratulations! You’ve had a good run, finished the entire process, and now have your very own moonshine!

Make sure you clean up your entire setup, let it thoroughly dry, and then store it in a cool, dry place.

Final Words

As a word of warning, check the laws in your country to find out whether it is legal to make alcohol at home.

While owning a still for making essential oils or distilling water is okay, things are trickier when you make your own spirits.

Now try it out for yourself! Good luck with your moonshine run!

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