How to Make Moonshine - Homebrew Academy

How to Make Moonshine: Easy Step-by-Step Process

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

Making moonshine involves a process called distillation, and the most common way to do this is using something called a pot still.

Distillation happens when you heat a mix of corn, sugar, and yeast (this mix is called corn mash) in a big tank or pot. The heat causes the yeast to turn the sugar into alcohol, a process known as fermentation.

I have been running my home still for a loooooooong time and distilled just about everything. So we’ll be covering all my tips and tricks from +25 years of trial and error.

Check out this complete step-by-step guide (with videos) on how to make moonshine yourself!

How to Make Moonshine: The Process

Creating A Mash

The first thing you’ll need for making homemade 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 recipe.

Equipment and Supplies 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!


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

Fermenting Your Mash


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, boiling temperature, the fermentation can stop because the yeast will go dormant. Remember that yeast likes it warm and moist.

The yeast is what will eat sugar wash take 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, or an ABV calculator like this.

Write the specific gravity reading at the start of fermentation and at the end of the process. If you had not guessed it, you can increase the ABV by adding more sugar, more on this below.


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.


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 – The Spirit Run

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 pure alcohol out 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.


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

Collecting Your Distillate

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

Collecting Foreshots

The first 5% of the liquid separated fuel alcohol made 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 homemade moonshine recipe 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 cane 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.


So how do you check the proof of your moonshine? In short, just use a hydrometer. Full details are in the linked article.

How do you increase the proof of your shine? Simply add sugar (not really recommended) or use a thumper keg.

Here’s what you can expect for the amount of sugar added vs the potential alcohol in your mash. Up to you on how to proceed.

Added Sugar vs. Potential Alcohol in 1, 5, and 10 Gallons of Mash

How does the addition of sugar affect the potential alcohol content of the mash?

The addition of sugar to a mash significantly impacts the potential alcohol content. By adding sugar to the mash, the alcohol by volume (ABV) can be increased. For example, if a 5-gallon corn mash initially has an ABV of 10% and the goal is to increase it to 19.5%, an increase of 9.5%, then approximately 8 pounds of sugar would need to be added.

The reason why adding sugar increases the potential alcohol content is because yeast, which is responsible for fermenting the mash and converting sugar into alcohol, can utilize the additional sugar as a fuel yeast nutrient source. As more sugar is available, the yeast continues to convert it into alcohol, thereby increasing the overall alcohol content of the mash.

It’s important to note that there is a limit to how much sugar can be added before it becomes detrimental to the yeast. Yeast can only tolerate a certain amount of alcohol in their living environment before they reach their alcohol tolerance threshold.

Once this threshold is exceeded, the yeast becomes stressed, stops converting sugar into alcohol, and eventually dies.

So while adding more sugar to the mash increases the potential for alcohol creation, there is a point of diminishing returns. Beyond a certain sugar quantity, the yeast becomes unable to handle the increased alcohol levels, leading to a halt in fermentation.

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.

How Much Moonshine Does This Recipe Yield?

The yield of moonshine from a 5-gallon recipe using 8.5 lbs. of flaked corn maize, 1.5 lbs. of crushed malted barley, bread yeast, and optional sugar can vary significantly due to several factors. These include the efficiency of fermentation, which depends on yeast quality, fermentable sugars, and environmental conditions, as well as the efficiency of the distillation process itself.

A rough estimate, assuming a 10% alcohol by volume (ABV) in the mash and 85% distillation efficiency, suggests you might obtain around 0.425 gallons of pure ethanol.

This yield translates to approximately 2-3 gallons of moonshine at a more palatable 40-50% ABV (80-100 proof) when the collected distillate is diluted. Using sugar can potentially increase the fermentable material, thereby boosting the yield, although it may also impact the flavor profile.

Similarly, the choice of bread yeast could result in variations in both yield and flavor, compared to specialized distillers’ yeast.

It’s important to note that distillation of alcohol for personal consumption is illegal in many jurisdictions without a proper license. On a speculative note, future advances in fermentation technology, such as engineered yeast strains or enzymatic treatments, could potentially optimize yields.

Therefore, while there are many variables, a well-controlled process based on the given recipe could yield around 2-3 gallons of diluted moonshine.

What Really Is Moonshine?

Moonshine is a distilled grain 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 the how much sugar and how much yeast 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.

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How to Make Moonshine

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the process of making moonshine?

Making moonshine involves a process called distillation, which is commonly done using a pot still. The distillation process starts with creating a mash, a mixture of corn, sugar, and yeast, which is heated in a large tank or pot. The heat causes the yeast to turn the sugar into alcohol, a process known as fermentation.

After fermentation, the fermented mash, is strained and distilled to separate the alcohol from the other substances. The distillate is then collected and stored properly.

What are the ingredients and equipment needed to make moonshine?

The basic ingredients for making corn moonshine are water, flaked corn maize, crushed malted barley, bread yeast, and optionally, sugar.

The equipment needed includes a mashpot, fermentation bucket, heat source with temperature control, thermometer, long spoon, weighing scale, separate containers, hydrometer, PH Meter (optional), siphon, cheesecloth, citric acid, moonshine still, cleaning products, column packing, and mason jars.

What are the different stages of collecting distillate in the moonshine-making process?

The distillate is collected in four stages: foreshots, heads, hearts, and tails. Foreshots, the first 5% of the liquid, contain potentially harmful alcohols like methanol and should be discarded. Heads make up the next 30% and contain volatile alcohols that can cause unpleasant effects like hangovers.

Hearts, the next 30%, contain mostly ethanol and are the desirable part of the distillate. Tails, the final 35%, have a unique taste and can be set aside for distillation later or discarded.

What is moonshine and what is its history?

Moonshine is a distilled alcohol made from any grain or fruit, with corn being the classic choice to produce moonshine. The term “moonshine” originated from its illegal production, which was often done at night or under the moonlight. During the Prohibition era in the U.S., moonshine became one of the most profitable businesses in the country.

What are the different types of moonshine mash?

Moonshine can be made from different types of mash, including corn liquor, whiskey mash, sugar shine, and a hybrid of the two. Corn whiskey mash gives the classic, smooth, full-flavored moonshine.

Sugar shine is popular among beginners and those looking to experiment with flavors as it doesn’t require any mash. The hybrid mash replaces some corn with table sugar, allowing for a higher yield with the same amount of corn.

Can coconut oil be used when making a mash?

Coconut oil is not commonly used as an ingredient when making a mash. Traditionally, a mash recipe consists of grains like corn or barley, along with sugar or yeast for fermentation. Coconut oil may not offer the necessary nutrients or fermentable sugars required for the fermentation process. Therefore, it is advisable to adhere to the traditional ingredients when making a mash.

How much sugar and yeast are needed for a 30-gallon barrel of cracked corn mash?

To determine the appropriate amount of sugar for a 30-gallon barrel of cracked corn mash, we need to consider the desired alcohol content, the fermentation potential of the corn, and the overall recipe’s ratio.

Generally, a fermentation potential estimate of 10-15% alcohol by volume (ABV) is common for cracked corn mashes. Taking this alcohol percentage into account, a common ratio for a 30-gallon barrel of cracked corn mash is roughly 1.5-2 pounds of sugar per gallon of liquid.

Therefore, for a 30-gallon barrel, you would need approximately 45-60 pounds of sugar. This range should provide a good starting point to achieve the desired alcohol content in your liquor.

To legally distill alcohol, there are specific permits needed at both the federal and state level. Firstly, a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirits plant permit is required. Additionally, relevant state and local permits must be obtained. The absence of these permits would make the act of distilling alcohol illegal.

What is the purpose of a stripping run in the distillation process?

A stripping run in the distillation process serves as a preliminary step to concentrate the alcohol content in the initial wash before proceeding to the final distillation run. Its purpose is to increase the proof of the alcohol through a somewhat rapid and rough distillation.

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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