How To Moonshine

Fermenting &
Distilling Basics
Making Equipment
How to Make Moonshine Using Sugar How to Make Moonshine Using Grain Moonshine Recipes

So How is Moonshine Made?

I have no doubt that to many of us distilling moonshine immediately inspires mental images of moonshiners toiling away in the middle of the night over a huge bubbling copper pot still. Vague pictures of old timers and sacks of corn arent all that far off the mark, moonshining is not a new thing by any means and has been practiced on every continent for centuries. Lets clear our minds of these preconceived notions and focus on the real mechanics of learning how to moonshine, which in these enlightened times is more often referred to as home distillation. We can move our stills into the woods later when we have the hang of it all.

If you throw all your ingredients directly into a still and fire it up you certainly will not get moonshine, you will get a foul tasting watery liquid. A still is used to concentrate and purify alcohol so you must have a source of alcohol first before you can distill it and that is where fermentation comes into the process of distilling moonshine.

The process of fermentation converts certain types of sugars into an alcoholic beverage, during fermentation an introduced yeast consumes the sugars and converts them to ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. The first step in distillation is to prepare and ferment a liquid that contains a sugar that the yeast can consume, this can be as easy as fermenting ordinary white sugar that has been mixed with water. The resulting liquid, called a wash, is then distilled to seperate and remove impurities and concentrate the alcohol.

So distilling moonshine is a two step process, step one ferment some sugars to make alcohol and step two distill it to remove unwanted byproducts such as methanol and increase the concentration of the alcohol. You will find in practice that the fermenting stage takes much longer than the distilling stage, a sugar wash made with 8kg of white sugar, 25 litres of water and a turbo yeast will take 5-7 days to ferment to 18% alcohol (or thereabouts) at room temperature. In a pot still using a 2000 watt electric element as a heat source it can be triple distilled to 96% alcohol in around 6 or 7 hours. Please note that 96% alcohol is about as pure as you can get and is quite deadly to drink at this strength. The idea is to water it down with quality drinking water back to somewhere between 40% and 60%.

White sugar is not the only thing you can ferment to make your moonshine, there are a wide range of choices as far as fermentable sugars is concerned. For example 4kg of raw sugar, 3kg of molasses, distillers yeast or a turbo yeast and 25 litres of water will ferment well in around a week. Distill it to 96% alcohol and then water it down to 60%, soak it in some oak chips for a couple of weeks and then add some burnt sugar, say 15 table spoons of sugar that has been caramelized and let it age for a while. Believe it or not you have just made your own over-proof rum. A white sugar wash makes great rot gut and if your intention is simply to turn your liver to pate its all you'll ever need, however you can make so much more than that with a little time and effort.

White sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, fruit juices and molasses are examples of what are often referred to as sugar washes. They contain high levels of sugars that are readily converted by yeast without any special treatment and you can find further information on preparing and fermenting them on the Preparing Sugar Washes page of this section. If you intend to make rotgut, rum, some versions of vodka or use spirit essences to flavour your moonshine they will likely be all you ever need.

You may on the other hand prefer a grain based spirit such as bourbon or whiskey (scotch), in which case making the real deal is just a little more involved than just mixing ingredients together and adding yeast. Grains are a seed and most seeds store their sugars as a starch that is not readily consumed by yeast. This is to make sure that wild yeasts dont eat the sugars that the seedling will need to grow before it has the chance to germinate. When the seed germinates enzymes are released that preform this important conversion and when grains like barley, rye and wheat are to be used to make spirits they must be malted and mashed first to artificially make this conversion happen. This is discussed more in the Preparing Grain Washes page of this section.

Fermenting, Distilling and Cleanliness are also explored in greater detail in this section.