How Moonshine is Made – A Quick Guide

These are good times that we are living in. There was a time where brewing moonshine required bravery and secrecy as the most important ingredients. Moonshine is no longer blacklisted with most states having it as a legalized brew.

However, it’s still not legal to brew it at home in some parts of the world. So don’t land yourself into any trouble.

If you still want to learn how to make it right just for educational purposes, then you have come to the right place. In the sections below, you will learn all you need to about how to make moonshine in the safest and most hassle-free way.

A little trip down memory lane

First off, you need to understand and appreciate what moonshine is and why it was the cause of so much fuss. Technically, the term was used to refer to alcohol that was brewed and distributed illegally. The name actually stems from its history. This is because people would brew it in the dead of night with the moonlight illuminating their way. So why all the secrecy?

Making moonshine in the good 'ol days
Moonshine is no longer prohibited in many parts of the world.

Well, because moonshine is 100 proof alcohol. It packs quite a punch and is therefore not for the faint of heart. As a result, the government back then, and now, considered it a real health hazard with a high risk of alcohol poisoning. This notoriety landed it on the federal blacklist but enthusiasts still found ways to make their own. In recent times, the ban has been lifted but for safety reasons its production and distribution are still very closely regulated.

What you will need to brew your ‘shine

As already alluded to, moonshine is essentially any form of alcohol brewed illicitly. When figuring out how to make moonshine, you need to choose the specific spirit you want to produce. It could be anything from rum to whiskey or even bourbon. This definition means that you have a lot to choose from as far as what you need is concerned. To help make things easier, here is a list of all that is necessary when making basic moonshine recipes.

Ingredients

  • Cornmeal
  • Cornmeal alternatives like sugarcane molasses for rum or malted barley
  • Sugar
  • Yeast
  • Water

Ingredients for making moonshine on table

Equipment

  • A still or a pressure cooker
  • A large metal pot
  • Copper tubing
  • A drill
  • A wooden spoon
  • A thermometer
  • A cheese cloth
  • A plastic bucket
  • A source of heat
  • Collecting bottles

How to make moonshine the easiest way

STEP 1: Get all you need ready

When brewing your moonshine, you need to streamline the process as much as possible. This means ensuring that all the ingredients and equipment required are ready and accessible before starting. The last thing anyone wants is to have to stop the process halfway to go find the drill or buy collecting bottles. A checklist would come in really handy at this point.

STEP 2: Prepare the corn mash

When learning how to make moonshine, this can be the most daunting part of the process. Here, you will need 5 gallons of water and 8.5 pounds of cornmeal. Bring the water to a boil in the big metal pot until it gets to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add all the corn into the hot water and stir constantly using the wooden spoon for 5 to 7 minutes. Keep stirring every 30 seconds and lower the temperature until you get to 152 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this point, you may choose to add 1.5 pounds of malted barley or sugar or you could leave them out depending on your taste. Keep stirring every 15 minutes whether or not you add barley for at least 1 ½ hours then allow it to rest and cool.

STEP 3: Fermentation

This step may be passive for the most part but it takes the longest.

Once the mash has reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit, sprinkle yeast generously into the mixture. The aim is to ensure that the entire top layer is covered with a thin spread of yeast. Mix it with the spoon until you feel confident that there is yeast throughout the cornmeal mixture.

You could also pass the mash back and forth between two large pots. This allows the yeast to mix in better and also facilitates aeration of the mash, which is important for fermentation. Once this is done, seal the container with cling film wrap and leave it to ferment for at least 1 to 2 weeks at room temperature.

STEP 4: Strain the fermented mash

For this step, you will need a clean cheese cloth and your pressure cooker to collect the liquid components. The aim is to get rid of all the solid components of the fermented mash. To get the best product, scoop moderate amounts of the mash into the cloth and strain in sections collecting the liquid in the pressure pot or your still.

STEP 5: Distillation

Distillation is another very important step when it comes to figuring out how to make moonshine. Here, you have the option of going for a professional moonshine still unit or building your own. The DIY option will involve drilling a hole in the lid of the pressure cooker then inserting a copper tube. It works just as well but it is of course safer and less stressful to buy a readymade still.

A moonshine still setup
A moonshine still can make the distilling process safer.

By this point, the alcohol is already created. The distillation only allows you to separate it and collect it. You will have to put the liquid obtained from the straining into your still, then bring then bring the contents up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Once this temperature is achieved, turn on the condenser.

In the case of a DIY still, pass the copper tubing through a cold water bath or running tap. Keep raising the temperature until you see the first drops start to form, after which you can steadily reduce it to medium heat.

STEP 6: Collecting the alcohol and packaging

This is a very important part of the process as you need to be able to separate the good hooch from the potentially deadly parts. With moonshine, the first 5% you get is pure poisonous methanol, which is referred to as the foreshots and has been known to cause blindness and even comas. This is followed by the heads which make up 30% and are notorious for causing serious headaches. The first 35% of the distillate should therefore be collected separately and disposed of. You can calculate this based on the amount of liquid you put in.

The next 30% produced is what you are looking for. This is referred to as the heart of the moonshine and is pure ethanol. It is smooth and sweet, and if you got rid of the first 2 parts it should be free of any nasty bitterness. Collect this in your labeled moonshine bottles and get rid of the remaining 35% which is the bitter tail portion.

STEP 7: Cleaning up

Finally, clean up everything you used so it is fresh and ready for the next time you decide to brew a fresh batch.

Go forth and make some hooch! (but first get licensed)

Cowboy drinking moonshine from a bottle
The final step is drinking your brew!

With all this information, you should be an expert on moonshine brewing. Just remember that you might get into a lot of trouble for brewing it without a license. However, if you have Uncle Sam’s permission to make your own then by all means knock yourself out. Not literally of course, because moonshine is super strong. Just follow the steps and be patient and you should have a nice bottle of your own hard work to enjoy in no time.

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