How is Moonshine Made?

What is Moonshine?

Moonshine is any kind of alcoholic drink that is made in secret to avoid high taxes or bans on alcoholic drinks. The term “moonshine” originates from the British verb “moonshining”, which referred to any activity that was done late at night by the light of the moon. The recipe for moonshine is quite simple
and traditionally consists of corn meal, yeast, sugar and water. When it is first distilled all moonshine or whiskey has a clear structure. The whiskey that you buy in your liquor store is always aged for several months or years in charred oak barrels to get its darker color and mild taste. Moonshine does not have to be aged, but it can be mixed it with fruits such as cherries or strawberries. The recipe for whiskey, brandy or rum is pretty much the same as for moonshine. What separates them from each other is the base material used prior to distillation. Whiskey traditionally is made from an assortment of grains. Classic moonshine is usually made from corn. Brandy is made from nearly any kind of fruit whereas rum is made from fermented sugar cane and vodka can be produced from potatoes or just a mixture of sugar water and yeast.

How is moonshine made?

Making moonshine or any other distilled alcohol consists of two processes: fermentation and distillation.

Alcoholic fermentation is a metabolic natural process by which sugar is converted into acids, gases and alcohol, using yeast in the absence of oxygen.

Distillation is the process of evaporating the alcohol from boiling a fermented mixture at about 172 degrees Fahrenheit (78 C) and collecting the steam before condensing it back into a liquid alcohol form. The principle of alcoholic distillation is based upon the different boiling points of alcohol and water. Ethanol (alcohol) has a lower boiling point than water so it evaporates first from the boiling fermented mixture. The alcohol vapor is then cooled and condensed inside the condenser to a liquid form. When all the ethanol has evaporated from the boiling mixture, the temperature rises and the water evaporates too.

This is the sequence of events in the distillation process:

  • Heating
  • Evaporating
  • Cooling
  • Condensing

There are as many methods for preparation of mash as there are moonshiners but the basics are pretty much the same. However this is generally the process, step by step. Keep in mind the following is a description of “old school” moonshine production using “old school” moonshine equipment and is not consistent with the modern distillation equipment we offer.

  1. Start by adding ground corn meal, cracked corn or even commercial hog feed (which consists mostly of ground corn and other grains) to a suitable fermentation vessel. Some moonshiners prefer to boil the corn mixture and stir in specific enzymes to convert the starches to sugars before moving it to the fermentation vessel.
  2. Additional sugar and water is then added to the corn mix. Yeast is then added (either bread yeast or specialized “turbo yeast”) to the mixture. This is when the fermentation process begins as the yeast begins to consume the sugars and convert them to alcohol. This process can last anywhere from 3 days to several weeks depending on the combination of yeast and enzymes used as well as the ambient temperature where the fermentation vessel is kept. A good sign that the fermentation has stopped will be the absence of bubbling in the mixture. Also since alcohol is less buoyant than water much of once was floating on top of the mixture will have sunk to the bottom.
  3. The mash is now ready to be distilled. Pour the mash into the still and close and seal it properly. Bring the furnace beneath the still up to about 172 degrees Fahrenheit (78 C). Depending on the type of still, wood, coal or even steam can be used to heat the still, but most moonshiners today use propane.
  4. The pressure builds in the still, as the alcohol evaporates. The alcohol steam is forced through the pipe that leads out of the top of the still.
  5. You can also use a thump keg, which is simply a heated barrel into which the steam is forced. The thump keg, so named for the thumping sound the bits of mash make when they drop into the barrel, re-evaporates the alcohol, filtering out the mash because some solid material from the mash usually comes along with the steam. If you want to make your moonshine extra potent, you might “charge” the thump keg by adding undistilled mash or a few gallons of alcohol into the keg so the steam picks up extra alcohol vapor on its way to the worm box.
  6. The steam goes into the worm, a coiled length of pipe that winds down the inside of the worm box. The worm box is a crate or barrel that has cold water, flowing into the top and then back out the bottom. This keeps the worm bathed in constantly circulating cold water, which condenses the alcohol steam into liquid.
  7. A tap or hose leads from the end of the worm into a bucket, through one last filter.
  8. The result is a clear liquid – Moonshine.