How to Make Moonshine

By Philip Brewer on 25 September 2007 (Updated 8 June 2011) 911 comments

It has been legal to make wine at home since the end of prohibition, and legal to make beer since 1978, but it's still illegal to distill spirits for beverage purposes without going through so much fuss and bother that the government admits flat out that it's "impractical." That's too bad, because homemade moonshine is incredibly frugal. (See also: 21 Great Uses for Beer)

Making moonshine is easy. In one sense, making any alcoholic beverage is easy, because the yeast do all the work. But moonshine is especially easy because running it through a still makes all the delicate balancing of flavors that mark a great beer or wine irrelevant.

I learned most of what I know about moonshine from the classic book Possum living: How to live well without a job and with almost no money by Dolly Freed. (A great book and well worth reading.)

[Updated 2010-01-14 to add:; I've just learned that Tin House books has reissued Possum Living! It's wonderful to see this classic once again available a reasonable price.]

Alcoholic beverages all start with yeast and with sugar for the yeast to eat. The sugar for wine usually comes from grapes (although other fruits are used, especially for homemade wine). The sugar for beer usually comes from malted barley (although other grains are also used). The sugar for commercially produced spirits can come from almost anything — corn for bourbon, barley for scotch, rye for rye, sugar cane for rum, and so on. For moonshine, what you want is the cheapest sugar you can find. Dolly Freed found that the cheapest sugar she could find was white granulated sugar. Nowadays, corn syrup might be cheaper.

Let me take a moment here to praise yeast. I'm a huge fan of yeast. They work tirelessly to make our bread and our booze, then uncomplainingly give up their lives that we may eat and drink. If there were an American Yeast Council, I'd want to be their spokesman.

The main difference between brewer's yeast and baker's yeast is that brewer's yeast has been bred to survive a higher alcohol content. That lets wine makers work with natural fruit juices that have a high concentration of sugar and get a higher concentration of alcohol before the yeast die of alcohol poisoning. If you're going to make your own sugar solution to grow the yeast in, though, you can just make the sugar solution's strength match what the yeast can convert before they die. It all comes out even with no waste.

According to Dolly Freed, it is a happy coincidence that 5 pounds of sugar in 3 gallons of water works out just right for ordinary baker's yeast.

[Updated 2007-12-30 to add:

A lot of people have asked how much yeast to add. I answered that in comment #16 below, but that's an obscure place to look for the answer, so I'm copying what I said up here.

I'd add one packet.

Since the yeast reproduce, it almost doesn't matter how much you add — after 20 minutes you've got twice as much, so if you add half as much it changes your total fermentation time from 10 days to 10 days 20 minutes.

All you need to do is add enough that your yeast overwhelms any wild yeast that happen to get in. (There are wild yeast in the air everywhere, so you really can't avoid them.)]

There are lots of good books on making beer and making wine. Any of them will describe the fermentation process, but very briefly you just:

  1. add sugar to the water
  2. bring to a boil (to kill any wild yeast in it and make it easy to dissolve the sugar)
  3. wait until the temperature comes down to 110°F (so you don't kill your own yeast)
  4. add yeast
  5. wait

The fermenting liquid is called the "must." You want to leave it loosely covered to keep other things from getting into it (wild yeasts, mold spores, etc.), but the yeast produce carbon dioxide as well as alcohol and you want to make sure the carbon dioxide can easily escape. If you seal it up tightly, it could explode.

Give it 10 to 25 days (depending on various things, but mainly how warm it is). You'll know its done when it:

  • quits bubbling
  • begins to turn clear
  • no longer tastes sweet

Now, if you were making beer or wine you'd have several more steps: bottling, aging, etc. Making moonshine, though, all you need to do is distill the stuff. For that, you need a still.

moonshine still

You can buy a still, but you probably don't want to. (They cost money, and the federal government — which scarcely polices this activity at all — probably does keep tabs on people who buy stills from commercial outlets.)

A still, though, is just:

  • a pot with a lid with a hole in it
  • a tube, closely fit to that hole, running to a jar
  • something to cool that tube

You bring the pot to a boil, the alcohol evaporates, the vapor goes out the hole, into the tube, and the condenses back into liquid alcohol.

Conveniently, an old-fashioned pressure cooker is a pot with a hole in the lid. Modern pressure cookers won't work as well, because they have a fancy valve to release the pressure, but with an old-fashioned one you just remove the weight and then fit the tube to the valve.

If you've got some room, you can just make the tube long enough and you don't need to do anything extra to condense the alcohol. Using a tube that coils some can save space. Alternatively, you can run your tube through a sleeve and run cold tap water through the sleeve. (Dolly Freed has a diagram of just such a setup.)

The things to be sure of here are that your entire set-up needs to be of food-quality materials: copper, aluminum, stainless steel are all fine. Plastics are iffy as some may leach stuff into the alcohol. Lead is right out, as is putting the pieces together with solder that includes lead.

Make sure the hole can't get plugged up, which could lead to your still exploding.

Set up your still and bring it to a light boil. Pretty soon you'll have almost pure alcohol dripping into your jar. The water content of the distillate will gradually increase. At some point a sample taken from the tube will no longer taste of alcohol, and you're done.

As I said, it's too bad it's illegal. Otherwise you could make some pretty good booze (well, let's say barely drinkable booze) for the price of a few pounds of sugar.

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Guest's picture
black2002ls

A few questions. Would there be anything wrong with using hardware store copper line? Does it need to be cleaned before the beverage is run through it? For the Pot I should be using a copper one? Fitting the lines and vent shouldn't be a problem. I've heard it asked a couple of times but it hasn't been answered, approximately how much yield are we talking? How big of a glass container is needed? I plan to re-read this a few times. Is there any way to up the alcohol content without separating the run?

Philip Brewer's picture

Copper is the classic material for stills. I think if you used the same copper line used for drinking water, you'd be fine. The general rule is food-grade materials. I'd prep it the same way you'd do before using it for drinking water.

The alcohol content is simply a matter of physics: alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, so as soon as you heat up the fermented liquid, you'll be getting almost pure alcohol out. (Only almost pure because some water will also evaporate no matter what the temperature is, which will dilute your product.) As the run goes on, the product will come to have a higher and higher percentage of water, simply because the stuff you're distilling will have a higher and higher percentage of water. This leaves you with a trade-off: you can get a higher percentage of alcohol, but only at the cost of leaving behind some of it.

Guest's picture
Guest

hello i was wondering if you can distile homemade wine into shine?? i make wine all the time.and i was just wondering once it is done fermenting is it able to ran through a still??

Guest's picture
Guest

Is it ok to use a steel or aluminum pot to brew your shine?

Guest's picture
Guest

Can you buy brewers yeast at local stores, or only brew shops?

Philip Brewer's picture

But the receipe up above is for ordinary bakers yeast.  Brewers yeast will give you more alcohol per gallon, but only if you put in more sugar.  If you're going to distill it anyway, it won't actually increase the alcohol concentration of the product.  It will increase total amount of alcohol that you get--but only to the extent that you add more sugar.  (You can use about half-again as much sugar and will get about half-again as much ethanol.)

Really, the only gain from using brewers yeast is that it'll take less fuel in the distilling stage.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a old pressure cooker that is aluminum, and i herd that if you use aluminum it will make a poison? is this true?

Guest's picture
Guest

do you have to maintain a high heat after the yeast is aded?

Philip Brewer's picture

Yeast grow fine at room temperature.

Also see response in comment #30.

Guest's picture
Guest

is there any other way to purify the liquid? say if i cant get the stuff to make a still?

Guest's picture
Guest

what would happen if i used an aluminum pot to distill the liquid ?

Philip Brewer's picture

In comment #10 I describe "jacking," where the product is concentrated through partial freezing.  (Only the water freezes, so the alcohol remains behind.)  This is how apple jack is made, but you could do it with any alcoholic beverage.  One big advantage is that it's legal.

Jacking and stills are the only techniques I know of for producing beverage-grade concentrated alcohol.  There are other techniques, used for producing laboratory-grade pure alcohol, but I don't think any are suitable for producing beverages.

As I've said above, I've heard the same thing you have about aluminum, but I don't know if it's true or what the mechanism of the danger would be if it is.

Guest's picture
Guest

would it be ok to drink it without distilling it?

Guest's picture
Guest

does it matter what it is fermented in could u us glass

Guest's picture
Guest

does it matter if air can get in the container or no?

thankyou

Philip Brewer's picture

It's fine to drink it without distilling it--basically, you've just made wine (or maybe beer).  It probably won't taste very good, though, unless you get a book on making beer or making wine and follow the directions.  (Another big advantage of distilling, aside from making it stronger, is that you can mix it with something that tastes better.)  One advantage of making beer or wine is that it's legal.

For the fermenting stage, you definitely don't want to use an air-tight container:  The yeasts produce carbon dioxide as well as ethanol, and an airtight container will explode.  You can get fancy gas locks that let the carbon dioxide escape while keeping things from getting in.  That's important for making fine wines (to keep out wild yeasts and such), but not so important for moonshine--just cover the container loosely to keep out dust.

Guest's picture
Guest

is it ok to use a glass jug to ferment the liquid?
i also heard that air will prevent ethanol from forming is this correct?

thank you

Guest's picture
Guest

when you are distilling do you have to use copper pots and tubbing can you use stainless steel or aluminum?

Philip Brewer's picture

Beer makers use open vats all the time.  There's no need to keep air away.

Glass is fine, although it would be particularly dangerous if you sealed it up and caused an explosion.  Don't seal up the fermenting vat, no matter what it's made out of.

I've heard that aluminum is dangerous, although I don't know if that's true or why it would be so.

Guest's picture
Guest

Could you use powdered sugar? i have allot of it and i was wondering if i could use it

thank you

Philip Brewer's picture

Sugar is sugar.  Once you disolve it in water, the yeast will be able to eat it just fine.

I'm not quite sure how much powdered sugar you'd use.  Some book like the Joy of Cooking would probably have a table for converting amounts of granulated sugar into equivalent amounts of powdered sugar.  (Or, you could go by weight.)

It'd make pretty expensive yeast food, but if it's just sitting around and you're not going to make fudge or something, then the yeast will like it just fine.

Guest's picture
Guest

powdered sugar contains corn starch will that make a difference

Guest's picture
Guest

would corn meal or corn starch make any poison's? would it be safe to drink without fermenting?
Im new so i just want to make sure

thank you

Philip Brewer's picture

You need sugar for the yeast to eat.  If the moonshiners of a hundred or two hundred years ago had been able to buy refined white sugar cheap like it is today, that's all they'd have used.  They used corn becaue it was the cheapest source of sugar they had.  (And it was cheap because it was expensive to transport, at least until the days of the railroads.)

There's a lot of sugar in corn, but also a lot of starch (and of course corn starch is pretty much all starch), and the yeast aren't going to be able to do much with the starch.

With barley (for making beer or scotch), you can let the seeds just start to germinate, which produces enzymes that turn the starch into sugar.  The process is called malting.  I don't know if there's an equivalent process for corn, or if corn is high enough in sugar that you don't need to do anything.

Guest's picture
Guest

Malting is a very simply process that is cheaper than sugar if you want to spend a little time and elbow grease. Just take a large sheet pan lined with paper towels and place a single layer of seed corn on the paper towels. soak the paper towels with water and place in sunlight. The corn will germinate and sprout in 4-5 days. Once the corn sprouts the starch has been turned to sugar or glucose to feed the seedling. 50 lbs of corn malt is equivalent to 10 lbs of sugar. the corn malt also makes a different taste, has a residual yeast flavor to the whiskey. The alcohol made with the sugar is referred to as sugar head here in the moonshine capitol of the world...Wilkes County, NC, USA
Best of Luck and keep slugging the back
P.S. 50lbs of seed corn will run you 8-10 dollars

Guest's picture
Guest

Corn meal, and other starches are converted to sugar at a point called the break point. It's when they boil for 10 minutes or so. This is the process that breaks the starch to a sugar that the yeast can eat. The danger in corn meal is that it might clog your equipment, and could even cause an explosion if it gets into the still. It's also a pain because it's harder to clean, etc. In the old days, my neighbor in NC, a federal employee himself, lol, would actually scoop this meal out and put in fridge and cook and eat after fermenting for a good week, I dont know the exact schedule, lol. Or give to one of the neighbors pigs. His shed was a small home brewing and distilling kitchen....lol. As a post office delivery man, he could make several delivers along the way.

It takes far less corn meal then sugar, as the corn meal expands when cooked. You also want the slag to settle, so, cook your corn meal, and add water to get it wattery. put a little cane sugar in there, since this ferments the fastest, and increases the yeast population fast. But not too much, as the taste will be diffrent.

For the beginner, pure cane sugar is far safer and cleaner.

fyi: ..treat the corn beer like it is cheap...dont worry about any of this "beer" being wasted, any meal in your equipment puts you in danger of explosing, from clogging.
Also this appearently increases your odds of having idiot children, your 16 year old daugher will run off with a 35 year old man etc.

Also...throw away the first shot glass from the still, and the last. It's just how it's done.

Also plant a garden next to the shed...a watched pot never boils. Get yourself a timer, and check on cooking progress every 10 minutes or so.

Guest's picture
Guest

Dried corn can me soaked in water for about 2 days until it sprouts and then ground up to be used in your mash along with sugar and water.

Guest's picture
Guest

roughly what is the proof of the final product? thanks

Guest's picture
Guest

i heard that molasses can also be used and that it adds a good flavor to the finished product..also can u distill the must in a glass jug on a heat plate..
thank you

Guest's picture
Guest

yes...this is what my NC neighbor did....he'd also taste the mush...and make sure he liked it before letting the yeast have any.

Guest's picture
anonymous

how to get all of the basic ingredients and equipment needed to make moonshine?
i'm also a bit fuzzy on what to do with them after i get them too..
i'm not very good with recipes, instructions, etc. and it would help a lot if you could sort of explain it to me a little more.
(:
email me, please & thank you.

Guest's picture
Guest

You already have the equipment in your kitchen.

Guest's picture
i'm not for sure, cont.

OH and could you also explain what fermenting/distilling is and how it works?

Guest's picture
Guest

what kind of charcoal can you use to add flavor and filter the shine

Guest's picture
Guest

1) get a passport. 2) fly to scotland with your shovel. 3) Bring bug spray with you to the peat bog.... 4) dig out your peat. 5) dry your peat. ..... yell defiantly at Ireland. Then come back with your peat....now your ready to start.

Guest's picture
mm

10 Lbs of sugar
10 gal of water
2.5 lbs of white cornmeal
1 oz of yeast

heat water up to a rolling boil,add cornmeal and sugar, let cool to room temperature, add yeast, let it ferment for 5-10 days, distill.

sound about right?

i have a batch sitting right now at 1/4 of that size im sure it wont make that much but im just testing it out to see if it works right.

Guest's picture
Guest

so if someone were to use something temperature controlled to heat it would that help make the alcohol content higher?

Guest's picture
Guest

The alchol content would be mostly determined by the yeast after the sugars are added. Yeast dies when alchol content hits their tollerance. Each strain of yeast has a point where it's kind, can no longer live. Note: Yeast has a very short life cycle, and this is why it doubles so fast. The yeast children have their 2 children, and their two have another 2 (4) and (8) and (16) and (32) and (64) and (128) and meanwhile, in the course of several yeast generations, you've ready to run back to the TV from the commercial break. You might have a yeast that will grow faster if it's a bit warmer, etc.

Guest's picture
thatboy80

20c is the optimum temperature you can buy belts to put round your tubs they are quite cheep to run only 25w

Guest's picture
Guest

If you don't know if the metal is food-grade, is there a way to tell?
Or is it better off just to go out and buy some that you know is?
I'm not a person of wealth, so I'd like to pinch as many pennies as I can! And is there any metal that will always be safe to us as tubbing in your still?

Philip Brewer's picture

Thanks for all the great questions.  I try to answer ones where I feel like I have a good answer, but there are plenty where I just don't know, so I can't be of much help.

On food-grade equipment--if it wasn't made for food (pots for cooking, etc.), I wouldn't use it.  The risk isn't worth the cost savings.

On the physics/chemistry of distilling, I doubt if controlling the temperature helps much.  The boiling point of the liquid is a fuction of the ratio of acohol to water (probably also affected by whatever other chemicals are in there).  If you don't heat it to that temperature (which will change as the alcohol evaporates, changing the ratio), then you won't get much out of the still.  Trying to heat it hotter than that will just cause everything to evaporate faster, but it'll go on boiling at the same temperature.  (Try heating a pot of boiling water over 212 degrees F--you can't do it, for the same reason.)

On ingredients other than white sugar, you'd do better to find some reference books on making better booze than to listen to me.

On charcoal, Dolly Freed says that you can make your own by sealing wood up in aluminum foil and then putting it in a fire for a while.  You can probably also buy food-grade charcoal.  I wouldn't use the cheap stuff for outdoor cooking (and most especially not any that has lighter-fluid included in it).

Guest's picture
Guest

if you are underage, this is not to you....
fermenting sugar makes ethinal, fermenting veggies and fruits makes ethinal and methinal from the pectins that are in the skins and flesh. your yeast lives below 110 F and slows down below 70 F, but dont get that close to either or you can slow or kill it. yeast eats sugar, pees alcohal and farts CO2. if anything else other then yeast gets in, it can pee and fart bad stuff, so keep an air trap on it,,,, balloon with pin holes is good. old timers would use wild yeast a lot, but bought was better, heat up the corn and water, cool down and cover loose, when the corn sinks, its done. strain and disill. pure sugar water yeast is sugar wine, fine to drink, yeast strain changes flavor and alcohal %, so buy a good one, up to 20% is out there. save the left over yeast and grow in fresh sugar water in the fridge for next time. have an air lock there too.

easiest still, fill STAINLESS pan 2/3 full of must, float a glass bowl in it, turn lid over and fill with ice or snow. drain as it melts. fire on low, and do not let it boil. alcohal mist will form, condense on lid and drip in bowl.

next best is a STAINLESS pan, like a lobster pot, lid is held in place with 4-8 clothes pins, seal lid with wet bread dough, have a hole drilled in lid, copper water pipe, curly kind, coming off, seal it too,, about 10 feet and drip BELOW the stove top, fumes are flamable, but the will fall and not hit a flame. if steam comes out pipe, you are either to hot on pan, coil is to hot (put a fan on it) or you are out of alcohol and water is starting to boil. water will not go above 184 if you have any good amount of alcy left in it, but if its close to that, you are done, reuse to start next batch, dont waist it.

use a britta filter,,, or 3,,, use cold alcohal, and filter thru. you now have drinkable stuff....

if you use fruit or veggies to ferment, even if you add sugar, you will have some extra alcohals, like methonal,, this is where heads and tails come in,,, first 5 minutes of drippings goes in the next batch to be fermented, dont waist it. the last 5 minutes too, but not if it goes over 184. it has to be cooler then that. avoid this, use sugar and water.

if you want to age it, get white american oak as store, whiddle off thin strips, bake it till it toast, pull half out, back the rest till it turns black, but does not smoke, then but in bottle and shake daily to mix, after a few weeks, she is aged about 3 years in a barrle.

aluminume=poison, why risk it,
if you drink 5 gallons of beer, do you get any odd poisons? NO, if you distill it, all you do is pull off something and leave water behind, and you make whisky, unaged, but good. dont be afraid of it.
stainless is king for food, make sure it was never used for anything other then food or drink.

bakers years is last resort, leaves a flavor and is very low in alcy%, but if its what you got,, use it, good luck.

beer and wine was made to extend the season you can use grains and fruit. winter time, most calories came from drink, everthing else spoiled.

this is all educational, never do this as it is illegal in the US and Canada. if you research enough on line, in libraries, you can learn it all. the "amazing still" is a great idea, i think i would try that one first if i really try this stuff out one day.

Guest's picture
Voyt

Do not use plastic, this is the message I got from comments. Unfortunately Amazing Still is all plastic.

Guest's picture
Hotdog

You were so helpful. I love the easy idea with the upside down pan lid. It'll probably get contaminated with some extra water but, hell, its worth a try.

Guest's picture
Guest

here are some calculators to help on the sugar issue, remember, dont waste sugar, use only as much as the yeast is rated to convert

http://www.brewhaus.com/Calculators_s/46.htm

http://homedistiller.org/wash-sugar.htm#conc

and if you use the entire web site for more ideas on the last link, dont blaim me.

Guest's picture
Arbor33

What if, instead of distilling the mixture in a still you worked on the opposite side of the spectrum with the cider jacking principle in mind? (freezing and picking out water in the form of ice) Instead of heat, could you use the cold to partially purify the mixture of water and not have to worry about someone finding a still in the odd event your house was searched?

Just a thought... Has anyone tried something of the sort?

I could imagine it wouldn't taste the same but, then again, I could maybe try the charcoal trick on my result... Just thinking out loud here.

Philip Brewer's picture

I talk about jacking a bit up above in comment #10.

As far a I know, it not only works, it's even legal.  It's also free (no still, and no energy cost for running it), if you live someplace where it freezes overnight.

It does concentrate everything (sugar, flavors, etc.), rather than just the alcohol, so it gives a rather different result.  It also won't get nearly as strong as distilling will.  But, if you start with something that tastes good (like hard cider), then moderately concentrating and strengthening it can be good.  And, after all, most people don't drink their distilled spirits straight--they mix them with something, and the result is probably about as strong as what you can get in the first place by jacking.

Guest's picture
Guest

if you only have a large enough pot to make a half batch, with half the water and half the sugar. (using the 3 gallons water and 5 punds sugar recipe) and sense the yeast multiplies, will it multiply to much and run out of sugar then die?

Guest's picture
Guest

2 questions. is it ok to add more sugar that has been sterilized through boiling to the solution that you already have fermenting (im worried that i may not have added enough sugar). I see he said that plastics are iffy during distilation but would it be ok to use plastic tubing in my homemade still?

Guest's picture
Guest

will freazing the yeast for storage kill that bacteria in it needed for making the alchohol?

Philip Brewer's picture

The yeast is alive.  It'll go on growing until it either runs out of sugar or until the alcohol concentration rises so high that it poisons the yeast (about 10% for bakers yeast, about 15-20% for brewers yeast).

Ideally, you'd like these two things to happen right at the same time--if they die of starvation, you've got less alcohol, but if they die of alcohol poisoning, you've wasted sugar.  If you balance it perfectly, you've got just what you want with no waste.

The receipe provided aims for that point, assuming that you've got bakers yeast.  If you've got brewers yeast, you can increase the amount of sugar by 50-80%.  (You'll have to experiment to figure out what works with the yeast you've got.)

Making smaller batches changes almost nothing, except that you'll end up with less product--you can use the same amount of yeast, and it'll take almost as long.

As far as freezing the yeast, there's no point to it.  It won't kill your yeast.  It won't kill any bacteria in the yeast either--but it'd be great if it did, because you don't really want bacteria in the yeast:  It's the yeast that make the alcohol.

A few alcoholic beverages are fermented with bacteria as well as yeast.  Sour ale, for example, has lactobacilli that produce lactic acid, giving the beer its sour taste.  (Sourdough bread is made much the same way.)  There are also bacteria (called acetobacters) that turn alcohol into vinegar.  You don't want any of them for moonshine, though.

Philip Brewer's picture

Adding sugar late would probably work okay, if you really didn't add enough.

I wouldn't use plastic tubing.  The part near the pot could melt--and even if it it didn't out-and-out melt, it could still get hot enough to release toxic chemicals into your product--not to mention that the alcohol itself could leach toxic chemicals out of the plastic.  Plus, it would probably insulate the product too well, keeping it from condensing, meaning that you'd get alcohol into the air rather than into your bottle where you can drink it.

Guest's picture
Billybob

Any thoughts of using moonsine for a gassoline substitute? With the price of fuel, this would seem like a good cheap alternitive to paying top dollar for a fill. And dose anyone know the leagal veiw on this? Homemade booze is illegal but what about home brew gassoline. Thanks, this info is great!

Guest's picture
Guest

In NY you can get a license to distill this for fuel. I thought about this since I have two silage bags wasting for three years on my property...(yum...silage bag ale). This is amazingly simple, however, you have to poisen the alchol and make it unfit for human consumption. ouch.

Philip Brewer's picture

I haven't done the math, but unless you've got a free (or very cheap) source of sugar and free (or very cheap) energy for distilling, I don't think you're going to find that moonshine is cheap compared to gasoline.

It is actually legal to distill ethanol for fuel, if you get a permit.  Details here:

http://www.ttb.gov/industrial/distillation_of_ethanol.shtml

Guest's picture
Guest

Absolutely Philip. The only reason america is pushing corn, or anything other then cane sugar is because cane sugar is not an american product. Cane sugar is the most efficient conversion to alchol that is known to date.

Guest's picture
Billybob

Thanks for the promt reply! How hot must it be to distill, or would it simply take longer to distill at a lower temerature ( say room temperatue ). Any thoughts of building a solar still? Im sure it doesnt get hot enough to boil water, but it is free energy that could be used. Do you know what the cost per gallon ( or liter ) work out to be asuming 'free distilling' is used.

Ive taked with people that produce biodiesel at home but the do it for the environment not to save money. Ive also heard that people that do want to save money simply remove particulants from deep fryer oil and use it for fuel. As a mechanic Ive seen fuel system upgrades to burn oil in diesels and 'flex fuels' in gas engines ( flex fuel is a mix of up to 85% ethenol and 15% gassoline).
Something else I found interesting was the Wright Brothers first flight was on peanut oil! Also if you live in cold climates and use gas line antifreeze, look at the bottle. Most times its methonal! The only problem with that is it is a very light fuel that can cause engine damage. Some monter trucks burn 100% methonal but need to rebuild it often. It can help to produce more horse power. Ops, I dont want to get too far off topic of ( almost free booze, or fuel). Thanks again, this site has sooo much information.

Philip Brewer's picture

I've made maple syrup.  We did most of the boiling over an open fire, then did the last bit on the stove where it was easy to track the temperature.  Afer having done that, I can't imagine anyone thinking that maple syrup was a cheap source of sugar--it was a huge amount of work compared to the cost of a 5 lb bag of sugar at the store.

Still--either honey or maple syrup would work fine.  You'd have to figure out how much water to add (or, in the case of maple syrup, how much of the boiling you could skip).

The traditional product to make from honey is mead, which is basically just wine made from honey instead of fruit juice.  It's tasty enough that I'd be inclined to skip the distilling step and just drink it.

I've never heard of a traditional beverage made by fermenting partially concentrated maple sap, but I'm sure it would be yummy too.

And, sure--heating your still by burning wood would work.  There'd be some safety issues involved from having droplets of pure alcohol so close to an open flame, so do allow for that.

Guest's picture
Guest

Interesting idea, I have a question though

When the product is fermenting for several days does it smell really bad ?? Just the regular batch, before the distillation I mean.

I ask because I don't have a garage and I would have to do this inside in a room that doesn't have any windows. my wife wouldn't appreciate a strong odor either.

I was wondering if it smelled a lot, if I made a 20L batch
stuff for example (5 gallons)

Also if the room is small, does it matter ?? It used to be a walk-in closet.

Thanks for the article !

Marc ;-)

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Guest

lol...when I started brewing at home, my wife divorced me...it was a fair and easy trade. Imagine a drunk going into your garage and puking, and this is about as bad as it will smell.

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zorcy

if you use a sugar wash, then the only real smell is yeast. with an air trap, no spoiled fruit. there is a big difference between fermenting and spoilage. and there is a big difference in smell. so long as this is not the closet in your bedroom, it should be ok. if you use a drier sheet, like snuggles, that will more then cover it up. but really, its not bad enough to need it. i have a 5 gallon bucket on the counter in the kitchen, no one mentioned it for 2 weeks, then the wife just said something about not needing that much vodka in the house. no smell at all!!!!

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Guest

Thanks for the information ! I was wondering about the odor but it doesn't seem to be so terrible if there are no fruits, just a regular sugar wash as you say. I'll have to monitor this closely. Thanks for the tip about the dryer sheets, I hadn't thought of that, I'll see if they could help out too. Man, no one mentioned a 5 gallon container being on the kitchen counter for 2 weeks ?? Fun---ny !! :-)

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Guest

OK here is my idea to Screw OPEC
I want to build a still to create fuel for my car from , get this : Lawn clippings. I think with the right formula I can do it. So throw out your ideas for the brew to work. If we can pull it off just maybe we can miz it with reg fuel to run a vehicle.
OK so I am just an engineer but what do you think???

gress clippings-mulch fine
sugar- fine like powdered
yeast- 20%

I need your ideas, we need to get OPEC by the balls!!!
We are americans, we can do this.
imagine 1 million home stills running a year from lawn clippings~

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Guest

A better idea would be to leave the car parked and walk....lol.
To date, the most efficient and ONLY method of getting alchol, that actually does not cost more energy then it produces is by using cane sugar. This would turn the cane sugar areas into opec, and would drive up the cost of cheap sugar.
The USA is so afraid of foreign ethonol, that they actually tax it heavily! lol.
They want to develop our own solution from an american product, so, we keep our blinders on, and ignore the current cheap solution.

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/233100/ethanol_from_corn_vs_eth...

However, your idea is to use a waste product, yard clippings, as the basis of the fermentable sugar and not consider the cost of the "harvest". You would still need to heat this slurry and the fermentable sugars would not give a reasonable return, however, you might be on the right track. Solve the next problem, convert the yard clippings to a sugar slurry without using too much energy...? solar? go go guy go.

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cakes227

how would i go about measuring the alcohol content of moonshine? i have a hydrometer but it only goes to like 20%

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Guest

stick your finger in it, and light the finger with a match. The flame will not give off any heat and burn with a blue flame......blow out your finger. It's about right. If it didnt light, then distill again.
This alchol will kill your idiot friends from alchol posining, so, only serve to your smart friends.

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cakes227

my hydrometer also has a specific gravity reading, is there some sort of chart that will change specific gravity into %acl?

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cakes227

alrighty, since fermenting a mash of just sucrose and water only makes ethanol and co2, then would there be any benefit in discarding the heads, distilling multiple times(besides to get a stronger product) or puting it through a carbon filter? i see lots of tutorials that say to do all three of these things even if the mash is sucrose+water and i dont really understand why. are there still impurities? if so where do they come from? if someone could explain this to me that would be cool. i was also wondering where i could get one of those sweet ass bottles that dudeman has in the first picture. cant wait to distill my first batch tomorrow.

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Guest

I?m not a professional shine maker but my father in lawmakes a batch here and there and after he distles his mash he then runs the shine through a second time and what happens is the alcohol content is very much higher is much clearer and runs out of the stil at a higher content for a longer period then the first run..He simply calls it double running
Spike

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Guest

Alchol evaporates at a certain temp. If you throw out the stuff that you got out of the still before and after this, then you have a better product. My neighbor would just throw out the first shot, and the last...and then do it again...if he was not drunk yet. He did this with multiple glasses...as he was never quite sure when he'd get the last glass.

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Guest

if you would please im kinda slow but can you tell me kinda lay it out step by step maybe with a lot of detail basically what to do
thank you very much

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Guest

i read the post on jacking and was wondering if its possible to distill the alcohol by freezing the water in a freezer and pouring off the alcohol because of the lower freezing temp. it would definatly make it easier than building a still and without the risk of explosion. if you could email me about it that would be great

Philip Brewer's picture

You can use your freezer for jacking--it's just not free, the way it is if you wait for overnight freezing temperatures.

As I described, though, it's not really the same thing as distilling:

First, you can't get the alcohol content nearly as high as you can by distilling. 

Second, distilling has the effect of separating the alcohol from whatever might be left behind (unused sugar, etc.), whereas jacking has the effect of concentrating those things.  Depending on the effect you're going for, that may be good or bad.

As you say, though, jacking is easier--no still to build, nothing that might blow up if you do it wrong.  Plus, it's legal.

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Guest

im boiling off my "mash" as i wright. i made it with a recipe from (http://www.wisebread.com/how-to-make-moonshine)i red about a water brown sugar and one packet of levin yeast. i made about 15 litres or so. about 3/4 of a carbouy. anyway i let it ferm, for about a month. till it was damnear done bublin. anyway im boiling it off and im wondering when its done, i have a half a two six full already and i dont know when its done boiling off alcohol and just boiling off water. how much should it make. and am i going to die. i thrw away about the first cup. do i have to worry about methane or ethanol and goin blind. its my first time. thank you.

Philip Brewer's picture

You can tell when you're done by tasting the product.  The first part of the run will be nearly pure alcohol.  As you continue distilling, the product will have less and less alcohol with more and more water.  After a while, a "quality control" sample will no longer taste of alcohol--at that point, you're done.

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Guest

How long can you keep moonshine?

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Guest

maybe 2 minutes, and then I'll open it and start sampling.

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Guest

I would just like to thank you for such an informative post, and having the dedication to keep up with people asking the same 4 questions with different wording for such an extensive amount of time. You should just add at the end of the article that if people have any further questions to just read the comments. The comments go far and above what the original article and by comment 60 there was nothing left that you hadn't already repeated at least 3 times. Again thank you for the information and happy brewing.

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nairbv

to those wondering about throwing away the head... I've just been doing some reading on the net, and this is what I've found:

what I've read is that yeast *does* produce *some* methanol (wood alcohol, the stuff that will make you blind). if you search around on the net, you'll find plenty of brewers claiming that it does. sucrose+yeast+water=ethanol+co2 is just a simplification. There is other stuff produced.

beer doesn't have much wood alcohol, but as far as I know it does have a tiny bit.

any kind of spirits (vodka, whiskey, rum) are distilled, and if you search around on the net, you'll find most recipes calling for pouring off the first part of the distillate. The reason for this is usually cited as pouring off poisonous things like methanol which have lower boiling points.

if you search around on the net, you'll find plenty of sites explaining hangovers. There are obviously many factors to a hangover, like dehydration, bad stuff in your stomach, etc, ... but one major factor is methanol.

your liver preferentially processes ethanol, ... and when all the ethanol is processed it starts processing methanol. when it processes methanol it produces painful, nauseating toxins. Fermentation produces some methanol. The preferential processing of ethanol is why you can't really be incredibly hung over until you stop consuming more ethanol.

There are a number of poisonous substances in the mash (probably in small quantities), and by distilling you are concentrating them. methanol boils at 65 C. don't start collecting your distillate until you're well over that temperature. Carefully raise the temperature slowly. ethanol boils at 78.3 degrees C, so you probably really shouldn't collect anything until you're solidly at that temperature. Carefully keep the mash at 78.3 degrees C, and if it goes much higher, stop collecting distillate. this would be better than the taste-test method.

Higher quality alcohol is less hangover-inducing because it has less of the nasties like methanol.

Spread out over a lot of beer, a little methanol won't kill you... but think of it this way: If you collect a lot of distillate one bottle at a time, and you don't throw away "the head," .. the first bottle would mostly be concentrated methanol. That first bottle will still get you drunk, .... but.... i wouldn't want to drink it.

Methanol boils at a lower temperature than Ethanol, and it's boiling point is closer to that of Ethanol than the other nasties, ... so throwing away the head is more important than ditching the tail. There are nasties that boil at higher temperatures too though, so throwing away both is a good idea. Besides, if you collect the head and tail, you're collecting stuff that is not alcohol, and so inherently are distilling a weaker booze.

Drinking plain methanol is extremely bad for you, can make you blind, and can even kill you. Even if you don't drink enough of it to kill you, ... it will make your drinking experiences much less pleasant, and will taste bad.

also, as someone else suggested, you do get less methanol by fermenting sugar or grains than you get by fermenting berries and fruits and such that are higher in "pectins" (wine hangover? ...along with the sulphates).

also, ... i wouldn't be surprised if you could get nasty poisons like methanol and acetone from accidentally destructively-distilling some of the sediment in your boiler. I mean, destructive distillation of sugar can produce acetone, and there's certainly a chance of a bit of sugar settling in the bottom of the still, right? I don't know if you can actually do that in water during alcohol distillation, but, ... I'm not convinced that it can't happen.

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Guest

My setup is:
Nearly 25 lbs of sugar
Water
Champagne yeast
All in a 5 gal plastic office-water cooler style jug.
Some of the sugar may have settled on the bottom.
We are planning to distill it, we have an all copper setup.
Should I worry about methanol/acetone?
Just dont want to go blind, Thanks!

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Guest

Ok since so many of you are interested in the art.... How about seeing how the "old" people did it and still do it....

The Portuguese have been making what is called Aguardent for 1000's of years.

This is everything you will ever have to know about how it is done... and a day at a Portuguese Quinta making the real stuff.

Oh and YES do NOT drink the heads or tails but you can and should use them.

See this:

How it was and is done:
http://www.copper-alembic.com/distilleds_pt_experience.php?lang=en

Everything you need to know (how to):
http://www.copper-alembic.com/distillation_history.php?lang=en

Cheers from a Portuguese.

Guest's picture
h_friesen

is there anyway you can cook this or rig it to where there is no chance of getting the harmful alcohol into the finished shine?

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Guest

This is my first run. I have a nice mash started but the cornmeal has settled to the bottom should I shake it up from time to time? When its time to move on to the still should I strain the mash first? If so is this stuff still usable in the next batch?

Philip Brewer's picture

The mash won't be useable again--the yeast eat the sugar, so there'd be nothing to feed the yeast in a reused batch, unless you've made a mash with way too much sugar in it.

If you're making moonshine out of sugar, as I describe above, then you won't need to stir or shake or strain.  I expect that's still true even if you add a bit of corn for flavor.  I'm afraid, though, if you're trying to use corn as your sugar source (instead of just using sugar), I don't have the answers for you.

The reason corn was used traditionally is that cheap corn was available locally, and it stayed cheap because it was really expensive to ship something bulky like corn.  Nowadays, though, sugar is also cheap--probably cheaper than corn, unless you can buy in industrial quantities.

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Guest

can you use frozen corn from the store, let it ferment in water, then run it through a still and have drinkable alcohol? If so, will it be safe to drink? Or would you have to throw away the first and the last part of it?

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Is it possible to use a cafetiere espresso coffee pot for distillation purposes ? How it works is the steam rises in the lower chamber and condenses in the upper chamber. I dont know if puitting charcoal where the coffee grounds usually go might help either.

here is a picture of one for clarity :

http://cookalicious.files.wordpress.com/2006/07/coffeepot.jpg

So any ideas from clever experience people ? :)

Guest's picture
manny

am into making money and making money only!!!! well i got a litle plan ahead with this moonshine, and am thinking about goind with my plan, if i make/get a good still, and make the rigth mash... well this is my questions. how much money would i make, how much mash do i need to make,how big the still needs to be or and how much do i need to charge. thank you for all those moonshiners outthere and god bless

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Guest

Not very much before you find yourself in federal prision. ATF laws are federal. You will be breaking federal laws. I think they are willing to look the other way, if you make a little for yourself, but the moment you sell it, you are screwed. You'll be suprised at who turns you in. You can also put it in a mason jar, etc, but never, never sell it.....my friend got 10 years, and she is just now getting out. She did well for years before that..but marketing something that is illegal works both ways..

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Shane

You can't be serious. This is the kind of attitude that will keep it illegal. Moonshiners of the past were concerned with many too; they sold a lot of "denatured" alcohol to people and I'm sure that also helps it remain illegal. Taxes are the main cause of it's illegality though. Making homemade alcohol for a profit is...well...just stupid for a lot of reasons and is not a good idea at all. Making your own alcohol to save money makes the only sense, making alcohol to sell? to who? I suggest to you, that you make a big gigantic still and sell it on street corners or maybe advertise in the local papers.....you dope....

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embrian

Maybe you have never been so down and out that you were desperate to make money. I said you were ignorant not stupid because you obviously come from a different societal culture/background.
I could sell as much moonshine as I could lay my hands on where I live now. It's not like that everywhere though.
Drinking and drug use rise during hard economic times as well; providing demand for the supply. Have you forgotten the Great Depression, Prohibition; where do you think liquor came from then?
Anyway, try going from a six figure income to no income for 6 months and see what you would be willing to try.
remember about casting stones

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Wingsofarbla

200 percent proof = 100% alcohol, 180 proof is 90% alcohol, etc. About the most a person can comfortably drink is 100 to 120 proof.

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Guest

I, and some of my friends, often drink straight shots of 151. I also know two people who don't mind shots of everclear when it's available (It's illegal in California). I don't know that it's "comfortable", and definitely not something you enjoy the taste of, but it's really not all that bad either.

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Guest

thats kind of confusing so could you lay out step by step how to do this thank you

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hare scrambler

Hey, I heard you can buy shine that is different flavors; apple, apple pie, blueberry, peach, raspberry, strawberry, etc. They are all very good, or so I've heard, I was wondering how they are made. Does putting these items in the must have anything to do with that? Why would you add things like apples at this point? Doesn't all of this get left behind upon distillation? I suspect it is added after the distilling process but is the batch then cooked or aged at this point, is there anything else added other than the obvious ingredient?

Also, I'm still curious how much drinkable beverage will result from the 3 gallon batch. I know it depends when you decide to stop "collecting" but approximately? Was post number 99 correct? It makes sence.

btw, truely appreciate your sharing, seems as though many people have enjoyed the discussion, Happy Holidays

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Guestgreg

I had A air lock knocked off my carbouy during secondary fermentation. smells good but taste sour.could I distill it

Philip Brewer's picture

I actually have no idea if the acid would come along in a distillation or not.

However, there are sour beers--a lot of Belgian beers are sour, because they include lactobacilli along with the yeast.  They'll turn your malt into lactic acid instead of alcohol.  (The other way to get sour beer is to let acetobactors get in--they'll turn your acohol into vinager.)

Anyway, I suspect your best bet is to pretend that you were making Belgian-style beer and just decide to enjoy the sour taste.

Here's a page on Belgian sour beers:

http://belgianstyle.com/mmguide/style/sour.html

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Guest

if you dont like the taste of the moonshine like it has too much kick or something could you distill it more than once to make it taste better?

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Guestgreg

A guy I work with, father used to char A piece of oak on the grill and then seal it up in A jar of moonshine. He said it smoothed out the flavor and gave it A carmel color like bourbon. Im sure you would want to age it as long as you could stand to.

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Guest

as did my neighbor, for three or four weeks. He charred his wood with a propane torch. (He did it in the shed).

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moonshine030

i noticed when i first put the ingredients together it was not bubbling. i came back about 7 hours later and it was but it was very small bubbles almost like it was boiling is this normal?

also when i came back the mash had dropped in the pot about 3 inches