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.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

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
Zorcy

Guest,
Taste it. If it is sweet, it is not ready. Yeast does not do well in cold weather. Turbo is usually ready in 24-48 hours. I would not worry so much about the cloudiness, if you are distilling. You only need to clear what you drink, like beer and wine. If there is an abundance of yeast, you may consider distilling a little slower so as not to scorch the yeast. When you pour it in the still, try not to dump in the sludge at the bottom.

If they have fermented out to the maximum amount Turbo can do, then you could also have extra sugar left over. Double check your figures for sugar-water ratio. Turbo gives you double digit alcohol. If you did the math right, there is no sugar left to grow 'lil beasties. There is a way for it to turn to vinegar, so watch out for that too. As it sits on dead yeast cells, the taste will change some, and carry over thru the still. If you pull it off the dead yeast, and let it clear, then pull it again, you should be able to last some time in the cold. If you can put it in the snow, and let it freeze, it will last all winter. Thaw it out when you want to distill it. It's GREAT to live up north. I store mine in the igloo, lol.

Guest's picture
moonshine joe

aluminum is bad. verry bad

Guest's picture
tom

What temp setting is best for a hotplate or electric stove? should i turn it on full and it will distill faster? or should i heat it up to 174 F and turn it down to keep it consistent? or should i leave it on a medium temp setting and leave it?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Tom
You can crank it up as high as it will go. The mash will only get to the temperature that the lowest compound boils. This means if alcohol boils at 174 and water boils at 210, it will only reach 174 until all the alcohol is gone. That the reason distillation works. You can boil it so hard that water molecules will go up the column. It is more like putting water in jar, cap it and shake like crazy. It will increase the water in the air without it raising the temp. But in short, you can boil as hard as your head space and column will handle.

A note about electric hot plates. Most, when you set the temp, will go full power, then cycle off. They do not cut down the amount of power to the coil. This will make your still boiler very hard, then almost stop, then very hard again. You can get them with special control or build them, to increase power as its called for.

Guest's picture
Guest

Distilling booze will kill you. Explosions, fire, poisoning, prison time. Leave it to the experts and enjoy some Jack Daniels. It would be imposible to recreate anything that would come close to store bought booze.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guest
You have some valid points, distilling booze can kill you, if you do it wrong. Explosions, fire and poisoning are valid, as well as jail. No one can duplicate Jack Daniels, they are a fine maker of excellent product.

They used to have attendants for gas pumps because it could kill you. It is explosive, poisonous, and can catch fire. With proper use and handling, it is just gas. With all the directions and precautions on the internet and in this article/blog, this is a very safe hobby. The only 2 items that are really an issue, jail and matching Jack. Almost everyone skirts the law, just on the edge. Going 90k/h in an 80. In a lot of areas, they can take the car away and lock you up. Heck, I will apply twice for a drawing that says only one per household, I'm guilty. We have never said we are making Jack. We are more like RC plane builders. We build and fly the plane, never coming close to building a jumbo jet and flying across the ocean with passengers. This is for fun. You can make a drink that will almost completely eliminate hangovers, the store bought stuff can not do that.

Guest's picture
nelson

hi everybody thanks for this info, i been making beer 1 year now and i'm about to make still (pressure cooker) to get stronger drinks, i have just a question and i hope someone would help me out, when i connect the copper to the still ( pressure cooker) do i have to make sure that there is no any space for the vapor to get out from it? and what i have to use to stick them together is soldering them is good idea? thanks in advance

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Nelson,
It has to be water tight. Compression fittings work well. Remember, the vapour that comes out is flammable. You need it to be well clear of the still when it comes out a liquid. Soldering with LEAD FREE will work. Silver solder is great, but hard to work with. Lead will make you sick. Very important.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Nelson,

If you are just looking for a stronger drink, you can still just brew it. I used distillers yeast on a Spiced Pumpkin Ale. It allows fermentation up in the teens. I miss calculated the gravity and added 3 lbs of sugar. When it finished, I can just barely taste the beer. I have decided to bottle it with oak and age as you would a barley wine. Its as strong as a mixed drink.

Even a mistake can turn into a pearl. :)

Guest's picture
Swede

I am having trouble getting my must up to a decent percentage of aclohol by volume. I am using the proportions mentioned above (5lbs sugar to 3 gallons water). I am also using a distillers yeast that is advertised as being able to survive to %18 alcohol. I add yeast nutrient as recommended, but can't seem to get more than about 3%-4% ABV in my must. I have a controlled temperature environment with sterilized containers, and have taken pains to eliminate any inconsistencies in my fermenting procedures. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Philip Brewer's picture

Those proportions are specifically for people using ordinary baker's yeast. Since that yeast can only survive up to about 10% alcohol, any sugar beyond that would be wasted.

If you're going to use fancy distiller's yeast, you need nearly twice as much sugar, or your yeast are just going to starve, long before they die of alcohol poisoning.

Give it a try! Let us know how it turns out.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Swede,
3 lbs of sugar to 5 gallons of water will ideally give you ONLY 4.2%. 13 lbs of sugar, 4 gallons of water will mix together to make 5 gallons. This will max out to 18.2% alcohol. Your yeast is designed for 18%, so you may tweak out the .2% still. Do not throw away what you have. Your yeast is alive, ALIVE I SAY! Make 2 batches. Use 2 gallons of what you have with 2.5 gallons water and about 12 lbs of sugar. You can top it off with just enough water to make the full 5 gallons. The rest gets 11 lbs of sugar and top it off to make 5 gallons. You can add more nutrients if you like, but those lil yeasties will be ok. You should always taste it, to see if it is sweet. If it is, then the yeast is not done.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Swede,
I inverted your numbers, sorry. You should be getting just under 12% on that set up. Check to see if you taste sweetness. Is the air lock still burping? It may have slowed down but not stopped. What temp are you keeping it? The yeast should have given you a range for the particular strain. Keep it a the low range of the spread they give you. The higher the temp you run it, the faster it will go but the more flavours it will leave behind.....

Guest's picture
Swede

Zorcy,

Thanks for the comment/advice. I am keeping it at about 75 degrees, which is right at mid-range for the recommended temperature on the yeast. I let the air-lock completely stop burping before distillation. (which is only taking about 10 days) I do taste before dilstillation, and there is some sweetness, though not in a tasty way. More of a fermented, old fruit taste. I have heard some people say that it should taste "dry", and it is definitely not getting to that point. I have experimented, and found that I can get the same yield with about a %70 decrease in sugar. I am starting to think that my yeast is not performing to it's advertised potential. Once again, any further advice would be appreciated. Specifically, I would like to track down a step by step recipe/procedure for maximizing the ABV in my must. If anyone out there has a link, or access to that kind of recipe, I would be very excited.

Guest's picture
John Van Slyke

I thought that using aluminum for distilling alcohol was not a good idea, so are you telling me that using an old aluminum pressure cooker for the still is OK?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

John Van Slyke

Yes, aluminum is bad. They do make stainless steal pressure cookers. I hope that was his intent.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

John Van Slyke
You are correct about not using aluminum. They have stainless steel pressure cookers. I really hope that was his intent. This is a repost, but I could not find it when first I sent it.

Guest's picture
quincy

Zorcy

Ive read nearly 500 post and did not come with and answer. Im going to purchase and pressure cooker and Im goin to have to figure out where and how to manage the temp. From what I understand is that the mash will not get hotter than 180 degrees until it starts getting weaker at this pt the temp will rise and its time to stop. Where and how would you put a thermometer in the lid of the pot? Thanks to you and the Brew man and all who has took the time and effort to answer questions..

Philip Brewer's picture

Dolly Freed didn't use a thermometer—she just did "quality control" (i.e. drinking a bit of the product as it was produced). The first shot is going to be almost pure alcohol. Each shot after that is going to be a little less alcohol and a little more water. At some point the alcohol content is going to be low enough that you can't taste it any more. At that point, your run is done—further distilling would be a waste of energy.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Quincy

You have a few choices. If you are running a column, drill a hole in the top of the column. Of you have enough head space in the pot, drill a whole in the lid. If you don't, you can tie one off to the pipe coming out. You do not need the temp of the liquid, the steam works just as well.

Guest's picture
quincy

Brewer I actually ordered this book last week, can't wait to read it :-) I really appreciate your quick reply, i was thinking this maybe my only option as i know taking the lid of to check temp will complete mess up the process..

Guest's picture
quincy

Im goin to be cooking my mash on and electric stove in a pressure cooker in my kitchen, do I need to start off on low heat or can i just turn it on high??Im goin to be running this with no thermometer...

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Quincy,
Most electric elements run at 100% power, then cut off according to the settings you choose. If you put it on high and the steam produced it too high, it will not be able to escape the still. This can be dangerous. You can start at high, but when it starts to steam, check your output. If it blows out air or steam, cut it back some. Recheck after it calms down some. You want it to come out only liquid, with no escaping pressure. If it comes out as vapour, you are boiling harder then your still condenses. If you have to cut it back some more, do.

Guest's picture
Guest

So if i take 2.5lbs of cornmeal, 5lbs of sugar, 3 gallons of water and a packet of bakers yeast would that work?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guest
Yes. It would be similar to moonshine. But a little cleaner. Make sure you pick a good yeast. One that can go up a little higher on the gravity.

Guest's picture
Guest

I was wondering if you can list all the methods needed to make moonshine. From start to finish. I don't want to mess anything up. Just being on the safe side.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guest,

Might as well. Recap:
Sterilize everything.
Ferment the sugars (table sugar, grains or anything fermentatable)
Distill the wort or mash.
Filter, drink
That's it. If you want to make something better, you have to have recipes.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Philip

Why oh why did the pictures change? I did not have a hard copy of the original to know if there was a change to the verbiage. Did Big Brother put pressure on you?

Amy Lu's picture
Amy Lu

Hi Zorcy,

Rest assured, Big Brother was not involved! We're in the process of updating our older articles to the new format, so they may look a little different, but don't worry -- aside from the pictures, nothing in Philip's article has changed. =)

Philip Brewer's picture

As Amy Lu says, it's all the same. And, if you were just missing the pictures, here's links to the originals at Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/myhobosoul/52245604/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/wheatfields/136427448/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/monsterfred/67962606/

Philip Brewer's picture

(Actually, that first photo has since been marked as private, although it was creative commons licensed when I grabbed it.)

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Amy,
Great to know. UNLESSSSSS, Big Brother is there TELLING you to say that ;)

I was watching Dirties Jobs, they were making rum. The used a process to heat the wash in a similar fashion to the aluminum pressure cooker idea. The created safe steam and used that to heat the wash faster! I liked it, think I will have to make it now that I see someone else spent the money to experiment with it.

Guest's picture
willie-boy

Zorcy,
Been experimenting with the amylase stuff for the last month or so. Great stuff really, but only if you're using a pot-still and going for a flavour. Otherwise it hardly seems worthwhile converting a starch into sugar; might as well just whack a load of white sugar into the wash. The potato whiskey/ poteen is a real success though. Boiled them up and mashed them and boiled them again until they were just a thick gloop the consistency of a stiff wallpaper paste. Let them cool a bit and added a teaspoon of amylase. The following day it was a liquid again, with the starch all converted to sugar. Thing is, it was only strong enough to give an alcohol content of about between 4 and 5%. But a few kilos of sugar and a bit of malt, and I got a 15% fermentation in 5 days, with a high alcohol wine yeast, as compared to what usually takes a couple of weeks, with around a 10% yield. Flavour was spot-on too. Working on a corn whiskey now, made with polenta. Seems to be going the same; boiled to a gloop, spoonful of amylase; reverts to a sugary liquid. Have to see how this one turns out. Cheers!

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Willie Boy,
That is good news, great news if potatoes are cheap or free!

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Doing a little reading. Seems if you boil some spuds real hard and save the liquid, you can add to you wash. It will smooth out the final product!!

Doing an experiment now. Had to make potatoes for the family, so I saved it. If this works well, I will add at least one to every batch.

Guest's picture
Guest

I just got into distilling maybe 2 months ago. This article has cleared up some questions I had about where to go with it next. Thanks to everyone that has contributed.

My sugar wash recipe is basically the usual sugar,water,yeast everybody does but I also add half a can of tomato paste and the juice from a whole lemon. This is for about 3 gal of wash.

Seems like I read somewhere that the tomato and the lemon were a good substitute for yeast nutrient. Seems to be working great so far.

I've had batches go bad when I tried to just use sugar,yeast,water but seems to be working ok for the rest of you so maybe there's some other variable I'm not considering.

Guest's picture
Ed

Ok I have a question.

I'm trying to make some whiskey and I guess I don't understand why make it from corn as opposed to just making it from sugar.

Wouldn't it be the same after distilling? Seems to me at the end you have 90-95% alcohol that doesn't taste like anything no matter what you use to make it.

Philip Brewer's picture

The base material that you use does affect the flavor of the result, even after distilling—it's the main difference between bourbon (corn), scotch (barley), rye (rye), rum (sugar cane), vodka (potato), etc. (Of course other things, such as aging in wooden barrels, also affect the flavor.)

From a historical perspective, people have always made their spirits from whatever was cheap where they were. Corn was made into corn whisky because corn was cheap (It was also hard to transport over the mountains in large enough quantities to make it profitable. One wagon full of whisky, on the other hand, was worth real money.)

So, the moonshine tradition is to use the cheapest source of sugar for the yeast to eat. Because of economies of scale, in many places right now that's probably granulated white sugar. But if that's what you ferment, it's not going to taste like bourbon. (Of course, corn liquor won't taste like bourbon either, unless you've got some oak barrels to age it in.)

Guest's picture
willie-boy

Ed,
To get the real flavour of a whiskey, you'd need to keep distilling it down to about 50% alcohol by volume. That's what they do with Scotch and Irish whiskey. "Cask Strength", it's known as. Vodka always has a cut-off point of around 90%, which is why it's relatively tasteless. And as Phil has pointed out, ageing it with oak makes all the difference really.

Guest's picture
Ed

Ok thanks guys. I was having real trouble figuring that out for some reason.

Guest's picture
Jacob

If i'm going to try not making some shine; how much corn malt, water, sugar, corn meal should i use to make about a 3 gallon total mash?

Guest's picture
Guest

I can't get a still because I don't have ANY of the supplies but I'm going to make a solar still which will take longer but it should have the same effect!

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Oh dear, what a mess. I have 3 apprentice now, asking how to make and recipes to do. They want to make a still and have me show that, too. Seems they talk about it and have found many, MANY closet distillers as friends. Looks like they should start a support group and meet on Sundays to talk and share. First suggestion I always make? Strong, smooth and macerate fresh peaches or pineapple in it for a couple weeks. Seems going to a public park, there is no drinking. Not good on a hot summer day. Did you know you can bring all the fruit you can eat? Not bad, eh? I figure, if you start with about 150-180 proof of odorless and smooth spirits, macerate fresh pineapple in it for a few weeks, you get some 120-170 proof pineapple. Not to mention the spirits are great tasting! Just don't mix up the pineapple for the grill with the one for consuming, it is a flaming riot! :)

Guest's picture
Guest

Quit the guesswork. Go to stilldrinking.com. Shows you reflux stills, pot stills, recipes, supplies. Very helpful site.

Guest's picture
Guest

can moonshine mash be fermented in summer then saved until winter for distilling when water is colder or will it go bad?

Philip Brewer's picture

It's possible, but it's not trivially easy.

There are bacteria (called acetobacters) that consume alcohol, turning it into acetic acid. They're what turn wine into vinegar.

Wine makers do essentially what you're talking about. (That is, they save the fermentation product. They don't distill it, of course. They just age it before bottling.)

The trick is to keep acetobacters away from the fermentation product. But that's pretty tough—acetobacters are everywhere, including floating in the air. So, you have to keep air away from your fermentation product. And you have to do it right from the start. That's complex, because the yeast produce carbon dioxide, so you can't just seal up your fermentation container—it'd explode.

Wine makers use a device called an air lock, that will allow the carbon dioxide to escape without letting the acetobacters get in the fermenter. Any book on wine making will describe what that is and how it's used.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guest,
Another bad side effect to holding it that long, the yeast imparts odd flavours after a while. Since most moonshine is made from wild yeast (floating in the air) you have a tendency to have more flavour from them. The longer you sit on the trubs, the worse it gets. Since it is so easy to make, just make it as you need it. I had read that the old time rum makers would make rum in the summer and hold it till the season came to drinking it, winter. Good thing we can just drink it when we want!!!

Guest's picture
Moody

Okay, so I distilled my first batch....and i'm too chicken to try it out. Maybe you can re-assure me? I did about 10 gallons of wort, which included probably 30 pounds of sugar. To distill, I used an aluminum (I know, I know) pot and lid with brass fitting and 10' of copper tubing. The first 10 ounces that I collected (overkill in terms of "heads" I would guess) really smells strong....sort of like acetone mixed with something else. This will be used as lighter fluid. From there, I distilled out about another 1.5 liters. Now, in addition to the aluminum pot, I also didn't keep track of the temps. I'm sure it way above 173. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the water was boiling too. However, even at the end, a teaspoon of sample would flame right up with a blue flame.

My first question is regarding the too hot issue. Other than adding some water to the mix, is there anything else to worry about? The second question is regarding methanol- I've also read many, many times that very little methanol is produced with fermented sugar. If I dumped the first 10 ounces of a 1.5 liter run.....is there ANY chance of methanol being in there? Finally, regarding the aluminum, yes I'll change the setup to 100% stainless and copper.....but really, I do not understand how any aluminum could get into the distillation steam and thus into the rum. Sounds like a good story....but chemically, I do not see it. Still, I'll make a proper distiller, with SS.

Great site!

Guest's picture
Moody

....to clarify on the above- I said I made about 10 gallons of wort (or whatever you call it when you're making shine) and only 1.5 liters of product. To clarify, that 1.5 is just a small part of what I ultimately will make.....when I get the SS rig put together. The 1.5 was just to start to see how it went.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Moody,
Congratulations. It sounds successful. If you used fruit and made wine, it would have some methanol in it. Not very much, mind you. You could drink the wine. This would not hurt you. So this wine gets distilled, you get all the alcohol with the methanol out. It will not do any more damage than drinking the original 10 gallons of wine. You have not changed anything chemically. So you are safe. Now, taken you used sugar, there is almost no trace of methanol made, so its even a smaller chance of getting methanol. I think a 1/4 cup would have been more then on the safe side. If you are getting proof at the end of your run, you should pull up a different jar and collect it. You will need to keep a close eye on proofing it. If you do not like the taste or smell of the tails, just dump it in the next batch you distill, and clean it.

If you put mint in the pot and distilled it, you will smell mint in your product. If you cook in aluminum, you will still get aluminum in your product. It is not safe. I think the one time you do it, will not kill you. It may be more like lead, you build it up. You may want to not wear your best shirts after you start to drink. Have you ever seen people with grey or black armpits on their shirts? That is the chemical reaction to the aluminum in the deodorant. You can get that from the aluminum you drink as well.

Guest's picture
Moody

Zorcy, thanks for the reply. So when using sugar or molasis.....pretty much nothing to worry about in terms of methanol. I wish I hadn't wasted a full mason jar on the "heads". Oh well. What about proper temperature regulation? Let's say I don't really pay close attention, and it gets to 190, 200 or even 212? At 212, I'll be getting more water than alcohol, so that sort of defeats the purpose; but, is there a safety issue at all at 190 or 200, assuming sugar is used?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Moody,
When you start heating it up, it can only reach the temperature of the compound that boils first. It will stay at that temperature until it's gone, then will come up to the next temp.
Example: A pot of ice cubes, put it on a fire. It will all melt before it boils. It will all come up to 212 before you see steam. The alcohol will have to boil off first. By boiling really hard, you increase the amount of other items carried with the alcohol, like water. Mix dirt and water in a bucket. If you pour slowly, you get more pure water. If you pour fast, you get the chunks and dirt with it. The slower you have time for, the cleaner it will be. Same thing with alcohol. You can run it hard, very hard, if you like. This would be a stripping run. It is usually for fruit or grain mashes. It takes off the alcohol and leaves behind 'most' of the rest. You will have to run it again with some water added, to get the better alcohol.

When using sugars only, you can drink anything you get out. You can drink the wash, the first run or the last. It is all alcohol and will not hurt you. It is sugar wine, then cheap vodka and finally, good vodka.

Guest's picture
Guest

Methanol?

Make sure you cut it from your drinking alcohol - it is a neurotoxin. It comes out of the still first and has a dirty/sweet smell.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guest
When you ferment from sugar, you don't have enough methanol to worry about. Less then you get as you drink wine or beer.

Guest's picture
mansquito

ok so i found this recipe that is 5lbs of sugar 5lbs of sweet feed 1lb of yeast and i followed the steps it has which is adding boiling water to the sweet feed and sugar so that the the sugar dissolves then adding warm water to almost top off the bucket then i added my yeast at the right temp...after all that it says to put the lid on it and leave the screw on cap in the lip loose and 4-5 days later its "ready to run"...what does "ready to run mean"? it seems impossible for it to be ready to run because around here that means ready to sell and drink anyone have any advice???

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Mansquito,

Ready to run thru the still. You are making a rum. Be very careful. Some sweet feeds have more 'fiber' then others. Grain husk are the filler they use on some. The best would be big chunks of crushed corn and grains, covered in molasses. Pull off the upper layer, the clearest. Use that in the still. You will have trubs left over, the used grains. You can add a couple more handfuls of feed and 5 pounds of sugar, top off with warm water and let it take off again. The taste will get better as you go do this over and over. About 10 times is the limit. You will have to start removing the trub to make room, of course.

Guest's picture
Bridgey

Hi,

thanks for the site. Just a question... I have been making wine for a few years years now and would like to pass it through a still... would plum wine then come out as a plum vodka once passed through?

Sorry if it sounds a bit thick, I'm just wondering if flavour survives the distillation or just pure alcohol comes out....

Many Thanks

Lee

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Bridgey,

Sounds like you would get plum brandy instead. You will not get much of the flavour to carry over. If you have a column still, take out all the packing so it does not come out so clean and pure. An old pot still would do you better here. If you leave the pulp in your wine as you make it, then leave it in the bottom of the still, heat it up slow and leave lots of headroom. This will bring more of the flavour with it. Once you have finished, use some wine to cut it. You can age it on some de-pitted plums, but probably not.

Guest's picture
BRIDGEY

thanks for that. I have not got a still as yet. was thinking of making one to turn my wine into a higher percentage, just find it all really confusing :(

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Bridgey,

It's not hard and it's not to confusing once you start. There should be some animated pictures on distillation on the net. To see it happen in pictures is, well, worth a 1000 words.

Once you actually build it, then it really takes off. Just try the siplest still for 2 bottles of wine. Once you get some snow, it's easy. Take the largest stainless steel pot and lid you have, dump in the wine. float a glass bowl, invert the lid and add snow to the top. You will have to boil slow or the bowl will sink. Change change out the melted snow for fresh often. You will get a lot of carry over in flavour this way. May be the best way for you.

Lets see how much you should get. Lets say you start with 2 bottles, 750 ml each, you get 1500 ml. Home brewers and wine makers tend to get a little higher content in their stuff, so we can guess 14% for you. that is 210 ml of 100%. Since that is an unacceptable expectation, we will say 75% for 280 ml. If you want to carry over a little more flavour, just distill it down to the drinking level of 40%. That gives you about 525 ml. Not sure what part of the world you are from, but white America oak or red French oak, toasted, and soaked in canning jars for a couple weeks, would be GREAT.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hello Mr. Phillip brewer, I thought this guide was great, and am very anxious to begin making my very own moonshine! Although, I have heard that there may be dangers of methanol poisoning. I would like to know if this is true,and if so, how to prevent it. Thanks- Bob

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guest Bob,

748 post, over 50 on methanol. In short, use sugars only and you are ok. If you need more reassuring, just read over all the post. You worry more about methanol with stuff like wood alcohol or the first collection of a very large batch made with grains or fruits. Sugars, less then 20 gallons and you are fine.

Guest's picture
cider fan

totally wonderful site. . . thank you

we have been making simple cider here (in amsterdam) what's called hard cider in the US. . . .

we then placed a bottle in the freezer overnight. . .partially unfroze it the next morning, removed a lot of the remaining ice and bottled the liquid that came off. . . . it looks and smells fine. .

two questions:

* is there any limit to how many times we can do this -- how high an alcohol content can we get?

* are there any methanol or other dangers at all with this process?

thanks. . . . cider fan

Philip Brewer's picture

The thing about freeze-concentration is that it concentrates everything—alcohol, sugar, flavor. So the main limit is that at some point the flavors get over-strong. Happily, it's easy to control and to fix: Keep freezing and throwing away the ice until it gets the way you want it, then stop. If you go a little too far, just add a little water to get it back to the way you like it.

Freeze concentrating will concentrate the methanol if any is present. But if you've just fermented apple juice, you're not going to have any significant quantity of methanol.

Perhaps the best thing about this technique is that it's free, at least in the winter. Just leave a barrel outdoors in the cold, and throw away the ice that forms overnight.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Cider Fan,
Another really good thing, is that it is legal to do in most areas. Jacking, what they call it here, has been going on almost as long as making cider itself. A salad spinner is a great device to separate the ice from the drink, as it gets higher in concentration. The ice will start to form free floating ice instead of chunks. They are not as easy to remove. You can start off at just below freezing temperature for water, but as you go on, you will need to push it a little more each time. You will be able to get it up to the standard 40%, but the flavour may be to intense by then. As far as methanol, you had it in the cider you started with, its just in a smaller cup now. If you could drink a gallon before and reduced it by 50%, you can drink 1/2 gallon with the same effect and methanol consumption.

Guest's picture
Audrey

This is great. It tastes amazing.
Can't wait to make more White Lightning up here in Southern Ontario!

Guest's picture
vainamo

You did not mention separating out the methanol. If people drink what you are making here, they will go blind. As little as 10 mililiters of methanol will attack the optic nerve enough to make a person blind. 30 ml can kill.

It is very important that people know to boil out the methanol at a temperature of about 148F for a while before raising the temperature to about 170F to boil the ethanol out into a new container.

Philip Brewer's picture

Pretty much irrelevant, since yeast growing in sugar-water won't produce methanol. But throwing away the heads is harmless (you just waste a little bit of the product), so go right ahead.

Guest's picture
Moody

So, I've made several gallons of surprisingly good moonshine (basic- sugar/water/yeast). The flavor was a little like tequila. Well, maybe not exactly, but there did seem to be some "spicy" note?

Anyway, my next question is this- for how long can 15-18% wort sit in a bucket before distilling? I have had about 4 gallons of 18% sitting in the garage for maybe 3 months. Do I pour it down the drain....or distil it? Again, it's just sugar/water/turbo yeast. Anything to worry about?

Thanks!

Philip Brewer's picture

I don't think anything dangerous is likely to have happened.

Your main risk is that acetobacters will have gotten into the wort. These are bacteria that turn alcohol into acetic acid. Normally they turn wine into vinegar, but they'll happily turn undistilled moonshine into vinegar as well.

If your product smells like vinegar, it's probably gone. If not, it's probably fine to distill.

Guest's picture
Guest

Do you suggest a specific brand of yeast? What is your personal favorite, or are they all pretty much the same?

Guest's picture
moody

you must use a high gravity or high alcohol yeast. I use turbo yeast. If you don't, when the alcohol gets to a certain level (too low for making 'shine), the yeast will poop out. Turbo can go to 18% I think. "regular" probably is done around 8%?

Guest's picture
moody

Saving Money on Yeast?

Can yeast be re-used? Or, does one need to keep going out and buying more turbo (or similar) yeast? The thick gunk at the bottom of the primary fermenter....can that be re-used to ferment a new batch? I think it can when doing beer. But moonshine? I just dumped a bucket of what is probably vinegar (left one bucket sitting too long) and am wondering if the sludge at the bottom is good for anything...or if those are 100% dead cells? I'd love to understand how to reconstitute yeast from batch to bath though.

Philip Brewer's picture

The recipe in the post is for using ordinary bakers yeast, like you can get at the store.

It'll top out at about 10% alcohol, but that doesn't matter much once you distill the product.

There are brewers yeast that will produce much higher alcohol concentrations. You can buy them at stores that sell beer- and wine- making supplies.

If you use ordinary bakers yeast, you can reuse old yeast (much as people do with sourdough starter).

With the fancy brewers yeast, that doesn't work so well. Part of the mix is nutrients that help the yeast grow, and those get used up on the first batch.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Moody,

Reusing old yeast will work for a while. Every cycle changes the taste/smell a bit. If your first batch had a great taste and smell, the 10th may not be drinkable. It changes as it evolves.

High alcohol level yeast will tend to lend an off flavour to your drink. If you stay at the lower levels, up to about 12%, you have a better chance of not getting that 'taste'.

If you use a fancy yeast, the 2nd cycle is not as potent, try a nutrient. The easiest to get would be infant dry cereal mix. They come in names like Rice Cereal, Barley Cereal. It looks like instant potatoes. 1/4-1 cup per 5 gallons is more then enough.

In order to reuse old yeast, start with a sterile jar and lid. Pour some of the left over liquid, not sludge, in the jar, top off with 2 tablespoon sugar and warm water. Let it sit on the counter to be sure it is still alive. If you used a very high % yeast, you could have gone to the point that the yeast is not alive. If the yeast shows signs of live, cap it loosely and place in the fridge. You will need to feed it about once a week. 1 or 2 tablespoon of sugar will work. If you are familiar with sour dough, you will know how to keep it going. This is sometimes referred to as a starter.

Guest's picture
enigma

Do not use aluminum! The alcohol will oxidize it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a few questions. With this method, would you have to get rid of the heads and tails? Also, how much moonshine will this yield?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guest,
With sugar only, you will not have to worry about heads and tails, if you do not overproduce. If you try to ferment 100 gallons and pull of the very first cup, you will get some nasty stuff. If you make 5 gallons and pull off the first cup, you are ok. Sugar could have residual vegitation that would create methonol, but not much.

Guest's picture
andy

a 50 gallon "mash" barrel, how many pounds of corn? how many pounds of sugar? how much water? should i use all of the 50 gal. of the barrel or maybe 40 gal? another question, how do i know when the "head" is done so that i start saving my brew?? practical questions from a beginer.

Guest's picture
MtnCity

There are many recipes out there. The easiest 'shine to make is going to be a rum, using sugar, water and yeast (and nutrients). I usually end up with about 12-14 pounds of sugar per 5 gallons of water....but usually don't use all the sugar at once. If you want to do a "bourbon" corn whiskey, and are going to do a 50 gallon batch..... You'll need 100 pounds of cracked corn, 60 pounds of sugar and 40 gallons of 100 degree F. water.

As for heads and tails.....I take the first 50ml per 5 gallons off the top. I just stop when then the temp gets to a certain level rather than doing the tails.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Andy,
When pulling the heads, will will notice a unique smell. Start will several small glass jars. About half a cup in each, unless you are boiling all of the 40 gallons at once. You will notice it start to change quickly, so keep a close eye on it. Once the smell is gone, start collecting.

Guest's picture
Guest

You probably should mention that the heads of your distillate should be thrown out unless you want to drink the methanol in it to kill yourself or cause yourself to go blind...

Guest's picture
MtnCity

Not enough methanol in moonshine to kill a hamster....let alone a human. That's urban legend #828,459. Having said that, still toss the heads as it doesn't taste great and serves up a nice hangover.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

MNTCTY

Good point. Most issues with health and moonshine, was generated by the government to scare people away from making it. Adding antifreeze or embalming fluid and using lead solder are more realistic. If they didn't scare you, everyone would be making it. How many stills were running before the Whiskey Rebellion? Even Washington had one going. If everyone was running one, how did we have enough people alive to populate the world?

Guest's picture
vag

What about the stuff that comes out first that's supposed to be poison? How do you know when that's done and the middle stuff that want is coming out?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Vag,
You can go by smell, or just use a sugar wash and not have any.

Guest's picture
Brian

Awesome Site Guys! I searched and searched the net for three days before I found this site, there is more information here for the average rookie than any other site I have found.

My Question: I know you have touched on it but in reading all the post from front to back I still have a question. My mash is on day 6, there is a bed of sugar and corn meal on the bottom, 2 1/2 gallons of cloudy whiteish liquid on top; avg temp in house is 65 degrees. My air lock is bubbleing every 5-6 seconds with a single bubble. I used 4lbs sugar 2 1/2lbs corn meal and 2 packs of RapidRise Highly Active Yeast. I am sure I am being impatient but I sure wish this would hurry up. Again thanks for everyones help!

Brian

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Brian,
Are you sure the sugar is sitting on the bottom? If it is, stir it up. If you have some way to warm it up, that would make it go faster. The drawbacks to faster, is the extra flavours it leaves behind. If there is no sugar, let it keep bubbling. It should be almost done. You can taste it, should not have any sweetness to it as it nears completion.

Guest's picture
Brian

Thanks Zorcy for the relpy, after looking at it again it looks like just corn meal. Today is day 7 and it is almost done like you said. It is clearing up and is only bubbling every minute or so. I have another question:

I made another batch last night and screwed it up royaly! I have 5 gallon glass jugs my dad used to make wine out of, I wanted to make a 5 gallon batch; well I did not acount for space at the bottom the meal would take up. Long story short tell me if I need to start over or not.

I mixed 8lbs sugar, 5 lbs WHITE corn meal ( I failed to tell my wife yellow) does this make a difference? and 4 gallons of distilled water instead of 5 and 1 pack of turbo yeast from my local brew shop. I woke up this morning and it blew the air lock off and had crap everywere. I put it back on shook it up a little and put it back to work. Is this batch ruined or can it be saved

Thanks again and Happy New Year!

Brian

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Brian,
If you are worried about it having too much sugar content, just cut it in half and add water. If it already blew out enough to give space, just let it ride. It should be fine. The only really unusable mash, would have an infection. The rest can be used. It may be low alcohol content. It may be high sugar content left over, but, it will distill out.

Guest's picture
MtnCity

Brian- from what you have described, you are ONLY fermenting the sugar you added. Since you only used 4 lbs....I'd double that, at least. The sugar needs to be in solution for the yeast to be able to effectively eat it.

The Corn- Corn contains starches. In order for corn (or any grain) to be useful in eth. production, first it must be cracked to allow the starches to get out. Next, it must be boiled for about an hour, to release the starches. THEN (very important) the starch must be converted to sugar so that the yeast can eat it. This happens naturally if the corn was malted (probably not). Otherwise, malt or enzymes needed to be added to the mixture in order for the corn starch to turn to sugar, thus be useful in ethanol production. If not......the corn ends up being just flavoring (which is just fine). You've no doubt heard of "single malt scotch". Well, that's whisky made from a single MALTED grain. Look up "malt" to learn specifically what's going on.

You could add another 6-8 lbs of sugar (dissolved in warm water) to the mixture and let it go until the bubbling more or less stops. Then it's ready. You'll have made eth. from just the sugar. It will smell a little like corn bread though.

Guest's picture
Brian

Zorcy,

Thank you for the reply. I have read so much in the past two weeks on this subject my brain is turning to mush. I read so many different ways that I am not sure if my first batch is any good. Here is what I have:
2 1/2 lbs corn meal
4 lbs sugar
2 packs reagular yeast
2 1/2 gallons distilled water
fermented 8 days stopped bubbleing
sp around .94ish
had a dry wine type taste

ran through pot still low and slow - took over 1 1/2 hours to reach temp
did not get anything out of worm until 195.4
through out first 100 ml
kept everything until around 198.8 - nice blue flame - Hydrometer read 74%
Kept everything seperate after 198.8 - 200.4 - 201.9 until 211
Had clear liquide and clear blue flame until 207 - started getting cloudy around 207
Am I anywere close to being on tract?
About what temp should I cut for tails?

Sorry for the long post but this is my first run and your the only one that I have found to help me. Thanks again

Guest's picture
ZORCY

Brian,
The temps seem a little high. Are you as some odd elevation that would effect it? Going very slow could have some effect on it, but not that much. Your cuts are pretty close. Since the temps are so far off, go by times the temps hold. If you watch close, you will see it start to produce, then take a small jump up, that is the first cut for methanol. The next temp will hold for most of the run, ethanol. When the temp starts to fluctuate, you are getting the tails. When it jumps high and holds, then you are mostly water. Sounds like you are spot on for the product, just the temps seem odd.

Guest's picture
Brian

MTNCITY

Thank you for the help, that would explain why I got nothing at 173 and got so little yeild out of the batch. As far as boiling the corn, is that the case even though I used corn meal?

After diluting it to 40% it now smells and taste just like tequila, I bought some activated carbon and put two table spoons in a large mason jar full of my drink. My plan is to let this soak for a week, filter it and then add my American Oak to it for one month. I am not sure how it will turn out but we will see. Thanks again for the help!

Guest's picture
Brian

I am in SE Texas, not far from sea level I am sure. MTNCITY brought up a good point, if all I did was ferment the sugar would that matter? I used corn meal but not sure, I have read on the net of similar temps but not sure waht is correct being this is my first run.

What temp do you stop taking for your drinking? I know your suppose to go by taste but I am not to that pont yet. I still have alot of stuff that I think are the tails - cut at 204 and another one at 207 but thery were still crystal clear, even the 207 burned very clear and blue. At this poinit I will add it to the batch I run this weekend unless other wise told.

My run did not start getting milky until 210-211, there was a big diff in the color and smell from 207 to 211. Thanks again guys, your vast knowledge helps the rookies alot!

Brian

Guest's picture
MtnCity

Brian- not sure, but I'd guess you should (boil the meal). But, even still, you only have corn starch....not corn sugar. So, enzymes or acid is needed. This is the downside of making a "grain run". It starts to get a little complex, and may not make a lot of sense, financially (and that's the point here), to do a small run. If one is going for pure value....and that's the idea, water/sugar/yeast is probably the way to go. You can still age in oak if you really must. Otherwise, it's a mixer. Move to grains for fun if you get bored.

have fun!

Guest's picture
Brian

MTNCITY

I bought 32oz of liquid malt when I first started from my local brew shop but was unsure on what kind of recipe to use it in, can you point me in the right direction for a recipe? Can I just add this to a sugar only recipe as you said above for flavor?

Brian

Guest's picture
ZORCY

Brian
If you add just about anything to the mash, it changes the flavour. The malt is used to break the starches into sugar. If you are already using just sugar, it is just an added cost. Save it for corn meal recipes. Polenta, or grits, are real cheap. Don't forget to give extra nutrients to your yeast. Powdered baby cereal, like rice or oats, has all you need. Even a cup of the mix per 5 gallons will help it along. It can bubble pretty hard, so be careful. There are calculators on the net for sugar-startch conversion, also sugar to alcohol. Try to keep it to a lower % during fermentation, so as not to effect the taste. 14% it starting to hit your limit on taste changes. I found 3-5 passes thru a Britta filter will smooth out the taste. It makes for nice vodka.

Guest's picture
Brian

2ND Major screw up

I only ended up with about 1 full mason jar of good diluted 40%, I read were I can put a few spoon fulls of activated carbon in it, shake it about once a day and filter out in around a week.

Well I did EXCEPT I did not wash/boil/clean my carbon, so when I added it I assume all the dust turned it a cloudy gray. It was crystal clear 149% before I added my distilled water to it, it then turned a milky color after dilution.

I tried several runs through 2 coffee filters and it helped a little bit but nothing like I thought I would get.

My question is:

Can I or Should I put the whole jar back (filtered) in with my batch that I will distill this Sat. and run it again? Is there a way to clean it up without rerunning it?

Thanks in advance

Brian

Guest's picture
ZORCY

Brian
Was this a sugar wash or corn? You could have oil that came through. You could try freezing it, then filtering while still cold. It will separate. I run mine through a used Brita filter about 4 times. How big of a batch did you make for only one jar?
You can always put it in the next run. You could also add about a gallon of distilled water and run it through again on its own. Then you could say you have your own double distilled vodka!