How to Make Moonshine: A Distillers Guide
In this post, we are going to walk you through how to make your own moonshine from mixing your corn mash recipe through jarring. All of the supplies you’ll need can be found in our shop. Learning to make moonshine is both art and science. The best skill to focus on from the beginning is attention to detail. Let’s jump in.
Getting Started: Picking Your Type of Moonshine Mash
There are several types of mash we can choose from when getting ready to produce a batch of moonshine. For the purists, a corn whiskey mash is the route to a true-to-history, smooth, full-flavor moonshine. Clever corn farmers caught on to the fact that they could distill their own crop to increase profits. This realization led to the creation of our beloved hooch.
Next, is the “Sugar Shine” approach that is gaining in popularity, especially amongst beginners. By eliminating the corn flavor tones, creative distillers can create anything from apple pie to chocolate flavored moonshine. This has led to the rise of flavored moonshine that is becoming increasingly popular.
Finally, there is the hybrid approach where we augment our corn mash with added sugar. This can double your production of mash with the same amount of corn. A hybrid mash tends to be more convenient and economical while still achieving more traditional flavor profiles.
For this guide, we’ll walk you through the traditional Corn Whiskey Mash. However, feel free to use one of the other methods using guides you find elsewhere in its place. For a guide on making potato mash vodka, check out our article on how to make vodka.
How to Make Moonshine: Corn Mash Recipe
Base Moonshine Ingredients and Materials:
- 5 Gallons of Water
- 8.5 Pounds of Flaked Corn Maize
- 1.5 Pounds of Crushed Malted Barley
- Mash Pot
- Fermentation Bucket
- Heat Source
- Long Spoon
- Place your mash pot on its heat source and pour in 5 gallons of water.
- Heat water to 165 °F.
- Turn off heat source when you reach 165 °F and immediately stir in 8.5 pounds of Flaked Corn Maize.
- Stir mixture continuously for 7 minutes.
- Check temperature and stir mixture for 30 seconds every 5 minutes until the temperature cools to 152 °F.
- When the mixture has cooled to 152 °F, stir in 1.5 pounds of Crushed Malted Barley.
- Check temperature and stir for 30 seconds every 20 minutes until the mixture has cooled to 70 °F. This process takes several hours on its own, but can be sped up significantly with the use of an immersion cooler.
- When the mixture has cooled to 70 °F, add yeast.
- Aerate the mixture by dumping it back and forth between two separate containers for 5 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into your fermentation bucket. We carry complete kits for these as well as the materials to produce your own. It is important to have the bucket, cap, and air-lock. A spigot also makes for easier pouring.
Fermenting Your Mash
Store the mash to ferment for 1-2 weeks. For best results, use one of the methods below to ensure full fermentation.
Quick Check: After 1 week of fermentation, take some liquid (no solids) from the top of the mash. Put the liquid on a white plate or lid. Drip several drops of iodine into the liquid. If the liquid turns blue, this is because the iodine has reacted with starches still in the mash. This indicates that fermentation is not complete. Repeat this process every few days until fermentation is complete (no blue liquid). Note: Discard your sample. Do not add it back into your mash!
Siphon mash water out of the mixture, taking care to leave behind all solid material and sediment, and into a container to adjust pH. Straining your mash water through a cheesecloth is recommended at this step. Leaving solid material in your mash water can cause headaches you’d rather avoid.
(Advanced) Some distillers will add 2tsp of gypsum to their mash water at this point. They then test the pH of their mash water. The ideal pH is 5.8 to 6.0. Use citric acid to bring the pH down and calcium carbonate to bring it up.
Great job! You’ve completed the heavy lifting of producing mash water for your moonshine! Now it’s time to distill and separate all of that alcohol content into a purified form. Like making mash, distilling is as much an art as it is a science. The best way to become a good distiller is to practice. We recommend taking notes throughout the process so you can become better with each run. If you’re in need of equipment or supplies we’ve got you covered. We carry everything from the traditional copper still, to stainless reflux units, to the new Grainfather Brewing System. We also carry quality supplies from high quality grains to a replacement carbon filter.
Prepping Your Still
Keeping up on prep-work for your still is mission critical. Even if you cleaned your still after your last run and let it sit for a while, it is still recommended to clean it before transferring your mash water. This is especially the case on copper stills that are showing a salt buildup.
If you add packing to your column, this is the time. Pack your column with the amount of copper packing that is appropriate for your setup.
If your setup has a condenser, hook up your water input and output.
Finally, it’s time to add your mash water to the still. Again, you can use a cheesecloth or auto-siphon to transfer the mash water into your still without including solid material. The name of the game here is reducing the sediment in your mash water to as close to zero as possible.
Running Your Still
Now for the fun part! Distillation is an incredible process. If you’re not familiar with the science, here’s the quick and dirty. Distillation is the process of separating different chemicals by taking advantage of different evaporation temperatures between the chemicals. This process is not creating alcohol, it is separating it from all of the other substances in your mash water. You created all of the alcohol during fermentation (well, the yeast did).
Slowly bring your temperature up to 150 °F. Once you reach 150 °F, if your setup has a condenser turn on the condensing water.
Next, dial up your heat source to high until your still starts producing. Time your drips as they speed up until you reach 3 to 5 drips per second. Once you reach this rate, dial down your heat to maintain it (usually the “medium” setting).
Collecting Your Distillate
Congratulations, you went from researching How to Make Moonshine to making your own moonshine! As you’re producing your distillate, make sure you are dripping into a glass container. Never use plastic containers as this can lace your product with BPA among causing other issues.
The first approximately 5% of your production will be the foreshots. These contain the earliest-evaporating alcohols in your mash water and should never be ingested. Foreshots can contain methanol and should never ever be consumed. Methanol can make you blind among causing other problems. Collect the foreshots in their own container and throw them out.
The next approximately 30% of your production are considered the heads. The heads also contain volatile alcohols like the foreshots. However, rather than causing blindness, the effects are less extreme – like one hell of a hangover. The heads will have a distinct “solvent” smell from alcohols like acetone that are present. Like the foreshots, collect your heads in their own containers and throw them out.
This is the good stuff, mostly ethanol. The hearts make up the next approximately 30% of your production. At this point you should start losing the harsh, solvent smell present during the heads. The flavor of corn mash moonshine should now be smooth and sweet. This is the stage where skill and experience come most into play. Isolating your hearts well, while maximizing production of them is a bit of an art. Using science and senses, a good distiller will “shine” at this stage.
As you reach the end of the ethanol and move into the final stage of your production you hit the tails. The tails will be approximately the last 35% of your production. The tails will taste very different from the hearts. You’ll notice a steep drop in sweetness, and even begin to see an oily top-layer on your product. The product will begin to feel slippery between your fingers. This is due to water, carbohydrates, and proteins present. You can set your tails aside for later distillation or toss them.
You made it, well done. We hope you made a knockout batch. Now all that is left is to thoroughly clean your entire setup. Allow to dry thoroughly and store in a cool, dry place.
When learning how to make moonshine, you are playing the part of both scientist and artist. This is a delicate dance that can take years to really cultivate. We recommend always keeping detailed notes on your moonshine production. Then, upon review, you can identify opportunities to improve in the future.
Thanks for visiting Mile Hi Distilling and don’t forget to check out our shop should you need any supplies or moonshine ingredients. You have now successfully learned how to make moonshine with a corn mash recipe!