The term ‘moonshine” is not well understood and often misused when referring to homemade alcohol, or bad-quality alcohol.
Some people call any homemade spirit ‘moonshine’
Others, refer to white whiskey as moonshine.
Is it moonshine if it’s bad?
Is it moonshine if it’s made illegally??
In this article, we’re going to look into exactly what moonshine is, how it originated, and how you can make it at home.
Table of Contents
What is Moonshine?
Moonshine is a slang term that traditionally refers to alcoholic spirits that are illegally made. Today, however, many people use the term Moonshine to describe any homemade or amateur alcohol. The legitimate distiller can often be found utilizing this in their marketing and selling beverages that are advertised as ‘moonshine’ to attract customers, however, it’s important to understand that this is never actually moonshine.
The History of Moonshine
Even though many often linked Moonshine to the Prohibition Era, it has actually existed much before that. The term is undoubtedly British, and Moonshine was initially recorded in 1785 to refer to strong alcohol. Initially, the name Moonshine was used to describe the illegal alcohol that was made during nighttime under the light of the moon to avoid being detected by the authorities.
Moonshine is actually a homemade drink in the past, and the farmers in the Appalachian Mountains would utilize their still to produce their own Moonshine, and they would usually store it in a mason jar. As time passed, they concluded that they could manufacture in larger quantities so that they can add an extra source of income for themselves.
The term is still commonly used in the USA, a country where all distilling of spirits is illegal at a federal level.
What is Moonshine Made From?
Moonshine is usually made from either fruits or grains. People would traditionally use any types of fruit or grains that can be easily accessed in a particular place and time. However, most of the Moonshine that we have today would usually use corn as an easily available source of fermentable sugar.
Is Moonshine Illegal?
In the USA, the process of producing Moonshine (or any type of spirits) without obtaining any license from the authorities is strictly prohibited and illegal.
Therefore, it’s highly recommended that you get a license right before you start making ‘moonshining’. The penalty for producing distilled alcohol without obtaining any license is quite harsh as you could be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for up to five years or both.
Some other countries are a lot more lenient, like New Zealand where distilling is completely legal for home consumption.
Read our full write-up here on whether distilling is legal in your country.
Is Moonshine Safe? Can Moonshine Kill You?
That depends on how it is produced and consumed.
If the wrong processes are followed, compounds like methanol and acetone can be collected in dangerous quantities. Consuming these chemicals can cause death, blindness, or at best a killer hangover.
The good news is that if you learn the right process, and follow some simple safety precautions, you can easily make better quality, better-tasting spirits than what you can buy in-store!
Read our full article on the dangers of distilling here.
Is It Dangerous to Make Your Own Moonshine?
Moonshine made by illegal means continues to be dangerous as it is usually made by using makeshift still.
In addition, the process of distilling it produces a type of alcohol vapor that is extremely flammable. So, yes, it is dangerous to make your own Moonshine, but it’s always possible to make your own Moonshine safely provided that you obey all of the safety precautions stated in this guide.
How Do You Make Traditional Moonshine At Home?
In this guide we’re going to take you through how to make a traditional moonshine at home. As we’ve discussed above, moonshine technically is any distilled alcohol, such as brandy, tequila, vodka, but for this recipe, we’re going to make a basic corn whiskey – as was typical for moonshiners in the USA around the prohibition era.
Before buying anything, the first thing to do is make sure that you’re authorized to distill alcohol. Assuming that you’ve done that, the next thing that you need to do is to buy the items listed down below.
- Pot still
- Heat source (wood fire, electric or gas stove)
- Cooking thermometer
- Fermentation bucket
- Mason jars
- A larger pot
- cheese cloth or brew-in-a-bag bag
- Few gallons of cold water (ideally running tap water) to cool the vapor
- 8.5 lbs of flaked corn
- 5 gallons of water
- 1.5 lbs of crushed malted barley
Step 1: Mash Preparation and Fermentation
Firstly, heat up 5 gallons of water, and you may only turn off the heat once the temperature of the water has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit (or 74 degrees Celcius). This is our strike temperature, slightly higher tan we want our mash to be, to account for the heat loss when we add the grist.
Insert your cheesecloth or brew bag into the pot. tie or clip around the edges so it cant fall in.
After that, you may proceed by adding the whole volume of corn to the heated water. Then, be sure to stir the mixture continuously for approximately five minutes.
This needs to be done until the mixture has cooled down to 152 degrees Fahrenheit (or 67 degrees Celcius). Next, pour the malted barley into the pot and stir to mix.
Cover the container with a lid and leave it for 1 hour and 30 minutes, and please keep in mind that you should stir the mixture once every 15 minutes or so to keep the temperature even in the pot. Cover the container once you’ve done stirring the mixture. This is done to convert all of the starches inside the mixture into sugar.
Once the 1 hour and 30 minutes mark have passed, extract the grists from the wort by pulling out the brew bag. Squeeze or hang to let the remaining liquid drain and then discard the spent grain. Pour the wort into your clean and sterilized fermenter bucket.
Now our objective is to get the mixture to cool down to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celcius). You can do this by leaving it out overnight, putting it in the fridge, or best, use a heat exchange chiller like this one to drop the temperature quickly.
Once cooled, sprinkle the yeast on the whole surface of the concoction. Not sure what yeast to use? We’ve written a guide here on the best whiskey yeasts for your budget. We’re going to use a simple and cheap sachet of Safale US-05 for this one.
Measure the starting gravity (S.G.) using a hydrometer. We’ll use this number later to work out the total alcohol content of our wash.
Make sure that every surface is covered with yeast. Then, pour the mixture back and forth between two containers until there’s enough aeration in the mix. After that, cover the container with an airtight seal. By now, the mixture is ready for fermentation. Leave it for at least 2 to 3 weeks to make sure that the fermentation process is complete.
Aim to keep the temperature of your fermenter within the specification of the yeast. We’re going to try hold it around 21 degrees using an aquarium heater.
Step 2: Setting Up Your Still and Initiate the Distilling Process
Regardless of whether you choose to use a new or used still, cleaning your still is a must. Cleaning your still may help you to prevent any kinds of unwanted dust particles and dirt from mixing together with the Moonshine that you’ve spent so much time on making. After you’ve done setting up your still, the time has now come for you to start the distillation process.
If you haven’t already, check out our full guide here on how to clean your still.
We’re going to use the T500 turbo still from still spirits for this experiment, and use the alembic copper pot still head. We’ve got a full review here on the T500 if you want to know if it’s a good option for you!
To proceed, carefully rack the wash off the yeast trub at the bottom of the fermenter and into the boiler of your still. Turn the heat on to maximum in your boiler to allow it to heat up fast. Turn on the water flow into the condenser with just a trickle of water for now.
Keep an eye on the temperature and start paying careful attention once you’ve hit 80degrees. As soon as the temperature of the still hits 190 degrees Fahrenheit (87 degrees Celcius) you should be able to see the early drips of alcohol from your still.
Observe your drips, and if you notice that there are 3 to 5 drips per second, then that means that you need to lower the heat level of your still. By now, it’s important that you keep the temperature of your still at a moderate level. Then, prepare your mason jars to collect the distillate.
We’re going to run the still nice and slow to start with to take off the foreshots, and then ramp it up once we’re into the good stuff.
Step 3: Distillate Collection
The final process is the most important one as you will need to understand and identify which part of Moonshine is safe and which one is harmful. So first thing first, remove the first 5% of the Moonshine (also known as the foreshot) that dripped from your still. The reason being is that this part of Moonshine contains large amounts of acetone and methanol which may cause blindness and death; hence it should be removed right away.
You’ll be able to notice a strong smell of nail polish removed in this.
For every 5 gallons that you’re distilling, it’s highly recommended for you to collect and remove foreshots of at least 4 ounces. Once you’ve taken out the foreshots, now it’s time for the heads.
This part is roughly the next 30% of the Moonshine that you will collect from your still. The heads will also have some methanol in them, but the methanol should be in a lower volume this time and slowly taper off as we get into the heats
It’s best for you not to consume the heads as well, as it may leave you feeling sick the next day. The next 30% of the drips is the product that you’ve been waiting for. It’s referred to by many as the hearts. The sweet smell of the Moonshine will give you an indication that you’re in the exact stage to collect the drips that are safe for human consumption.
The last part of the Moonshine is called the tails, which should not be consumed but should be set aside for future distillation instead.
We like to collect all the product that comes off the still in sequentially numbered mason jars. We leave the contents to air out for a few hours, before making our cuts.
Not sure how to make cuts? Read this guide and we’ll take you through it!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Percentage Alcohol is Moonshine?
Moonshine will usually come off the still at around 60-70% ABV, and could be as high as 80% if performing multiple distillations. The distiller will then dilute it back down to around 40% which is a safe drinking percentage. If th
Are Everclear and Moonshine the Same Thing?
Moonshine and Everclear are both known as unaged spirits; however, the difference between these two is that Moonshine is made from corn while Everclear is made from grain. Everclear is meant to be neutral-tasting grain alcohol, while Moonshine is made to be an unaged, rough beverage. Hence, they’re not exactly the same thing.
How Long Does It Take to Make Moonshine?
It takes around two weeks for the fermentation process to complete, although some preferred to extend it to three weeks to ensure that the process is 100% complete. It then takes a day or two to distill, depending on if you chose to distill one or multiple times. Hence, the maximum amount of time from start to finish to make Moonshine is approximately three weeks.
Moonshine was once named for performing an illegal process in the dead of night so as not to be caught by authorities.
We’re shown you how to make your own moonshine, which is a corn-based whiskey, and typical of a lot of the spirits distilled back in yesteryear.
Be careful. Follow the safety procedures outlined in this article. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby just to be safe. Apart from that, you should also wear high-quality protective gear such as safety gloves and safety glasses. These safety measures should be respected at all times for the sake of your own safety.