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Moonshine is a strong liquor often made or sold illegally. You can make it from any fermentable base you want, which makes the legal definition of “moonshine” quite vague. The loose guidelines also allow liquor producers to label their more potent products as “moonshine,” even though the drinks are entirely legal.
Some drink moonshine by itself, others like to use it as a heavy base for mixed drinks. However you like to drink it, the production process is the same.
A Brief History of Moonshining
The term “moonshine” first originated in late 15th-century England as slang for hard liquor, and it made its way into colonial America in the 18th century. Pennsylvania farms with grain mills distilled their extra crops into liquor for extra profit, but that didn’t sit well with the newly installed United States government.
In 1791, the government instituted a hefty whiskey tax on all liquors produced in the country, which led people to make and distribute their liquor secretly. A small-scale yet violent conflict known as the Whiskey Rebellion ensued in 1794, and the government repealed the tax in 1801.
Although the dispute ended, the illegal means of production still linger in the Appalachian mountain region. The prohibition in the 1920s revitalized the moonshining business and also popularized the bootlegging profession. Moonshiners made the liquor, and bootleggers used cars to smuggle it. As long as there’s a demand, they will continue to supply it from the backwoods of Appalachia.
How to Make Moonshine Legally
Before you make your first bottle, you must have a plan to stay within the confines of the law. You can make moonshine by taking two paths:
- Register as a business and acquire the right permits online.
- Build a still on your property and only use it to distill water (nudge nudge, wink wink).
Guide to Making Moonshine
Once you buy/build your still, you can acquire the tools:
- Heat source (electric, gas, wood fire, etc.)
- Running water
- Two fermentation pots
- Collecting vessels (mason jars work the best)
- Cooking thermometer
Then, get the ingredients. For this tutorial, we’re going to focus on the most popular type of moonshine, corn whiskey. Here’s what you need:
- 5 gallons of water
- 8.5 pounds of cracked/flaked corn
- 1.5 pounds of malted barley
- Bread yeast
- Sugar (optional)
Ferment the Mash
With the still, tools and ingredients, you can finally get to work. For clarity’s sake, we split up the process into three sections: fermenting, distilling and collecting.
- Fill one of your fermentation pot with five gallons of water.
- Heat the water up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add the corn to the water and stir for five minutes OR until the water cools to 152 degrees.
- Once you hit 152 degrees, add the barley and cover the mash with a lid.
- Let the mash sit for 90 minutes, and give it a good stir every 15 minutes. This process will convert the corn starch into sugar.
- After 90 minutes, stir the mash one last time.
- Let the mash sit and cool down to 70 degrees. This should take about 2 to 3 hours.
- Once the mash gets to 70 degrees, sprinkle the entire surface with the yeast.
- Aerate the mix by pouring it back and forth between the two fermentation pots until the mix looks consistent.
- Place an airtight lid on the pot and let it ferment.
Fermentation takes place when microorganisms, mainly bacteria, convert sugar into alcohol. Check on the mash after the two weeks. If it appears foamy and wispy, then the fermentation is complete. If not, reseal the lid and check again after another week.
Distill the Mash
Once the fermentation has finished, you can filter out chunks of the mash by pouring it through a strainer or cheesecloth. You want the mash to be thick and foamy, but not chunky.
- Thoroughly clean the still before starting.
- Pour the mash into the still.
- Turn the still’s heat up to 150 degrees, then turn on the water.
- Let the water run until you see alcohol begin to drip from the still. You should see the first drops at around 190 degrees.
- Put your first collecting vessel in place to catch the alcohol.
- Keep the alcohol flow at a steady pace of one to three drops per second. You’ll have to constantly adjust the heat intensity.
Collect the Alcohol
We’ve arrived at the most satisfying step: collecting the alcohol. If you’ve gotten this far, the hardest part is over. Now you just have to make sure the alcohol you produced is safe to drink.
- Discard the foreshot, or the first five percent of alcohol that dripped from the still. It contains high levels of methanol, which can cause blindness and even death. For a five-gallon mash, the foreshot will be at least four ounces.
- It’s also wise to discard the heads, or the next 30% that drops out from the still. Though not as dangerous as the foreshot, it still has lingering side effects like nausea and smells exactly like nail polish remover.
- The middle portion, the hearts, is the alcohol you want. You can tell when it starts to drip from the still by a pungent sweet odor.
- The last portion of moonshine that runs through the still is the tails. It has a greasy texture and tastes bad, but still drinkable in small doses. You can also keep the tails for future distilling.
- As each part of the moonshine drips out, you will notice the change based on smell and texture. Replace your collecting vessels with each change to prevent the parts from intermingling.
Transfer the hearts into one bottle, and set aside the tails for future distilling. Congratulations! You’ve successfully created your own moonshine!
Moonshining might be an American pastime, but it’s still illegal in most cases. If you really want to know how to make moonshine without getting the necessary permits, understand that you could face fines and jail time. With that in mind, get to work!
Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.