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March 29, 2013

How to Make "Moonshine": Part 1 - The Mash

Before we get started, a little reminder: this info is for education only. Don't try it at home. Distilling alcohol is illegal unless you have a fuel alcohol or a distilled spirit plant permit.

How to Make Moonshine Mash

how to make moonshine

Here are three easy ways to make moonshine mash. The first two methods are based on traditional corn whiskey recipes. The third method is a cheap and easy (and a good starting point for folks new to distilling), but isn’t recommended for someone serious about making a high quality product.

Keep in mind that crafting moonshine combines both science and art. Don't forget about the technical details, but don't let them bog you down either. It should be fun, so don't forget to sip on something good while you're mashing. We recommend starting with the 3rd recipe listed here (sugar shine) and then moving on to the more complicated, higher quality recipes. Also, if you plan on making a quality mash, make sure you're distilling it in a high quality copper still.

corn whiskey

1- Corn Whiskey

Early American farmers found that the same amount of corn sold for a few dollars at market could easily yield a few hundred dollars after it was mashed, fermented and distilled.  Corn also yields more sugar than other grain crops.  Thus, mashing corn and turning it into alcohol became the standard method of alcohol production on the early American frontier, and “corn whiskey” was born.

At Clawhammer Supply we’re sort of picky when it comes to moonshine and believe that pure all grain whiskey is the way to go when whipping up a batch of homemade hooch.  We also prefer corn whiskey because it's naturally sweet, it’s smooth, and it’s tradition.  Here’s a simple way to make a corn whiskey mash with some additional options for the advanced distiller:

Moonshine Still Kit


5 gallons of water

8.5 pounds of flaked maize

1.5 pounds of crushed malted barley


Heat 5 gallons of mash water up to 165F.  Turn off heat when target temperature is reached and stir in the 8.5 pounds of corn.  Stir the mash continuously for about 5 minutes then stir for a few seconds every five minutes until the temperature drops to 152F.  Once the target temp is met, stir in the malted barley.  Cover and leave it be for about  90 minutes, uncovering only to stir every 15 minutes or so.  At this point all of the starches should be converted into sugar.  Leave it sit for a few hours or use an immersion chiller to cool the mash.  At 70 degrees add yeast, aerate (by dumping back and forth between two containers) ,cap, and add an air lock. In a week or two fermentation will be complete. Leave it settle for another week and you’ll be ready to distill. Siphon into still. Do not pour. Make sure to leave yeast and other sediment behind. Also, never fill the vapor cone of your still with liquid.

crushed malted barleyAdvanced distillers should consider adding 2tsp of gypsum (CaSO4) to the mash water and adjusting the pH of mash water to somewhere between 5.8 and 6.0 before adding any ingredients.  After adding gypsum, add citric or tartaric acid to adjust the pH of the mash water downward.  If the pH needs adjusted upward, add calcium carbonate (CaCO3). 

A second trick for advanced distillers is using tincture of iodine to determine if all starches have been completely converted into sugar.   Drip a few  drops of the clear yellow liquid (not the solids) from the top of the mash (after the 90 minute rest) onto a white plate.  Drip a drop or two of the tincture of iodine on the sample on plate.  If it turns blue, there is still starch in the mixture.  Rest it longer.  Discard the sample.

2- Thin Mash Whiskey

Cooking a thin mash is an easy way to double the quantity of mash while retaining some of the natural grain flavor of corn whiskey.  It's made by starting with an actual mash, such as the one above, and then adding water and granular sugar to increase the quantity of wash.


10 gallons of water (5 gal to start then 5 more)

8.5 pounds of flaked maize

1.5 pounds of crushed malted barley

6-8 pounds of sugar


Creating a thin mash is accomplished in two steps.  First, cook the standard corn whiskey mash described above.  However, after the final rest period, add 5 gallons of cold water and 6-8 pounds of sugar.  Once the mash temperature has dropped to 96 degrees, it  is ready for aeration, yeast and fermentation, as described in the Corn Whiskey recipe above.

Advanced distillers should shoot for a specific gravity of about 1.08.  Dilute with water if high.

3- Sugar Shine

sugar shine

Real corn whiskey is rather uncommon these days. More often than not, modern moonshine is nothing more than straight sugar with a bit of flavoring. Although it isn’t as smooth as corn whiskey, what it lacks in flavor and smoothness is made up by convenience. Also, some people don't care about corn flavor...they'd rather have apple pie, peaches, or other fruit flavors. This recipe works just fine for that stuff. Here’s how a sugar shine wash is made:


5 gallons water

8 pounds of white sugar


Heat 2 gallons of water (to no more than 120 degrees) and add sugar a few pounds at a time.  Stir until dissolved and add more sugar.  Keep adding sugar until all sugar has been added / dissolved. Dump this mixture into a fermenter and add 3 more gallons of water.  Shoot for a final temperature of 96 degrees an adjust heat of additional water accordingly. Add yeast once final liquid temp is 70 degrees. Aerate by dumping back and forth between two buckets a few times. Shoot for a constant fermentation temperature of 70 degrees for the shortest fermentation time and highest alcohol yield.  If your house / garage / basement / wherever / isn't this warm, wrap your fermenter in a blanket and use a heating pad if necessary. Leave it sit for a week to ferment and another week to settle.  Siphon into still, being careful to not overfill (the vapor cone should not contain any liquid).

A Brief History of Moonshine:

The depression, prohibition, and limited access to the mountainous region of Appalachia gave rise to an almost forgotten yet legendary beverage called moonshine.   “Moonshine” is a generic term for homemade whiskey.  The term was coined due to the fact that early “bootleggers” often made their whiskey in the middle of the night, under the light of a full moon – out of sight of neighbors and the law.  There is no standard recipe for moonshine;  it can be made from any combination of grains in any type of still.  However, moonshine made in the mountains of Appalachia was traditionally un-aged corn whiskey and was made in copper pot stills.

copper moonshine still kits

  • How much yeast do you use for the corn whiskey? And what kind?

    Posted by FRank on May 16, 2016
  • if you dont use amylase enzyme you arent going to get conversion out of unmalted grains.

    Posted by anonymous on May 15, 2016
  • Do I need a steel to due this or can I just make it . is there any I can make that take a shorter time if so how I just want to make for personal use like about a few gallons a week. Thanks

    Posted by Thomas on April 17, 2016
  • What kind of yeast and how much per gallon or per 5 gallons do you add?

    Posted by BUtcherofv on April 09, 2016
  • this post is for Tim hangge. The alcohol content of the mash will determine the yield. Example would be a 10 gallons mash @ 10% alcohol, In theory should yield 1 gallon of spirits.
    In reality it would be more like 3/4 gallon of 150 to 190 proof if yer conservative and dont cut it.
    I cut final product down to 100 proof and generally would get about 2 gallons of smooth drinkable hooch. I dont like drinking 150 to 170 proof rocket fuel.

    Posted by drunkin distiller on March 18, 2016
  • hello can you tell me if you ship to the uk.

    Posted by Chris Greville on February 29, 2016
  • I’m new so forgive the basic question. But, you never see yield associated with a recipe. Although I know there are many variables, can a rough yield be offered so I know I am close. For example, how much would your recipe for “Corn Whiskey” yield in hearts (5 gal water, 8.5 lbs. maize, 1.5 lbs. barley)?

    Posted by Tim hangge on February 19, 2016
  • A couple of moonshiners up in the mountains of N.C. said you should never let your flame directly hit your copper still. I believe they said something like a cast iron pan full of sand should be between them for flavor reasons. Does anyone do this, and what do you use?
    Posted by Kelly on February 16, 2016
  • Could you heat your water in one pot and pour it onto your corn or barley or rye?

    Posted by jack on January 31, 2016
  • I am trying new yeasts because I am not crazy about the taste of my turbo yeast. I was thinking about trying Fleischmann’s active dry yeast. I am also thinking about changing my fermentation method from 2-5 gal buckets to one bigger container to see if that helps.

    Posted by Scott on January 14, 2016
  • Can you go to jail for owning a moonshine still

    Posted by Wayne a bolton Jr on December 13, 2015
  • how much yeast do you add to the corn whiskey mash? and what type of yeast?

    Posted by Dean on December 08, 2015
  • Love reading all the information, recipes and tips.only wish more commenters would answer some of the questions. Been many years since I knew any old time recipes, and this forum brings back old interest.Looking forward to drop back more often, Thanks

    Posted by Walt on November 25, 2015
  • I saw one recipe that called for 1 cup of champagne yeast for 10lbs of corn. That seems like a lot to me, but hope that helps.

    Posted by Chuckwagon on November 09, 2015
  • where can I get the answers to the reader’s questions ?

    Posted by TERRY on September 17, 2015
  • Hello all of my fellow home cooks, after reading the posts here I’m going to give you all a simple corn mash recipe that was handed down to me from my elders. Get yourself a plastic 55 gallon drum and cut the top off. Add 30 gallons of water. Then add 30 lbs of sugar. Buy a bag of some corn feed at a feed store and add 3 gallons of it. Then add a 3 pack of active dry yeast that you buy at the grocery store. Stir it up and wait till it stops bubbling. Works in about a week during the hot late summer months. Doesn’t work well at all in cold weather. Cook and enjoy. You can also reuse after cooking. Just add the corn, sugar, and yeast again after you pour the cooked back into the barrel. I can do this up to four times. Enjoy,

    Posted by DIesel on September 15, 2015
  • I can tell you that the 5 gallon reflux set up works great! To answer a few Q’s, you can use 2 or more regular fast rising yeast packets for sugar shine. You’ll sacrifice flavor making sugar shine but it’s a good place to learn how to run you’re particular set up. It’s not uncommon for the mash to take two or more weeks to mature. Keeping the mash above 70 degrees helps it to mature faster. When using corn and other grains you don’t have to use yeast because it’s naturally occurring in the air. Aerating the new mash is necessary in the beginning to help the newly growing yeast develop, after a day or two it can be capped to help prevent molds from growing. Too high of a Co2 content can kill yeast in the beginning as too high of an alcohol content can kill yeast as the mash develops. Hope this helps.

    Posted by White Lightning on September 01, 2015
  • Am i not reading this right, but i cant see anywhere, how much yeast i’m supposed to use?

    Posted by bragladish on August 15, 2015
  • Fermementing mash does not smell like wine fermementing. Got the 5 gallon kit and love it! Goes together easy and work freaking great. You can say what you want but by the time you buy the copper and try to build one from scratch and figure in your scrap your money ahead just to buy a clawhammer supply kit…go hogs. Woo pig sooie!

    Posted by D W on August 13, 2015
  • Under where it says “leave a comment” is the disclaimer:

    “…We don’t answer questions about recipes, procedures, etc. However, feel free to leave a comment or respond to comments made by others!”

    please stop complaining about them not answering questions.

    Posted by J on July 13, 2015

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