This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info.
Before we get started, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.
There are three distinct ways that a commercial distiller would likely make a 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 new commercial distillers), but isn’t recommended for someone serious about making a high quality product.
Keep in mind that crafting moonshine combines both science and art. A novice commercial distiller or a distillery that focuses on making fast, cheap booze for the purpose of flavoring would start with the 3rd recipe listed here (sugar shine). A distillery more focused on higher quality spirits with more complex characteristics would likely chose to use the all-grain "corn whiskey recipe. A middle point would be the "thin mash" recipe.
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.
A commercial distiller making a high quality finished product would believe that pure, all grain whiskey is the way to go when making a craft spirit. Corn whiskey is preferred because it's naturally sweet, it’s smooth, and it’s tradition. Here’s a simple way they would use to make a corn whiskey mash with some additional options for the advanced distiller:
- 5 gallons of water
- 8.5 pounds of flaked maize
- 1.5 pounds of crushed malted barley
- Yeast - Read this article to learn about how much yeast a commercial distiller would use
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 to 70 degrees. 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 it will be ready to distill. Siphon into still. Make sure to leave yeast and other sediment behind.
Tips for Advanced Distillers
Advanced 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 onto 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
- 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 and 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 the distilling environment isn't this warm, wrap the fermenter in a blanket and use a heating pad if necessary. Leave it sit for a week to ferment and another week to settle. Then, siphon into a still, being careful to not overfill (the vapor cone should not contain any liquid).
Is Making Moonshine Legal:
Remember, this info is for education only. Making a mash is legal because it's essentially just beer, which is currently legal in all states, but distilling alcohol is illegal unless an individual has a fuel alcohol or a distilled spirit plant permit.
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” used to be 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. These days it actually refers to a robust commercial market of high proof, unaged, and often flavored spirits, such as the products made by Ole Smoky. 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.