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November 16, 2018

How Moonshine Is Made

making fuel alcohol with corn whiskey mash

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.

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Corn Whiskey Moonshine Mash

To reiterate what we said at the beginning of the article, making the mash recipe below and then distilling it would be illegal pretty much anywhere in the United States without the proper commercial distillers permits. So, absolutely do not try this at home.

However, if you're a commercial distiller, read on. This recipe would be considered gold standard as far as classic, all-grain, corn whiskey recipes go because the ingredients used should lend to a pleasant aroma rich flavor and a smooth finish, with the corn coming through loud and clear. In fact, the flavor of the corn will likely mask how strong this drink really is, which makes this stuff dangerous. Below is a video of an all-grain mash made with a bit of malted barley to initiate starch conversion. Unfortunately, we don't have a distillers permit so we start the video by explaining the all-grain corn whiskey mash recipe, but then adding sugar to turn it into a fuel alcohol recipe.

Ingredients

  • 6.75 gallons of water
  • 9lbs. flaked maize (corn)
  • 2lbs. malted and crushed barley
  • Yeast (distillers yeast, or even bread yeast)
  • Granulated sugar (optional)

Mash Procedure

  1. We heated water to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. We added the corn (in a nylon strainer bag or in a steel mesh basket).
  3. We stirred and allowed to sit until temperature naturally drops to 148 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. We stirred in the malted barley and allow to sit for 60 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
  5. We remove the grains, allowing them to drain into the kettle.
  6. We pasteurized by heating to at least 170F (optional step).
  7. We cooled the mash to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. We transferred to a fermentation bucket and add yeast.
  9. We allowed to ferment for 7-10 days.

Making the mash described above is legal but distilling it is not. Read more about the legalities of distilling below.

Boosted "Thin Mash" Recipe

The full procedure illustrated in the video above, with the inclusion of the sugar addition, actually more accurately describes the process of making a thin mash. Essentially, thin mash is part grain and part granulated sugar. But why?

Corn is somewhat difficult to work with during the mashing process because it gets extremely thick before starch begins to break down into sugar. This means that making a mash with corn that's higher than 8-10% alcohol can be somewhat difficult. However, if making a mash for fuel alcohol, as is what we actually did in the video, starting alcohol percentage can and should be fairly high to maximize the yield. By adding granulated sugar after the mash we were able to increase starting alcohol content. 

To make thin mash, we followed steps 1-6 above then simply added granulated sugar before moving on to step 7. Remember, making this mash is legal. However, distilling it is not. Read more about the legalities of distilling below. Note, we typically also add yeast nutrient for any mash that either is not made with 100% grain or that exceeds 10% ABV.

Below is a table illustrating ABV increases caused by the addition of sugar. According to the table, to boost a 5 gallon corn mash from 10% to 19.5% (which would require an increase of 9.5%), 8lbs of sugar would need to be added.

Added Sugar vs. Potential Alcohol in 1, 5, and 10 Gallons of Mash
Pounds of Sugar 1 Gallon Mash 5 Gallon Mash 10 Gallon Mash
1 lb. 5.9% 1.2% 0.6%
2 lbs. 11.9% 2.3% 1.2%
3 lbs. 17.7% 3.6% 1.8%
3.5 lbs. 20.5% 4.1% 2.1%
4 lbs. x 4.8% 2.3%
5 lbs. x 5.9% 3.0%
6 lbs. x 7.1% 3.6%
7 lbs. x 8.3% 4.1%
8 lbs. x 9.5% 4.8%
9 lbs. x 10.7% 5.4%
10 lbs. x 11.9% 5.9%
11 lbs. x 13% 6.6%
12 lbs. x 14.2% 7.1%
13 lbs. x 15.4% 7.7%
14 lbs. x 16.5% 8.3%
15 lbs. x 17.7% 8.9%
16 lbs. x 18.8% 9.5%
17 lbs. x 20% 10.1%
18 lbs. x x 10.7%

 

Sugar Mash

We use the term "sugar mash" loosely here. It essentially describes high proof alcohol made with only granulated sugar and zero grain. It doesn't require a mash to convert starch to sugar and the procedure for making it is very simple. It is made by dissolving white table sugar into water, heating to pasteurize (optional), adding yeast nutrient (very important) and adding yeast.

Distilling Procedure

As we've said several times in this article and hundreds of times on this site, distilling alcohol without the proper permits is illegal. Don't do it unless you're properly licensed and permitted. We're describing it here for educational purposes only and this isn't meant to be relied upon by any person or entity as a scientific basis for any act or decision whatsoever.

Distilling alcohol is accomplished by heating a mixture of water and alcohol (beer) to at or above 174 degrees but below 212 degrees. This will cause ethanol to boil, but will leave water behind. Why? Because ethanol boils at 174 and water at 212.

    Making Cuts

    This next section is for commercial distillers only! It's the process they will use to improve the flavor and aroma of their spirits. This is accomplished by separating different parts of a distillation "run" into separate containers and blending only the best parts, called the hearts.

    What do we mean by this? Well, to over simplify... There are several types of oils and alcohols contained within a batch of fermented mash. Each of these compounds has a slightly different boiling temperature and they will be volatilized and removed from the still at different points during the distillation process.

    Foreshots

    The first 10% or so of distillate is called the foreshots. This needs to be thrown away, as it could contain methanol and might be poisonous.

    Heads

    The second part of the run is called the heads. Heads contain compounds such as acetone, acetaldehyde, and acetate. These compounds are not desirable and smell bad. Set them aside.

    Hearts

    The hearts contain ethanol and other desirable compounds. They have a rich aroma and taste, and are quite smooth. Keep this.

    Tails

    The richness of the middle part of the run will fade into what are called the tails. This section of the run has a dull, watery taste. Keep this and blend with heads for future runs.

    Legal FAQ

    Is distilling legal? According to federal rules, owning a still of any size is legal and does not require a permit. However, the still must only be used, or intended to be used for distilling non-alcoholic substances. If one intends to distill alcohol, a federal DSP or fuel alcohol permit is required, in addition to state and local permits. Additionally, some states prohibit still ownership under any circumstances, regardless of the use or intended use. The distillation equipment sold by Clawhammer Supply is designed and intended for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.

    • Thank you for the easy instructions I can’t wait to start making my own lawn more fuel. And looking good while you did it too awesome!

      Posted by Linda on January 11, 2022
    • I have made about 10runs in my still and cannot get nothing but mentanol what am I doing wrong

      Posted by Jeff Godwin on November 13, 2021
    • great info need to understan all of it
      thank you

      Posted by hector on November 13, 2021
    • When making a mash can one use coconut oil

      Posted by Beasley on November 13, 2021
    • I am totally new at this , Please let me know the best wash for lemoncello.
      Do I need to stuff the columum for a higher alcohol content when brewing. a sugar wash. thank you

      Posted by jeffholper77@gmail.com on November 13, 2021
    • Wondering of palm palmetto Hearts could be used to distill for “alternative fuel” use???

      Posted by Brian on February 22, 2021
    • Teach me in 10 easy steps please thank you Sir

      Posted by STephen fOrte on January 28, 2021
    • Great tutorial thanks. Can less corn be added as my pot is not big enough for 9LB flaked corn by the time it is cooked. Could extradited be used or do you advise 2 lots to make them add them together? Thanks.

      Posted by Spence on January 22, 2021
    • Very nice website & good explaination , many thanks i will try

      Posted by The Real Cyril on July 14, 2020
    • Dear All
      Its ne again from South Africa
      Anybody out there that could help me with a good recipe for orange Moonshine please,
      Regards
      Ben

      Posted by Ben Meyer on July 14, 2020
    • I started a sugar wash, I was wondering if raisins would be good enough for the yeast to feed off of?

      Posted by Michael on June 29, 2020
    • got some good tips and recipes, keep up the good work.

      Posted by billy fowler on June 08, 2020
    • Dear Sirs
      I am from South Africa… could you please help me with a Orange Moonshine Recipe… The american style
      Thank you
      Regards
      ben meyer
      rsa

      Posted by Ben Meyer on June 03, 2020
    • love the shine…drinking some now…down here in walling Tennessee..sipping on shine…loving the country life..yee haw

      Posted by john Hawkins on May 26, 2020
    • Dear Sir,

      How much are we getting for a 2 gallon mash?

      thanks

      Posted by Kalana on May 04, 2020
    • I got it thank you.

      Posted by John on April 24, 2020
    • Is the yeast nutrient listed the same as nutritional yeast? I’m attempting the sugar mash for quarantine

      Posted by JEremy on April 21, 2020
    • How can you increase the alcohol content to reach over 90 percent.if you add fruit when can you add it the to your moonshine

      Posted by David on March 31, 2020
    • Im new to this and i ran my third batch. well ran about a gallon and had pretty good stuff after the head was tossed. Well ran it for a bit and it turned to distilled water. 2nd time this happened to me what am i doing wrong.??? Ya I know I`m a rooky. Any help would be good. THANKS

      Posted by jimmyerj555@gmail.com on February 24, 2020
    • After removing grains from fermenter and draining after sitting for required time, then you pasteurized,do you add grains back to fermenter or have they already did there part? This is a new method for me, always left grains in fermenter when adding yeast, never tried the mesh bag or screen before

      Posted by eugene9055@gmail.com on December 13, 2019


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