How To Moonshine

Fermenting &
Distilling Basics
Making Equipment
How to Make Moonshine Using Sugar How to Make Moonshine Using Grain Moonshine Recipes

Fermentation and Distilling Moonshine

Distilling moonshine involves more than just throwing all of your ingredients into a still and turning on the heat. Distilling purifies and concentrates the alcohol contained in a liquid, if you dont have a liquid that contains alcohol then distilling will not magically make any alcohol appear.

The first step in the distilling process is to make a liquid that contains alcohol and this is where the process of fermentation comes into distilling moonshine. Fermentation is a biological process in which sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose are converted by yeasts into cellular energy with ethanol and carbon dioxide as metabolic waste products. Or to put it more simply yeasts eat sugar and make alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. The more sugar you have in your liquid the more alcohol you will make up until the point where the yeast can no longer tolerate the alcohol, which can be up to 20% depending on the strain of yeast you use and its alcohol tolerance.

The liquid produced by the fermentation step when making a distilled beverage is called a wash and it is the wash that is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol and remove undesirable ingredients. For the purpose of keeping it simple we have divided washes into two types, Sugar Washes which generally are made from water and fermentable sugars mixed together that require no further preparation before the yeast is added and Grain Washes which require additional steps to convert the sugar stored in the grains to a type that can be consumed by the yeast. Until these additional steps are performed there is no point in adding the yeast as no alcohol will be produced.

A good example of a sugar wash is exactly that, a wash made from ordinary white sugar. If you are using essences to make your spirits then a white or alternately a raw sugar wash is the best way to create your base spirit. A typical recipe for this example would be 25 litres (6 US gallons) of water combined with 8 kilograms (17 1/2 pounds) of sugar in your fermenter. White or raw sugar is directly fermentable by yeast so you can immediately add the yeast to the fermenter, seal it and walk away for about a week while the yeast does its thing. You would have to use a good quality turbo yeast for this recipe as it will ferment out to around 18-20% alcohol, many commercially available yeasts would die at this alcohol strength.

A grain wash however is quite different and requires extra steps in its preparation. Most of our favourite distilled beverages are made from grains and the most common grain used for making spirits would have to be barley. Whiskey, including scotch, is made exclusively from barley as an example and many other spirits include barley as a main ingredient, like bourbon which is a mixture of corn and barley. Grains are seeds that have sugars stored in the form of starch and these starches are not fermentable, yeasts cannot consume them and this is how nature intended it to keep the stored starches for the use of the seedling upon germination. When the seed germinates enzymes are released to convert the starches into sugars so that the seedling can use them so to convert these starches into fermentable sugars the grains must be germinated and then have their growth stopped by a process called malting. The malted grains are then mashed (heated in water to certain key temperatures) to speed up the enzymes as they perform the conversion from starch to sugar. The spent grains are then seperated from the now sugar rich water (lautering) and the yeast is added to the water in a fermentation vessel.

Without a doubt those who are just learning to distill moonshine would benefit from starting with a sugar wash first and progressing to grains later if they so desire as this would make the learning curve a little less steep and give good initial results faster.

Of course, a well prepared wash is for nought without a suitable yeast. There are many types and species of yeast available through home brew suppliers and the like. There are many manufacturers of yeasts that are suitable for making spirits, Wyeast, Samuel Willards, Still Spirits and Essencia just to name a few are readily purchased over the counter or online in most countries. If by some chance you cannot find a distillers yeast or a turbo yeast then a wine making yeast with a high alcohol tolerance such as Lalvin EC-1118 will get you by in a pinch. A bakers yeast or even most beer brewing yeasts are not suitable for making spirits however if they are all that is available you should consider watering down your wash somewhat to avoid waste, if the yeast can only tolerate alcohol to 12% and the wash contains enough fermentable sugars to ferment out to 20% then nearly half of your sugar will be wasted. If you use a pot still you will most likely need to distill the wash twice to get the concentration of alcohol higher.