How To Moonshine

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

Preparing a Grain Wash

Preparing a grain wash for distilling moonshine has additional steps that must be performed when compared to a wash that has sugars that are readily available and in a form that can be consumed by the yeast. There are many grains used for making moonshine and these grains are also used for making commercially produced spirits too. The most commonly used grains are barley, rye, rice, corn and wheat with barley being easily the most widely utilized.

Grains are essentially seeds that the parent plant forms with the intention of reproducing. Most seeds contain an embryo and a some sort of food reserve wrapped in a protective seed coat. It is the food reserve that we want for fermenting and distilling however in most plant species the food reserve is stored within the seed as a starch that yeast cannot consume. It makes good sense that the food reserved for the germinating seedling is stored in a form that prevents wild yeasts and bacteria from consuming it as in nature there are many freeloaders that would be happy to take advantage of a free meal. The food reserve of starch cannot be consumed by the plant embryo either so upon germination enzymes are released that convert the starch into maltose (a form of glucose), a sugar readily consumed by both yeast and plant embryo alike.

The key enzymes used in the process of converting the starch into consumable sugar is Amylase, usually Beta-Amylase is initially available and present in an inactive form. Alpha-Amylase and proteases usually appear once germination has commenced. It is preferable to try and use the enzymes contained in the grain wherever possible however these enzymes can be purchased through a home brew supplier that has a reasonably extensive stock if necessary. Alternately in some countries chemists or drug stores may stock a peptic blend used as a digestive aid that contain usable quantities of amylase. Humans manufacture beta-amylase in the pancreas and it is thought to have played a key role in human evolution by allowing humans an alternative to fruit and meat in their diet. There are usable quantities of amylase in human saliva though few of us would be interested in preparing our grain based wash in a spitoon. The rest of us would much prefer to malt and mash our grains to convert the starch into maltose, malting and mashing allows the home brewer to use the enzymes already present in the grain to perform the conversion from starch to fermentable sugars.

Malting and Mashing

Malting is the first step in preparing a grain based wash for fermentation. The grains are made to germinate by soaking them in water and then halted from germinating further by drying them with hot air. They are generally allowed to grow for only a few days at the most once germinated before drying. This allows the enzymes required to modify the grains starches into sugars to become active in the grain and also stops the embryo from growing so that it does not consume the sugars that will be made available.

Malting traditionally takes place in a malthouse, sometimes called a maltings or malting floor. The sprouted barley is kiln dried by spreading it on wooden floor, smoke is channelled via perforations in the floor from a fireplace that is then used to heat the floor and the sprouted grains to around 55°C (131°F).

Mashing is the process of combining a mix of malted and unmalted grains with water and then heating the mixture, pausing to rest at certain key temperatures, thus allowing the enzymes present in the grains to become active and break the starch into sugars. All the grains added to the mash must be cracked to expose the contents of the grain. Different enzymes are most active and therefore most effective at different temperatures, the rests are often timed according to the grain used and its expected starch content. These rests may be for a significant amount of time, for example a malted barley only mash may be heated to 45°C and kept at that temperature for 30 minutes, then heated to 53°C and held at that temperature for a further 30 minutes, then heated to 63°C and kept at that temperature for 90 minutes before heating to 71°C and maintaining that temperature for 60 minutes. Many recipes do not call for four rests at these key tempeatures and most may only call for one rest at around 68°C for Beta-Amylase conversion only.

These pauses at those four particular key temperatures would ensure that the four major enzymes used to mash grains have adequate time to perform their respective roles in converting starch into fermentable sugar (maltose). The mash is then heated to around 78°C to reduce its viscosity and free up a little more starch, this is referred to as a mash out. The mash is then lautered, that is it is seperated into a clear liquid wort or wash and the residual grain. The grain is discarded and the wort is allowed to cool to an acceptable temperature for the yeast to be pitched.

There are two different methods that can be used in the mashing process, most breweries use infusion mashing where the mash is heated directly to effect the temperature changes. Home brewers and moonshiners can achieve the temperature changes by adding hot water and use an insulated mash tun (such as a converted picnic cooler) to maintain the temperature. Decoction mashing is the alternative and involves a portion of the grain being boiled and returned to the mash thus raising its temperature.