How To Moonshine

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

Mash Tun for Making Moonshine

Mashing is an important part of distilling or brewing when creating a grain based wash and it refers to the process of combining a mixture of water and milled grains (malted barley, corn, rye, wheat etc.) then heating the mixture. The mixture is heated and then its temperature is held at certain key temperatures (normally 45°C, 62°C and 73°C) for a length of time that allows the enzymes in the grains to break down the starches that the grains contain into fermentable sugars. Our page on preparing grain washes for distilling moonshine explains the process and is well worth reading if you are unclear as to why mashing is important when making a grain based wash for distilling moonshine.

There are two commonly used methods for mashing grains for distilling moonshine and they are virtually identical to those used for mashing grains for brewing beer. The most commonly used method is infusion mashing, where the mash is heated directly from rest temperature to rest temperature. A common variation on this theme is to add hot water to the mash to effect the temperature change rather than heating it directly. Decoction mashing is the other method that may be used and it involves boiling a portion of the grains and returning them to the mash thus raising its temperature. Of these two methods infusion mashing is the most practical and widely used in home spirit and beer production.

The simplest type of mash tun is simply a large pot heated on a stove or a beer boiler that is widely available at most homebrew shops. A large pot on a stove may be amusing to seasoned moonshiners but with a little practice at maintaining the temperature they can be quite effective and economical if a stove and large pot happen to be already available. Beer boilers are not unlike the large coffee urns that are found in offices and other places that lots of hot water is required. They are usually made of stainless steel and the best ones have an electric element that is in the bottom of the boiler and seperate from the mash, which would otherwise stick to the element and create a difficult mess to clean. I have used a beer boiler with great success in the past and also use one for the boiler of my still (the condensor attaches to the top). A variation on the beer boiler theme I have encountered is to cut the top off a stainless steel beer keg and use a propane burner as a heat source. The keg is often insulated with foam and fitted with a mesh strainer on the bottom and a valve to assist draining the mash off.

One clear and distinct advantage of having access to a beer boiler or a good old fashioned pot on a stove top is that some grains, corn, some forms of wheat and rice as examples, need to be gelatinized before they can be mashed. Gelatinizing involves boiling the grain for a period of time until it becomes soft and mushy, allowing the starches to be converted more readily by the enzymes when mashing.

Rectangular picnic coolers or beverage coolers are becoming increasingly popular as mash tuns and I would consider them to be one of the easiest to use for the beginner. These coolers are available in a wide range of sizes and finding one at the right price is not difficult assuming you dont have one sitting neglected in your garage already. The beverage coolers seem to be more popular than the rectangular coolers as they can be easier to modify if modification is required. These coolers are well insulated and are not directly heated, hot water is added to raise the temperature of the mash as required. With the lid firmly on the temperature inside the cooler may only vary by a degree or two over the space of an hour and make the temperature of the mash very easy to change and maintain.

Once mashing is complete you will be left with a liquid with suspended particles of spent grain and the mash must be lautered (sparged), that is the spent grain must be seperated from the liquid and discarded. One method is to use an unmodified cooler or boiler and screen the mash when pouring the grain into your fermenter from the mash tun, this can be as easy as putting a mesh screen or even a tea towel over the top of your fermenter. This can be heavy and messy work but can be done if you are persistant.

Another approach, favoured particularly by those who use picnic or drink coolers is to modify the mash tun so that it has a screen as a false bottom and a tap or spigot so that the mash can be drained out while leaving the spent grains behind. This has a number of advantages, not in the least being that it is less labour intensive and very effective.

A new and interesting mashing method is emerging that is simply called Brew in Bag which provides yet another answer to the problem of seperating the grains from the wort. Instead of adding the grains directly to the water they are placed in a loose nylon or muslin bag and added to the mash tun with the water as normal. Mashing is performed in the regular fashion but lautering is not required as the spent grains remain contained in the bags. Simply transfer the liquid into the fermenter when mashing is complete and the job is done. The bags are reusable, inexpensive and permit you to use an unmodified cooler.