Welcome to the short-and-sweet easy homestead moonshine guide. I’m going to skip all the lengthy legal disclaimers. I’m not telling you to break the law. Be certain to comply with the laws in your state and/or county. Here we go…
Wine is where yeast turns sugar from grapes into alcohol. Wine is generally made by introducing yeast to the grape juice. The yeast eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 goes out of the airtight vessel through a “bubbler” which allows the CO2 to leave but does not allow air to go back in.
Moonshine starts the same way, except instead of calling step one “wine” it is called “wash.” And instead of using grape juice we just use sugar water. This article explains how to make a sugar water “wash” and then generally how to distill that “wash” (which is generally about 10% alcohol) into moonshine (which is generally 80% alcohol; I dilute it to 40% alcohol).
Moonshine isn’t magic. It’s made from water, sugar, yeast, and ingenuity. I’ll share my time-proven recipe, equipment, and procedures for making sugar alcohol. It’s as easy as making bread but you do need some larger equipment.
Here’s a list of the equipment you’ll need:
- 55-gallon barrel to hold water (or something similar)
- TWO fish tank-type water pumps (electricity needed)
- Plastic hoses to go from the pumps to the still (shut-offs can be added)
- Beer Keg (with ball valve removed)
- Still (they are easy to get on Amazon or eBay)
- Propane burner (I used a Turkey Fryer burner with propane)
The recipe for moonshine “WASH” includes:
- 25 lbs of regular sugar (cheaper is fine)
- Bread yeast (a whole 4 oz. jar)
- 2 larger cans of tomato paste (not the tiny can)
- 1/2 cup of lemon juice
- A pinch of Epsom salt
- You also need clean plastic buckets with lids that allow “bubblers.”
This is for 10-15 gallons of “wash.” Wash is the precursor to moonshine. I use two 6-gallon buckets and split the ingredients between the two buckets. Each bucket has a lid with a bubbler. These can be purchased at a beer making store or site. You can get the buckets locally, just order the lid and the bubbler.
You could also just mix the wash up and put it directly into the beer keg. In order to do that, however, you will need a large stopper with a hole in it for the bubbler. That’s what I do. Finding the plug is the hard part.
Let’s Buy a Moonshine Still!
Before you start your wash you can order your still on eBay. Mine cost about $200. It’s a stainless steel pipe with a thermometer on top, a distillation arm, and connections for the water hoses. On eBay, search for “Stainless steel reflux still” and you will see some options. I can also recommend Mile Hi Distilling. The still might cost a little more there, but you can also get good customer service and advice.
Order the still first, so it will arrive about the time that your wash is ready to distill – about 2 weeks! When you order the still also order copper packing to stuff inside the pipe part of the still.
The copper packing pulls impurities out of the alcohol as it is distilled. People used to make the entire still out of copper, but that’s too expensive for homestead moonshiners. So just pack some copper mesh into the main 2” tube. Just make some loose rolls and put them in there two or three layers high.
How to Make Wash (the Stuff You Make Moonshine From)
- Use a giant pot to heat 1 gallon of boiling water. Add to the boiling hot water 10 – 15 lbs of sugar… (half of the 25 lb bag will do just fine). Stir until the sugar dissolves. The water will be clear when the sugar has dissolved.
- Pour the hot sugar water into a bucket with 4 gallons of tap water or distilled water to make water that is about 100 – 105 degrees. Warm to your hand but not too hot. You will mix the hot and cold water in the bucket to create about 5 gallons of warm water. Leave room for stirring! 6-gallon buckets are available from a beer brewing store.
- Add ½ jar of yeast, along with ¼ cup of lemon juice, a jar of tomato paste, and a pinch of Epsom salt. Stir vigorously with a large whisk to break up the tomato paste and mix everything thoroughly. The tomato paste, lemon juice and salt are nutrients for the yeast so it will keep eating sugar longer.
- Repeat this with the 2nd bucket and the 2nd half of your sugar.
- Tightly seal each bucket with a lid and install a bubbler in the bubbler hole. Put this in an out of the way place where it won’t get too cold. The gas coming off is CO2, perfectly safe. But it does smell like yeast! These will bubble like crazy (after 30 minutes or so) for a few days at least. If they don’t bubble then you either have air is leaking out or your yeast is dead. Try again.
- Leave the buckets alone until the bubblers stop bubbling. When that happens all the alcohol that is going to be made has been made. The yeast is exhausted. It’s time to make moonshine.
Assembling Your Distillery
Your still has a 2” connection on the bottom. It should also come with a gasket and a stainless steel clamp. This will be installed on top of the keg AFTER THE KEG IS FILLED WITH WASH. However, in order to fill the keg with anything you must remove the ball valve on top. GOOGLE IT! You will see great directions. It’s easy to do.
You will also need a large container of water. I use a 55-gallon blue-plastic barrel that I cut a large hole into the top. I placed a plastic basket in the hole so there is a place to put the water pumps where they are submerged but easy to get to. The basket is optional. You could just dangle the pumps in the barrel.
One pump will be connected to the “reflux” part of the still. That’s the part on the top where there are two fittings. It doesn’t matter which direction the water flows. This will control how fast the still allows alcohol vapor to escape. It is a good idea to put a valve of some sort on the hose that goes to the reflux section. The other pump will be connected to the “arm” of the still where the vapor will be cooled back into a liquid state. It doesn’t need a valve but I have one on mine anyway. Once those are connected and you have a burner and propane you are ready to go.
The still is a propane tank connected to a burner. I use a turkey deep fryer burner. On the burner sits the keg full of the wash that you made. On top of the keg is attached the 2” column reflux still. The water hoses and pumps are connected to the reflux still. You will use glass jars – quart mason jars – to collect the alcohol that comes out of the distilling arm.
Time To Start Distilling
Turn on the propane burner and turn on the pump to the top of the reflux still so that water flows through. Turn the heat from the burner to high at first. Periodically check the still pipe to see how hot it is. At first, it will be very cold. As it gets hotter you can turn the burner down. You want to get to a point where the burner boils off just enough vapor that the cold water flowing through the top of the distilling tower can “reflux” it back down the still.
A “reflux” still is meant to make the vapor flow up to the top, then condense and flow back down through the copper mesh. Once you get the still stabilized so that the pipe between the still and the top is hot but the top above the top water inlets is still cool then you have “reflux.” Let it do this for about an hour. Turn the heat on the burner down if you see any liquid or vapor coming out of the distilling arm at any point.
After an hour it’s time to start distilling the moonshine. Either turn the water in the top of the still down SLIGHTLY or turn the heat under the keg up SLIGHTLY until the amount of vapor being generated is SLIGHTLY more than the cool water on top of the still can handle. At this point, vapor will start flowing down the arm… MAKE SURE THE WATER IS ON TO THE ARM. The cold water flowing through the arm will condensate the vapor into liquid. That liquid is moonshine!!!
Throw Away the First 100 Milliliters of Moonshine
The very first vapor to be distilled has some really nasty stuff in it. Don’t drink it! It will smell and taste like fingernail polish remover. Throw it out! This is called the “FORESHOTS.” Nasty stuff! After that, you can keep whatever part of the moonshine works for you.
The alcohol will come out of the still from the “lightest” to the “heaviest.” That means that the lighter alcohols will boil off first. Light alcohol smells a bit abusive… like rubbing alcohol. This is called the “HEADS.” You can drink it all, but it’s not very tasty. As the alcohol comes out just keep changing the jars but KEEP THEM IN ORDER. That way you can see how the alcohol changes character as it gets into the “HEART” of the run.
The heart of the run will start smelling sweeter and less offensive. This the “good stuff.” Keep it all.
As the run gets closer to the end it will start smelling like wet cardboard. This is called the “Tails.” There is more “fusel alcohol” in the tails. Fusel alcohol is more oily and more flavorful. But too much can make your moonshine a bit skunky. Keep running and keep it, but pay attention. After a while, you will notice that the temp gauge (if you have one) is getting fairly high… now you’re just boiling water. You can stop the run. You should have about six one-quart jars mostly full.
Run #1 is done. You are now going to clean out your keg (after it cools of course). Then add all the alcohol you made back into the empty keg and five gallons of water. It’s time to do your second run.
I usually only do two runs with my moonshine. A good moonshiner does THREE! Do you know what “XXX” on the side of a moonshine bottle means? It means it was distilled THREE TIMES. One “X” for each run. You have to keep count, especially if you’re drinking as you go. (Not recommended.)
Follow all the steps for the run again. This time you will have a better feel for where to make your “cuts” from Foreshots (throw away) to Heads (light and a little headachey) to Heart (the good stuff) to Tails (flavorful in moderation).
After your final run, cover the jars with paper towels or regular towels and let them sit overnight. Then come back and smell each jar. Dip your finger in and taste each jar. Decide which you like and which you really don’t. Once you decided which parts of the moonshine run to keep you pour all of that into one glass jug. It should average about 80% alcohol. Add 50% more distilled water to it. That will cut it to about 65% alcohol.
At this point you can filter it through activated carbon if you want to. Look it up if you want to. It adds an expense for the stainless funnel and pipe plus the carbon that you put in it. I filter mine. It makes it a little smoother. But filtering is option.
Once you have your final product put it in a GLASS CONTAINER!! Not metal, not plastic. Then put in some wood chips – about ¼ cup. And set it aside for a week or so.
What Wood Chips?
Look online for “Medium Toasted French Oak Chips.” This is the good stuff. You know how you turn water into tea by adding some ground up tea leaves? By adding some toasted French oak chips and letting it steep for a week or three you will give your moonshine flavor. I usually start drinking it immediately but still have most of it left after 2-3 weeks. It will steep faster in the sun! I call that “Sunshine.” When it’s done steeping it will have a caramel color. Strain it. Dilute it down to 40% alcohol (about 50% more water by volume) and bottle it or drink it!
“How Much Moonshine Will I Get?”
You started with 10 gallons of 10% alcohol. Then you distilled most of it until it was 85% alcohol. So 10 gallons x 10% = 1 gallon x 85% = .85 gallons. Then you did your cuts… let’s say you kept 75% of that. .85 gallons x 75% = .64 gallons of 85% alcohol. Finally, you diluted it back down to 40% alcohol. So .65 gallons DIVIDED BY 40% = about 1.6 gallons of 40% alcohol moonshine (80 proof). There are 5 “fifths” in a gallon. So about 6-7 bottles of whiskey for your work.
I, personally, try to do two batches at a time for 14-15 bottles total. About half a year’s worth of drinking for me and my kin.
How much did it cost? 25 pounds of sugar and a little propane plus a jar of yeast. Less than $20. Plus the $300 in equipment you purchased. But HEY! It’s still cheaper than bass fishing, deer hunting, a boat, a motorcycle, or going to the bar for a month!
How does it taste? It isn’t Marker’s Mark Bourbon. Mix it with Coke and have a good ole’ time!
“Doesn’t moonshine make you blind?” Only to ugly women!! Ha Ha! No, it doesn’t make you blind IF you always throw out the foreshots and use either stainless steel or copper – or both. The old blind moonshine myth was from Prohibition days when people were flavoring or making moonshine with antifreeze! Not a good idea. And using old car radiators. Also not a good idea.
Is Making Easy Homestead Moonshine Worth it?
Is making your own soap worth it? Is milking your own goat worth it? Is growing your own garden worth it? Is hunting your own meat worth it? All of these things cost money, take time, and could easily be gotten from Walmart. Homesteaders like doing their own thing. You only have to buy the equipment once.
“Isn’t there a cheaper way?” Not really! Making your own copper still is more expensive than buying a stainless steel column and some copper packing. The rest of the stuff is probably laying around your homestead already. If you spend more than $500 you probably spent too much. Start cheap and get better equipment later if you are going to do this for years and years.
“Is it legal?” Is what legal? Do I know you? I live in Texas where moonshine is legal, but in America where it is not legal. Other people live in Colorado where pot is legal but in America where pot is illegal. I happen to have a federal license that allows me to make “fuel alcohol.” Same process, more or less. But I’m not supposed to drink it. Revenuers!!! Ma! Bring me the “medicine jug!”
If you try to make enough moonshine to sell it and make money you are an idiot and will end up in jail at some point. This isn’t the 1930’s. This is a personal hobby thing, not a business thing.