Moonshine Mashing and Fermentation

Moonshine Mashing and Fermentation

Making Moonshine in its simplest form, involves making the mash, fermentation and distillation. In this post, we will be mainly discussing mashing and fermentation. We will be covering distillation in a different post in the future.

Moonshine Mashing and Fermentation


A moonshine mash is made using malted grains such as a region’s traditional wheat, corn, barley or rye. A malt is created by letting the grains germinate, and once it has, drying it in a kiln.  Roasting is sometimes a part of the mashing and fermentation process, and each step helps create enzymes such as alfa-amylase and meta-amylase to distill starch into sugar within the grain. Depending on the amount of roasting, malt takes on a dark color, and it often influences both color and flavor of moonshine. With alcohol, different materials used have similar effects, determined by the color of the mashed contents.

Malt is then crushed within a malt mill, and this breaks up grain kernels, increases their total surface area and separated into smaller pieces from surrounding husks. Then, the resulting grist is mixed with heated water within a vat labelled a “mash tun”. The process is appropriately labelled “mashing”. Within the process, the malt’s natural enzymes break down a portion of the starch into sugars, and these sugars play important roles within the fermentation process.

Mashing, itself, normally takes between one and two hours, and different temperature rest periods activate various enzymes within differently produced malts, modification levels and the brewer’s desires. These enzymes convert grain starches to dextrines, and they become fermentable sugars, like maltose.


Once the mashing is completed, the mash is directed to a lauter tun. Within the lauter tun, the liquid is strained from grains in a process called “lautering”. The lauter tun normally contains a “false bottom” slot or a collection of manifolds utilized to strain and separate liquid and grain from one another. The resulting liquid is called “wort which is a clear brown liquid.  Then, it is boiled so that the temperature is between 25 degree Celsius and 30 degree Celsius. Ensure that the pH of the mash is between 4 and 4.5 before adding the yeast. This boiling process normally serves to as the step for adding the yeast to begin the fermentation process. This is when the sugars produced in the previous step are combined with yeast to product alcohol (or moonshine). In a previous blog, we have discussed the importance of yeast in detail.

During the fermentation process, it is suggested to seal the fermenter tightly and then to pour boiling water into the airlock. The fermenter should be placed in a cool dark place to avoid any changes in temperature. The whole process can take anywhere between 5 and 10 days depending on the type of yeast. Avoid opening the lid of the fermenter and instead use a hydrometer to track the progress of fermentation.

The best way to know when the fermentation process is complete is to measure the specific gravity of mash before and after fermentation using a hydrometer. Usually the pre-fermentation specific gravity of mash will be higher than 1 because of the sugar in the mash. And as the fermentation process occurs, the specific gravity will start dropping. When the gravity remain the same and stop dropping over a period of time, you know that the fermentation process is complete.

How Do Different Grains Affect Moonshine Flavor

How Do Different Grains Affect Moonshine Flavor

Moonshine is made from dry distiller’s grains and this is what sets it apart from other distilled beverages. Malted grains are the source of the sugars required for fermentation, and they usually are released through steeping in hot water. Unlike beer, moonshine contains no hops to act as a preservative because it doesn’t need hops. Instead, distilling increases the alcohol level that preserves the moonshine. Moonshine will taste different based on the types of grain used and the method by which it is distilled.

distiller's grains for moonshine

Here are the most common grains you’ll find in the moonshine-making process and how they affect flavor.


Different varieties of corn have different flavors and different levels of sugars available for fermentation. Corn is a popular choice for those looking for a sweet, neutral flavor as it yields more sugar and is cheaper compared to other grains. Thus, corn whiskey has been a popular choice from early on.


Oats make for a smoother flavor in moonshine. Like other grains, the flavor they provide is highly dependent on the malting process, but oats are typically milder than barley or rye. They are good for blending with other grains to even out any undesirable harshness. This mildness is also desirable for bringing out any fruity flavors that come from other parts of the moonshine production process.


Rye imparts what many consider a spicy or fruity flavor. It is less sweet than corn but more complex. The flavor is also usually drier than when corn is used. Rye is usually blended with other grains, but to be a true rye moonshine, it must use at least 51% rye.


The different types of barley are indicated by “row.” Six-row barley and 2-row barley are common varieties with 2-row having a higher extract level and lower enzyme activity than 6-row barley. Using 6-row barley with higher enzyme activity is useful for moonshines including other grains, but in a single malt moonshine, 2-row barley with higher starch content is often preferred since other grains are not used, making the enzyme activity less important. These options give you greater latitude in mixing and matching grains and malts to create different flavor profiles. Sometimes barley is used unmalted as well.

What Is This Malt Stuff, Exactly?

“Malt” refers to a grain like barley or rye that has been softened by steeping it in water and allowing it to germinate and then dry. This produces an enzyme called diastase, which helps starch in the grains turn first into sugar and then into alcohol. The particulars of the drying process are what really allow malt to give moonshine a unique flavor–it can give it a smoky, earthy, nutty, or even floral taste.

In some recipes for making moonshine, different types of grains are combined to create a unique taste. For example, Hillbilly Stills’ Sweet Feed Mix contains rolled corn, oats and cane molasses. How do you prefer your moonshine: smooth and sweet, nutty and dry or something unusual? What are your favorite moonshine grain combinations?