In many ways, moonshine is similar to all other types of alcohol you can buy at any liquor store; the distillation process can only happen in so many ways so the difference really come down to the type of mash and flavoring you intend to use. However, there are a few key differences between your typical moonshine and other spirits. For the home distiller, if you’re interested in buying or making moonshine, you should understand what it’s made of and how it’s produced.
At its core moonshine is made of the following components:
- Hot water
- Post run flavor/aging (optional)
Like whiskey, moonshine is primarily made using corn. Historically, moonshine has also been made with rye, white sugar, and fruit, but the most common four main ingredients are almost always cornmeal, sugar, yeast, and water. Other ingredients can be added for more flavor, but they’re not necessary for the process of making moonshine.
To ultimately produce moonshine, you need to put the ingredients through 2 key processes: fermentation and distillation.
First, the corn is ground into cornmeal. Then, the meal soaks in hot water in the still, and the sugar and yeast are added. The yeast starts the process of fermentation, which is the chemical breakdown of the sugar by the yeast. The byproduct of that breakdown is what we lovingly call “alcohol.”
After the fermentation process has started, the stone furnace – or other heat source – underneath the still is heated up. As, pressure builds up in the still, and the alcohol steam evaporates, steam travels through a series of pipes into a another chamber where it is cooled. For most home still setups, you’ll only have two stills, the heating and cooling still. The second still is known as a worm box and it consists of a coiled pipe that is surrounded by cold water or ice.
Typically, home distillers will have some water source to provide continual circulation of cold water around the worm tube. In the old days, shiners would divert creek or stream water into the worm box as a natural source of circulating cooling water.
The cold water condenses the alcohol steam back into a liquid, which completes the distillation process. Finally, the now-liquid moonshine travels through a spout or hose into a bucket, bottle, or other container for post run flavoring and aging.
For advanced distillers, you might find a 3 still setup. The middle still, known as a thump keg is a heated kettle that helps to filter out some of mash chunks that sometimes make their way into the steam pipe. Some distillers might even charge the thump keg with mash or booze to give their moonshine an extra kick.
If you’re familiar with whiskey distillation, you’ll notice a lot of similarities in how you make moonshine.
The main difference between the two is the aging. Moonshine is often bottled right out of the still, but whiskey is aged in charred oak barrels before it’s sold giving it its brown or amber coloring. That’s why moonshine is often clear, and it explains why moonshine has such a strong kick. It hasn’t had any time to mellow down before being consumed.
Hillbilly Stills specializes in home distilling equipment for making moonshine. Search our products at the links below to get a head start on your first batch of moonshine.