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?

Yeast and Fermentation of Alcohol

Yeast and Fermentation of Alcohol

Yeast is extremely important in the alcohol distillation process. Whether you are making vodka, rum, or whiskey it is extremely important that you use the proper yeast to minimize the production of undesirable fusel alcohols, aldehydes, and other byproducts and impart the proper flavor to the alcohol.

Yeast and Fermentation of Alcohol

The fermentation process uses yeast to convert fermentable sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide by breaking down sugar’s molecular structure of into simpler compounds. The type of yeast used greatly affects fermentation rate and overall flavor of the finished product – if you use the wrong yeast, you could ruin your batch.

Typical yeasts used in brewing and distillation are members of the genus Saccharomyces, and they have been cultivated to thrive in the fermentation industry. Yeast strains have dramatically differing nutritional requirements for strong and rapid fermentation, so proper yeast is absolutely essential.

Fermentation takes place in different phases – the first being primary fermentation. In the primary phase, yeast uses oxygen and other nutrients to rapidly grow and reproduce. After the initial growth, they kick into gear and start breaking sugars down in order to use the oxygen molecules.

Contrary to popular belief, yeast doesn’t just feed on sugar – it needs other nutrients like nitrogen and uses sugar for oxygen. After the sugar is broken down, the main byproducts created by the yeast are CO2 and alcohol. They aren’t trying to create alcohol; they are doing their best to survive in a hostile anaerobic environment.

Fun fact: Yeast is fastest organism on the planet that can mutate and adapt to survive in a hostile and changing environment.

As the nutrients start to run out, the fermentation process slows down and the yeast converts sugars to alcohol at a much slower rate. The CO2 bubbling will start to settle down and the dead yeast will settle at the bottom of the fermentation tank.

The wash that is left is a mixture of alcohols, unfermented sugars, and other molecular compounds that are let behind after the fermentation. Now, it is time to move on to the distillation phase.

How to Clean a Stainless Steel or Copper Moonshine Still

How to Clean a Stainless Steel or Copper Moonshine Still

Did you recently buy your very first stainless steel still or a copper pot still? We highly recommend you clean your new still thoroughly before brewing your first batch of moonshine to remove residues from the manufacturing process. As manufacturers of high quality copper pot stills and stainless steel distillers, we always are trying to educate our customers on the best way to perfectly clean your still to ensure a long life of producing the finest quality product with each batch.

When you get the new still be sure to wash all the parts and the outside of the still. One of the advantages of owning a stainless moonshine still is that it is very easy to clean when compared to a copper still. Here are some recommendations how to clean your new still:

stainless still distiller

Cleaning a Stainless Still

  • Use warm water and any dish soap you would use for your own pots and pans 
  • Make a solution of 1 tablespoon of 3% caustic soda (Sodium Hydroxide) and 2 liters of water (recommended temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit) and use that solution to rinse the still.
  • Common white vinegar is also a great cleaning agent for your still. 
  • Do NOT use any bleach. 

copper pot distiller

Cleaning a Copper Still

  • Mix 1 tablespoon salt with 1 cup vinegar to make a paste and apply to outside of the copper still to remove any tarnish. Add flour to thicken the paste. Rinse with water after 30 minutes. Repeat the process if necessary 
  • Combine ketchup, lemon juice and cream of tartar (optional) to make a paste and clean the outside of the still. Rinse with water. 

Once you have cleaned up the outside, you should do your first batch run which cleans the inside of the still and removed any flux. A common first run method includes making a solution by mixing equal parts of vinegar and water that is one-fifth capacity of the still and running it through the still. Then follow this by running a cheap alcohol run that strips out the flavor from the previous run. Now your still is ready for making great tasting moonshine and spirits.

Do you have any tips that have worked for you? We would love to hear it in the comment section.

Step by Step Home distiller set up

Step by Step Home distiller set up

To start distilling at home, you’ll need some technical knowledge about the equipment, process and how to handle the delicious results. Start small and cheap. You can produce flavorful eau de vie using a tea kettle and a condenser made with plastic tubing to distill wine made from a few pounds of fruit. If you know you are interested in home distilling and don’t need a test still, then the first still to purchase is a 1 1/2- to 2-liter copper alembic pot still. These often ship from Europe and represent a comparatively small investment for what could become a lifelong hobby. The small still is good for small batches of anything, and for redistilling alcohol you have produced in a larger still. The largest still appropriate for home use is 5 gallons (25 liters), a size that matches the scale of home-scale fermenting buckets. But even one run in a 5-gallon still makes a substantial quantity of alcohol. While it is always nice to dream big, stills holding less than 1 gallon (4 liters) encourage you to be creative and keep the enterprise well within the bounds and spirit of home-scale craft distilling. Operating a Pot Still Heat source: Stills under a few liters are best operated over natural gas or propane, and ideally in a water bath. This is because when distilling for maximum flavor, one needs to keep the distillation as slow as possible. It is easier to control the heat in a small still if it is indirect. Getting ready to distill: Clear a work area around the heat source you will use for the distillation. You will need the following: 
 • the still 
the wine

• a ladle
 • a dozen small glasses to collect the distillate 
• a pitcher for mixing the alcohol you are saving to drink 
• a jar with lid for the saved drinkable distillation 
• a jar for “heads and tails” if you plan to redistill them at some point 
• a permanent marker that writes on glass  
• and a damp sponge and towel for use polishing the still and cleaning up spills. 

 If your still will need polishing either inside or out, then also have on hand vinegar and salt. Preparing the still: Make sure your still is clean. If copper sits unused for a long time it naturally oxidizes. The traditional way to polish the interior of a copper is to warm it slightly and then pour some vinegar (1/8 to 1/4 cup for small still) into the still, chased by a tablespoon of salt. Then spread with a sponge. You can polish the exterior of your still with vinegar and salt as well. Step by Step Setup: Follow these steps to set up your still for a distillation run. Place the pot still over the heat source. If using a water bath, set the still in a pot that is large enough to be 3/4 immersed in water. For example, a 2-liter still comfortably sits in a dutch oven. Next, fill the still approximately 3/4 full with the wine to be distilled and then assemble the still. The wine can foam up when first heated so don’t overfill. Assemble the still. This usually means placing the lid on the distillation pot, running the tube from the lid to the condenser coil, adding cold water to the condenser, and finally putting a glass under the spout through which the alcohol will flow. As most home distillers improvise, their setup it may take a little adjusting to get it working. Once the still is assembled, make sure fittings are tight. For example, on a homemade still, ensure that any corks or rubber stoppers are tightly in place. All loosely fitting joints need to be sealed. In a traditional copper alembic still, this means sealing where the lid fits into the pot and where the copper tube leading from the swan’s neck lid fits into the condenser coil. A thick paste made of flour and water is the traditional sealant. If using a water bath, use aluminum foil to make an improvised lid around the still if practical. This reduces energy use and reduces evaporation from the water bath. If the condenser coil is not already surrounded by cold water, add the cold water now.

Basic Safety Guidelines when Distilling

Remember the biggest hazard when distilling at home is fire. Here are a few tips to think about before you begin.

Basic Safety Guidelines when Distilling

  • Don’t distill in a closed room. Try and keep some through-draught (eg both a window and door open)
  • If your home still leaks (liquid or steam) – fix it instead of using it
  • Collect the alcohol securely – don’t put yourself in a position where its easy to knock over the collection vessel etc, or bump the tube out of it. This means having enough space to work in, well lit, tidy.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher with you (and on your side of whatever is going to catch fire)
  • If using electrical heating, have an RCD on the line (residual current device – a fancy circuit breaker)
  • Check your still with water-only the first time you use it, to make sure your condenser is up to the job. You don’t want vapor coming out of the collection tube.
  • Be sober – making moonshine is not the time for drunken mistakes.
  • Pay attention to the still – check it regularly (cooling water still flowing, no leaks, collecting nicely, all temperatures OK)
  • Do the maths – don’t boil the still dry
  • Make sure the outlet tube is free flowing – not crimped or blocked in any way.
  • Make sure the still design is such that you can’t pressurize the still – it should always be able to vent somehow to atmosphere. There shouldn’t be valves such that you can fully close the distillation column off
  • Don’t smoke – you don’t want ignition sources around a liquid as flammable as gasoline

How To Distill Ethanol or Grain Alcohol

Ethanol is also called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol. It’s made from a fermented mixture of corn, yeast, sugar, and water. he resulting alcohol is 100 to 200 proof (200 proof is pure alcohol).
In addition to use in the lab, ethanol is a popular fuel alternative and gasoline additive. Because it is flammable, ethanol can be prohibitively expensive to ship, so it may make sense to distill your own. Anyone can have a still, but be advised you may need to get a permit in order to make ethanol.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: 3 – 10 days, sometimes longer
Here’s How:

If you are starting with whole corn, you first need to convert the cornstarch into sugar by ‘sprouting’ the corn. Place the corn in a container, cover it with warm water, and drape a cloth over the container to prevent contamination and conserve heat. Ideally, the container will have a slowly draining hole at the bottom. Add warm water from time to time as the liquid level falls. Maintain the setup ~3 days or until the corn has sprouts about 2 inches long.
Allow the sprouted corn to dry. Then grind it into meal. Alternatively, start with cornmeal. Other grains can be prepared in much the same way (e.g. rye mash).
Mash or mush is made by adding boiling water to the corn meal. The mash is kept warm to start the fermentation process. Yeast is added, if available (half pound yeast per 50 gallons of mash, for example), and sugar (variable recipe). With yeast, fermentation takes about 3 days. Without yeast, fermentation could require more than 10 days. The mash is ready to ‘run’ once it stops bubbling. The mash has been converted into carbonic acid and alcohol. It is called ‘wash’ or ‘beer’ or ‘sour mash’.
The wash is placed into a cooker, which has a lid that is pasted shut, so that it has a seal which can be blown off should internal pressure become too great. At the top of the cooker, there is a copper pipe, or ‘arm’ that projects to one side and tapers down from a 4-5 inch diameter to the same diameter as the ‘worm’ (1 to 1-1/4 inch). The ‘worm’ could be made by taking a 20 ft length of copper tubing, filling it with sand and stopping the ends, and then coiling it around a fence post.
The sand prevents the tubing from kinking while being coiled. Once the worm is formed, the sand is flushed out of the tube. The worm is placed in a barrel and sealed to the end of the arm. The barrel is kept full of cold, running water, to condense the alcohol. Water runs in the top of the barrel and out an opening at the bottom. A fire is maintained under the cooker to vaporize the alcohol in the wash.
The ethanol vaporizes at 173°F, which is the target temperature for the mixture. The spirit will rise to the top of the cooker, enter the arm, and will be cooled to the condensation point in the worm. The resulting liquid is collected at the end of the worm, traditionally into glass jars. This fluid will be translucent, and about the color of dark beer.
The very first liquid contains volatile oil contaminants in addition to alcohol. After that, liquid is collected. The containers of liquid collected from over the wash are called ‘singlings’. Liquid collected toward the end of this run is called ‘low wine’. Low wine can be collected and returned to the still to be cooked again. The initial collections are higher proof than those collected as the distillation progresses.
The singlings tend to have impurities and require double-distillation, so once the low wine has been run to the point where a tablespoon or so thrown on a flame won’t burn (too low proof), the heat is removed from the still and the cooker is cleaned out. The liquid remaining in the still, the ‘backings’ or ‘slop’, can be recovered and poured over new grain (and sugar, water, and possibly malt) in a mash barrel for future distillations. Discard mash after no more than eight uses.
The singlings are poured into the cooker and the still is returned to operation. The initial collections can approach pure alcohol (200 proof), with the end collections, using the flash test on the flame, at about 10 proof.
The desired proof depends on the application. The highest proof usually obtained from a still is 190 proof. For using alcohol as a fuel alternative, for example, addition purification with a sieve may be required to obtain 200 proof ethanol.

If you live in the United States, a permit may be required in order to legally distill ethanol.
Stills traditionally were operated close to a water source, like a stream or river, because the cool water was used to condense the alcohol in the tubing (called the ‘worm’)
Stills needed to have removable tops, so that they wouldn’t explode when pressure built up from heating the mash.
What You Need:

25 lb corn meal or 25 lb shelled whole corn
100 lb sugar (sucrose)
100 gallons water
6 oz yeast