Back in prohibition days, home brewing began in the remote hollows of Appalachia, where the only evidence of activity was the shine of the moonlight on the still.
Thus was born moonshining, an activity temperamentally suited to the fiercely independent, proudly self-sufficient mountain folk who could turn a few dollars' worth of corn into a few hundred dollars' worth of corn whiskey, a vital income source during the Great Depression.
Nearly a century later, making moonshine is still a rebel's cause. State laws vary, but federal laws are clear: Distilling alcohol without permits is illegal. Unless you want to run into trouble, we advise you not to do this at home unless you have the proper distilled spirit or fuel alcohol permit.
Moonshining is simply a multi-step process of converting grains, fruit, or other starches into alcohol. The process can encompass various grades of precision as well as wide varieties of recipes. Some home brewers prefer high-tech equipment and stick to organic ingredients, while others work with plastic buckets, whatever starches are available, and simple pot stills.
However you go about it, the first step in making moonshine is making the mash. Mash is a stew of grains, starches, or fruit that have been warmed, enzymatically soaked, and/or otherwise processed to extract the maximum amount of sugar. Yeast is then added to feed on the sugar and convert it to alcohol during the extended fermentation process. The resulting liquid is distilled, often several times, to produce the final, potent, drinkable shine.
Technically, traditional moonshine can be made with any kind of grain such as barley, wheat, or rye, but traditional mountain moonshine uses a corn mash.
Before diving into instructions on how to make moonshine mash, make sure you have the right equipment and ingredients to see the task all the way through. The very basics include:
With just these basic tools, you can make a really good moonshine.
A true corn mash recipe uses some ingredients that may be a tad exotic and difficult for urban dwellers to find, like malted barley and flaked maize. If you're just learning how to make mash for moonshine and want to experiment with a simple, basic recipe, try this mix that uses ingredients you can find in most grocery stores.
1. Fill a pot with 2 or 3 gallons of water (whatever your pot will hold easily along with cornmeal and sugar) and heat to about 120 degrees.
2. Add the ground cornmeal slowly, stirring constantly.
3. Add the sugar slowly, stirring constantly. Monitor the temperature so it rises to about 140 degrees. Don't go far above 150 degrees or you could scorch the mash. The mixture will thicken.
4. Add the malt or amylase enzyme. The enzymes in the malt are the catalytic ingredients that break down the starch in the corn into its simple sugars (which will later be used by the yeast to convert to alcohol.)
5. Cover and leave the mixture at 140-145 degrees for about an hour and a half. The mixture should become visibly thinner as the malt enzymes do their job.
6. Fill a sink with water and put the whole pot in the sink to cool (or use your wort chiller). Let it cool down to about 70 degrees.
7. While you're waiting, add the yeast and 4 tsp. of sugar to a cup of warm water to activate it. The mixture should get all foamy. Also, heat the remaining unused water to about 70 degrees in another pot.
8. Once the mash has cooled to 70 degrees, add the yeast.
9. At this point, many brewers like to aerate the mash by pouring it back and forth between clean buckets a few times, to inject the maximum amount of air and thus oxygen to boost fermentation. This is optional.
10. Transfer the mash to a narrow-mouthed, large-sized jar for fermentation (use a clean funnel) and then add the additional 70-degree water. Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth to prevent contamination while allowing the carbon dioxide from the fermentation process to escape without building up pressure.
11. You'll know it's fermenting when you see foam gathering at the top of the mash. As long as you see bubbling, fermentation is still occurring, and alcohol is still being made. Don't extract the liquid for the distillation process until you see the bubbling slow to a stop. Check on it frequently, as the fermentation process could finish within ten days or last as long as three weeks.
12. Once the fermentation is done, you can extract the liquid for distillation by straining or siphoning.
Many home brewers believe that the best moonshine mash doesn't use extra sugar but, rather, that it derives its taste entirely from raw ingredients. Adventuresome brewers may want to check out the following recipe:
Flaked maize is the name given to corn kernels that have been steamed and rolled to expose the insides, making it easier for the enzymes in the malt to access. It can be found in most feed stores. You can also use cracked corn, as it is cheaper and makes filtering easier, but the starches are locked inside. If you choose to use this type of corn, it may be advisable to do a cereal mash first.
This recipe follows the same instructions as above, except the water should be initially heated to about 165 degrees while softening the flaked maize, and stirred constantly until the temperature drops to 150 degrees. At this point, add the malted barley and cover for about an hour and a half. Continue as directed.
All a good mash really needs is something that contains sugar for the yeast to feast on, whether that sugar is raw or tied up in starches. Moonshiners traditionally used corn because it was cheap, it could be stored for a long time, and it was widely available. Fruits are high in sugar so they are a great alternative, especially during high season when they're abundant and inexpensive.
To make moonshine mash with fruit, a brewer first cuts, crushes, or presses the fruit to extract the sugary juices, to which yeast is added for fermentation. Because there is plenty of sugar available in the fruit juice, the mash doesn't need malted barley or amylase enzyme to break down starches. In fact, brewers of fruit mash may want to invest in a brewing hydrometer to make sure the sugar content of the mash doesn't soar so high as to inhibit fermentation.
Once the mash is fermented into a raw fruit wine, it is strained, filtered, and distilled as usual into moonshine.
There are many choices when it comes to how to make apple pie moonshine mash. Check out this basic recipe.
1. Wash and chop up the apples into bite-sized pieces, add to a large pot along with the sugar and a cinnamon stick.
2. Bring to a boil in two gallons of water and then lower the heat to simmer for about 15 minutes to extract fruit juices. Mash the apples and allow to cool.
Note: If you want to avoid the time it takes to cut up and simmer the fruit, you can alternately use apple cider or concentrated apple juice, or use an apple press to get the juice directly.
3. Cool the mixture to 70 degrees and then pour into the jar where it will ferment. Add as much warm water as needed to reach a specific gravity of 1.05 on the spirit hydrometer.
4. Start the yeast by adding it to warm water with a teaspoon or two of sugar. Once foamy, pour the active yeast into the fermenting container.
5. Cover the mouth of the jar with a cheesecloth and let ferment until the bubbling stops, ten days to two weeks.
6. Siphon off the liquid and distil as usual.
7. If you're looking for a strong apple pie flavor, store the resulting moonshine in jars with a cinnamon stick and/or mulling spices, checking daily for the exact apple pie taste you crave.
The following recipe is for five pounds of mash.
1. Wash the strawberries, cut off the leaves and stems, dump the clean fruit in a blender, and then pour the chunky puree in a big boiling pot.
2. Add water to about 5 gallons total mash. Check the specific gravity on the spirit hydrometer and add as much sugar as needed to reach 1.05.
3. Boil to 160 degrees to kill any bacteria or wild yeast that came with the strawberries.
4. Cool to 70 degrees. Meanwhile, add yeast to warm water and a little sugar to get it activated.
5. Pour mash into the fermentation jar, add the starter yeast, and let ferment for a week or two until bubbling stops. Siphon the liquid into the still and distil as usual, then enjoy a sip of your strawberry moonshine.
All the subtleties of taste begin in the moonshine mash, and there is no limit to what you can use to ferment a specialty brew. Add raisins, lemon zest, or mixtures of fruit for a fine summer moonshine, or experiment with sweet potatoes in the fall. For more ideas, learn about making flavored moonshines right here.
Enjoy crafting your own unique recipes on how to make moonshine mash to share with friends and family.
Before discovering the meaning of life, Rory Constantine spent his days tinkering with airplane engines in a Raytheon hangar. But on a junket overseas, a fellow grease monkey talked him into visiting a British distillery that offered tastings. Now Rory chases the scent, potency, and promise of spirits up mountains, through jungles, and over wide deserts in search of the next transformative mouthful.