Moonshine: An Introduction
Moonshine: An Introduction
Since the dawn of American history, people have been home-making alcoholic beverages. Moonshine is characterized by two ideas: freedom and craftsmanship. After the American Revolution, the federal government placed a tax on liquor production to pay for expenses made by the war. It was a heavy tax, and for some American people, it was the difference between being able to feed their family or not. To evade this tax, people turned to moonshining. Since then, throughout American history, people have been moonshining for various reasons: to avoid taxation, to make and enjoy liquor during the Prohibition, or to exercise their own personal right to create a superb craft. What the idea of moonshining boils down to is the freedom to create your own craft and the freedom to create your craft whatever way you want. Moonshining as a hobby enables you to create your own one-of-a-kind liquor. Though traditionally whiskey, moonshining does not specifically refer to any particular kind of distilled liquor. You can make rum, vodka, or gin (just to a name a few) and use practically any kind of grain or fruit. Your craft is totally up to you! Most moonshine stills are made out of copper or stainless steel. All our stills are 100% made of copper. Copper is more expensive than stainless steel, but it’s worth it. Firstly, copper makes your moonshine smell and taste better by removing sulfur from yeast through a chemical reaction with the copper, which also improves the aroma and overall quality of the moonshine. The copper has antimicrobial effects which prevent the production of toxic substances and destroys many viruses and bacteria (again, making it taste and smell better). Stainless still has none of these benefits and the quality and aroma of the resulting distillate can suffer. This is why so many steel stills have a reflux design which yields a higher proof, tasteless distillate. Another problem with stainless steel is it's poor heat conductivity. Copper doesn't suffer from this; the electrical conductivity of copper helps distribute heat evenly throughout the still. Copper has a history of use that is at least 10,000 years old. Copper is extremely hard to erode, even under extreme conditions, yet it is malleable enough for master craftsmen to cut and pound into whatever shape they so desire. Copper has been widely used for centuries in plumbing, architecture, and as currency, and is widely used today in electronics and electrical wires. Old moonshiners in the Appalachian hills used copper and commercial distilleries use it today. And, of course, copper looks great! Steel or aluminum stills just can’t compete with copper aesthetically. Our stills are truly works of art.
The Basics of Making Moonshine
Let’s Get Started. Making moonshine with a pot still is pretty simple and is made up of two major steps: fermentation - the creation of alcohol - and distillation - the collection of alcohol by evaporation. Fermentation is the creation of alcohol. Fermentation is a chemical reaction that occurs when yeast (a type of fungi) breaks down sugars found in fruits or grains like corn, wheat, and barley and converts these sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. First, the grain is ground up. Traditionally, moonshiners would use corn and grind it up into corn mash. Then, the ground-up grain is added to the still and is soaked in hot water. Some people choose to add sugar at this stage to increase the amount of alcohol made in the end; traditional moonshiners would add malt to convert the starch in the corn into sugar to increase their alcohol yield. The yeast is added to this mixture, and the final mixture of ground grain, water, and sugar or malt is called mash. This mash is stirred thoroughly and heated gently in the still for some time to allow the yeast to process the sugars in the mash. After a set time passes, the yeast converts the sugars into alcohol. This is similar to how wine (made with fruit) and beer (made with grains) are made; wine and beer are actually pre-distilled forms of liquor. What separates wine and beer from moonshine and other liquors is the distillation process. Now, to separate the alcohol from the mash, we go to step two: distillation. Distillation is the collection of alcohol from the mix of yeast and grain or fruit from the previous step of fermentation. This is accomplished by taking advantage of the different boiling points of water (212°F) and alcohol (173°F). The mixture of yeast, grain or fruit, and water is heated to between 173-212°F which allows the ethanol (which is the type of alcohol people consume) to turn into gas while leaving most of the water in its liquid state. As more and more alcohol gas forms, pressure rises in the still and forces the alcohol gas out of the top of the still through a thin tube to the condenser. Inside the condenser, the alcohol gas is cooled and transformed into liquid alcohol. The condenser is full of cold water; when moonshine was made during the prohibition era, this cold water was usually diverted from a freshwater stream nearby. The cold water flows into the condenser from a separate opening at the top and out through a hole in the bottom to keep a constant circulation of cool water flowing. The alcohol gas enters the condenser and travels through a long, coiled tube called the worm. As the alcohol gas travels through the worm, it gets cooled by the bath of cool water surrounding the worm. This cooling makes the gas turn into a liquid, forming liquid alcohol. Then, the liquid alcohol drips out of the worm by means of a spout into a container. There’s your moonshine!
From ground up grain to finished liquor, moonshining is a simple and easy to learn hobby with its roots deep in American history. Don’t let complicated terms like pH or sparging scare you off; moonshining is straightforward. As you can see from the above description, the methods are clear and accessible. While you learn, practice, and make moonshine, you can experiment with different types of grain, fruit, or even yeast. Check out homedistiller.org for more great tips on moonshining. Once you get started, you’ll realize drinking it is only half the fun! No matter what your skill level, from beginner all the way up to expert artisan, moonshining will quench your thirst for creation and craftsmanship.
- Moonshine Stills Company