If you’re not a doctor or an ex-special forces Chuck Norris-type, it’s probably a good idea to learn a skill that will still make you a valuable asset when the virus spreads and all your neighbors start the slow walk of the undead. And we’ve got the solution: moonshine. If you know how to make the hard stuff, there won’t be a group you can’t join.
The obligatory legal blah-blah-blah
Making moonshine is hardly brain surgery, but there are a few things you should know. In the U.S., making moonshine isn’t legal everywhere unless you’re using it as fuel alcohol, for which you need a (free) permit. Read up on your state, county and federal laws.
Also make sure you read up on moonshine-brewing safety. We recommend buying a prefab still or distilling kit, because it’s guaranteed to be made of food-grade materials (important), and it will come with full safety instructions. Stills can explode if they leak, so never use it in your house. That’s why in all those movies the bootlegger always has to make the guy walk a good bit from his house to get to the hidden still — he may be a felon, but he ain’t stupid.
1. Pick your still
As previously stated, we recommend buying a commercially made still. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of plans for making it out of stuff you can buy at a scrapyard, but if you aren’t careful, those parts could have harmful chemicals embedded in the metal or even be made of lead-infused or other dangerous materials. Most experts recommend using a copper still for moonshine because the product will taste better, but a stainless steel still (say that three times fast!) will also work and has the same advantage of not introducing harmful chemicals into your hooch.
2. Make sure you have enough bottles
You’ll need a sterile environment where you can store your moonshine. While it is likely the (really high) alcohol content would kill any harmful bacteria, it might not do so without affecting the flavor of your firewater (and you never know). Mason jars are the easiest way to go, though any glass container will do (even leftover alcohol bottles). Just make sure you sterilize them properly, whether they’re new or you’re reusing them.
For every gallon of mash you make, you’ll need three 1-pint Mason jars (in other words, enough room for 6 cups), though the yield can be unpredictable, and you may not use all of them.
3. Start with the mash
Assuming you live outside the U.S., Congress comes to its senses and legalizes it (fingers crossed!) or the zombie apocalypse has pretty much yielded all federal and state laws mute, it’s time to make some mash.
Mash is a fermented mix of corn or another grain, yeast, sugar and water that you’ll eventually turn into moonshine. This is a simple mash, but once you’ve mastered this, you can move on to more complex mash recipes. You might be tempted to start the fermenting process inside since there’s no alcohol under pressure, but that mash is going to be heavy. Just start outside using a well-controlled flame, and move the fermenter around as needed (or adjust the flame) to control the temperature.
Note: Your still kit may come with a built-in fermenter. If so, follow those instructions for use.
Adapted from Countryfarm Lifestyles
- 10 gallons water
- 1 (5-pound) bag cornmeal
- 1 (5-pound) bag sugar
- 10-1/2 grams instant or active dry yeast
- 1 pint malt extract
- Litmus test strips
- Bring the water up to 120 degrees F, then place it in a 20-gallon fermenting pot (copper or stainless steel only).
- Add the meal a little at a time, then add the sugar a little at a time, stirring well. This process will scald the meal.
- Bring the fermenter up to 145 degrees F (don’t let it get higher, or you’ll mess with the mixture’s ability to convert starch to sugar), and let it stay at that temperature for 30 minutes or until it has the consistency of a thin oatmeal.
- Remove it from the heat, and cover it to protect the mash, then hose down the outside of the container to cool it down until it’s cool enough to put your finger in and leave it.
- Take out a little bit of the mash, put it on a paper plate, and put 1 drop of iodine on it. If it’s light purple, it’s done (enough starch has converted to sugar). If it’s blue, put it back on for another 30 minutes. Discard the tested mash.
- When it’s done, take a cup of warm (120-degree F) water, add the malt extract and yeast, and stir to dissolve. Add it to the mash. If it’s thick, you can add more warm water (not hot… yeast is a living thing, so be kind).
- Place the fermenting container, covered, in a warm place for 3 days, and let the yeast work its magic. Every once in a while, open it up for 30 minutes to let some wild yeast in. It will give it a more distinct flavor.
- In general, your mash is ready when the froth created by the yeast stops growing, but use litmus test paper regularly to make sure it doesn’t turn into vinegar. It should turn blue or light pink as long as it’s still safe.
4. Time to make some moonshine
From this point forward, you’ll want to follow the directions on your distilling equipment, as it may vary from product to product. But essentially, after your mash is done foaming, you’ll have a light golden liquid referred to as still beer or wash. This is what you’ll put into the still’s pot.
It will be boiled to two different boiling points. First to 173 degrees F to boil the ethanol, and then to 212 degrees F to boil the water. The water vapor will enter the distillation column and drip back down into the pot, and can be discarded. The ethanol vapor will enter the distillation column and travel through an arm called the lyne arm, then into the condenser, where it cools and returns to its liquid state, where it’s collected in a vessel.
The first 5 percent of the moonshine (for this recipe, about 1/2 cup) is full of nasty chemicals you don’t want to drink. Chuck it down the drain. The rest should be redistilled to create a smoother, drinkable solution and remove more water. Never taste the result of the first distill. It can be dangerous, leading to blindness, damaged internal organs or even death. Note that if you’d like to make gin, you’ll use a botanical blend during the second distillation.
After you’re done with the second distillation, you may still not be done. Moonshine is damn strong if you’ve done it correctly. It’s going to be less whiskey, more high-octane NASCAR fuel. Fill one of your Mason jars just under halfway with the ‘shine, then pour in the same amount of water, put the lid on, shake it a bit, and let it sit out for a while on the counter. If it settles and has bubbles both on top of and below the surface, you should be right around 100-proof. If that’s too strong for you, though, you can always add water to taste.
The resulting moonshine is going to be clear. If you want it to be more traditional whiskey, you’ll have to age it for a few years in oak barrels. If you want to make bourbon, you age it in charged barrels. If you’re a fan of Scotch, that’s old bourbon barrels.