“Mashing in” to Make Moonshine


In this article we take you through a step-by-step guide of how to make
your mash or wash for any type of spirit. We cover everything from a simple sugar wash to an all-grain mash. We include fruit for Brandy’s and molasses for Rums.

Equipment you need to mash in

Before we start on the mashing in process, let’s look at some of the equipment you are likely to need in your quest for the perfect moonshine or spirit. For this craft/hobby you will need two different types of Hydrometers. The first is the ‘Triple Scale hydrometer’, so called because it has 3 different displays to show you how much sugar you have in your wash/mash. We tend to use the Specific Gravity scale from 0.990 to 1.170. The other two scales are the sugar scale (0-23 Balling) and the alcohol scale(0-23%) which shows the potential alcohol in the wash/mash.

Triple scale hydrometer

The second Hydrometer is the Alcoholometer, often called the Proof and Tralle Hydrometer. This is used after distillation to test the strength of the spirit using an Alcohol by Volume (ABV) scale. Please be aware that your Hydrometer will have been calibrated to be accurate at a certain temperature. In the US, hydrometers tend to be calibrated at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and in Europe at 68 degrees Fahrenheit

A digital PH meter is also recommended to test the acidity or alkalinity of your water. You are looking to be in the range of 4 to 6, with an ideal being a PH reading of 5.2. You will need a large stainless-steel vessel in which to heat water, and you will need food grade fermenting buckets, as well as a large stirring spoon or paddle.  Of the essential equipment required, the last piece in this jigsaw is the Still.

You may also wish to consider a PH stabiliser, Yeast Nutrient for sugar washes, Pectic enzymes when using fruit, and a good selection of food grade siphon tubes. Lids for fermenters are useful to keep out debris and airlocks can be used for a controlled environment. Some form of heating for the fermenters in cold weather is a good idea and Brew in the Bag options can be used in grain recipes.

Finally, when considering your ‘mashing in’ options you should think about having some Amylase on hand. This is a real ‘game changer’ in our craft/hobby and gives us some good options when making an all-grain mash. Make sure to have both alpha-amylase and beta-amylase (glucoamylase) in your stock.

Mashing in moonshine

In the following sections we look at the process behind a successful wash or mash. We have not devised a recipe or grain bill with quantities or spirit strength in mind. We have left that entirely in your hands.

Please remember that not all sugars or some sugars in molasses are fully fermentable.

How to make a Sugar Wash

In theory, this should be our simplest recipe to get right. We are only looking to heat the water to a temperature that will dissolve the sugar completely, so do just that. You will be topping up the wash with cold water once the sugar has fully dissolved.

You will now need to consider several steps. If you are aiming for a high strength spirit, you will need to decide upon your choice of yeast, and the amount of yeast nutrient you will need to support it. The nutrient should be added to the wash in advance of the yeast being pitched.

You should check your PH and adjust as necessary, and you should ensure that the liquid is properly oxygenated. Not only does yeast need sugar to eat, but it also needs oxygen to begin building it's colony and thrive.

Once you are happy that the sugar is dissolved, the PH is in the correct range, the mixture is oxygenated, the yeast nutrient has been added and the temperature of the wash is suitable, take an initial specific gravity reading. Don’t forget to adjust the reading if the temperature of the wash is above that which your hydrometer is calibrated to. Check out our article "Understanding Specific gravity"

When you’re happy that all these points have been followed, pitch the yeast, store in a warm place, and wait for it to ferment out.

Once the specific gravity is at 1.000 or below, carefully siphon into the still.

How to make a Sour Mash

Your recipe is likely to contain at least one grain and some sugar. Here you are looking to the grain for flavour, and the action of the sugar and yeast to produce the alcohol. 

Sour mash is traditionally produced over several generations, with the flavour improving after each generation

Here, you are not looking to convert the grain enzymes into fermentable sugars, so half the water in the recipe needs to be heated until it is hot enough to dissolve all the sugar. The sugar should be added to the hot water and stirred vigorously.

The grain should be added to the fermenter (either loose or in a brew bag) and the hot water poured over the grain. The mixture should then be left to steep for 45 minutes to an hour.

After this time the mixture should be topped up with the remaining cold water and PH and SG readings taken.

The Yeast should be pitched once the temperature of the mixture is within range.

Allow to ferment as normal.

Siphon the mash into the still for distillation. Transfer the grain from the fermenter into a spare vessel, cover it with cold water and put to one side.

Once distillation is complete pour the required volume of backset from the still into the fermenter. This should account for between 25% and 33% of the total volume of the mash.

Add the sugar into the fermenter and stir until dissolved. Transfer the grain from the spare vessel into the fermenter and top up to the required volume with cold water. Carry out the PH and SG readings and make any adjustments. Once at the correct temperature, pitch the yeast.

After 2 or 3 generations you may not need to add further yeast. Continue this process for as many generations as required. After about 4 generations, remove some of the spent grain and replace it with fresh.

How to make a Rum Wash

For a rum wash you will be applying similar principles to the sugar wash, and you will also be dissolving molasses.

If you are making a generational rum using ‘dunder’, you will apply similar principles as the sour mash using dunder instead of backset.

How to make a Brandy Mash

If using fresh fruit, place the fruit into a suitable container and mash the fruit with a large paddle. You are looking to at least break the skin and break up the fruit.

You do not need to remove the skin or the pits.

At this point add some pectic enzyme and leave for an hour.

Pour your hot water into the fermenter and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Add the mashed fruit and stir thoroughly.

Take your PH and SG readings and make any necessary adjustments.

For a Fruit Brandy try using a wine yeast for a better fermentation.

If using frozen fruit, just defrost and add to the hot water and sugar mix.

If making a Mountain Brandy, you will add your grain to the fermenter after the fruit has been added. Check out our Mountain Brandy video on YouTube

Once you mash has fermented, siphon the mash through a sieve into your still and run the still in pot still mode.

Try ageing on oak,

How to make an All Grain Mash

This is commonly used when making traditional Whisk(e)y’s or making a neutral spirit for Vodka or Gin.

Your grain bill is likely to contain a grain with a high diastatic power such as Malted Barley to ensure that the enzymes in the grains are converted into fermentable sugars.

It is also possible to use Alpha and Beta amylase products to circumvent the conversion process.

We will cover both.

For conversion, bring your water to at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit and stir in the grains thoroughly. Cover the fermenter with insulation and leave for at least an hour for the enzymes to go to work.

If using Amylase product, follow the instructions on the bottle or packet.

Conversion of the starches into fermentable sugars can be tested using the iodine test. This test is not covered here.

We have written this article as a set of guidelines to help you along your moonshining and distilling path. We hope you find it useful.


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