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How Much Alcohol Will My Whiskey Still Make?

Although every copper moonshine still is different, many distillers start with a basic question like “how much moonshine will my still produce?” or “how much will I get out of my 5 gallon whiskey still?”

While there is no definitive answer - you will have to make 2 or 3 batches with your particular whiskey still to understand how it operates most efficiently - we can give you some general guidelines, so that you can adjust your methods if you aren’t producing moonshine efficiently.

Factors that Affect Yield

The alcohol proof of your final product will be based on a variety of factors - the strength of the ingredients in your mash, the chemistry of how those ingredients interact, and the efficiency of your distillation run. These factors contribute to the alcohol by volume of the mash and its alcohol wash, which is then distilled into your whiskey or moonshine. Consider how each of the following will help you make the most of each alcohol run.

Yeast and Sugar

There is a delicate science to combining the yeast and the sugar in your moonshine mash recipe so that the maximum amount of sugar is fermented into alcohol. Generally, more sugar is better, but too much is waste. In addition to finding the right proportion of yeast to sugar in your whiskey mash recipe, you will want to use a distiller’s yeast instead of regular bread yeast. Distiller’s yeast has been bred to withstand higher alcohol concentrations, and so can ferment more sugar in any moonshine mash recipe.

Using a Copper Still

Temperature control is extremely important in distilling alcohol, and copper stills definitely give moonshiners the best temperature control. Ethanol alcohol vaporizes at a lower temperature than water, and in a very precise range (typically 174-195 degrees Fahrenheit), so timing your run at this temperature is key. Because copper heats evenly, it is one of the most trusted materials for kitchen and distilling equipment, and using a copper still can help you maximize the amount of time you spend at the precise temperature for distilling the most ethanol.

General Alcohol Yields

You can generally assume that your alcohol still will produce a final batch that is about 20% of the size of your copper still’s pot. For example, the average run in a 5 gallon still can be expected to produce about a gallon or a gallon and a half of moonshine. Of course, the quality of the different batches of moonshine will vary depending on many factors - you may only get ¾ of a gallon in one batch, but with a very high proof and excellent quality. Or, you may run up a batch that ends with more than a gallon, but with more “feints” that will make their way into future runs.

Standard Yields:

Most standard distillation runs will yield about:

  • 3 - 6 cups of alcohol from a 1 gallon copper still
  • 1/2 - 1 gallon of alcohol from a 2.5 gallon copper still
  • 1 - 2 gallons of alcohol from a 5 gallon copper still
  • 2 - 5 gallons of alcohol from a 10 gallon copper still

Ending the Run

"Barrels" by William Warby

There are many clues that tell you when to end your whiskey run, but you can also guess at the end of a run based on the approximate quantity of moonshine you’ve collected. Most runs will still leave some wash at the “bottom of the barrel,” so don’t worry if you have distilled every last drop. It’s typically not worth running your copper still higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit on your run, so that is a good indication. Generally, a distillation run might only remove 85-90% of the alcohol from the wash, but that is good enough for most moonshiners.

Each distillation run on a copper whiskey still will result in a different amount of moonshine. While there is no exact formula to accurately predict exactly how much you will get out of any run, if you are not reaching numbers close to these, consider how changing some of the factors of your distillation process will allow you to get more product out of your copper moonshine still.

Article by: Jim Thomas

June 16, 2015

Posted in how to, moonshine mash, recipe, science

Basic Moonshine Mash Recipe

“Moonshine” is distilled from the fermented sugar of a malt grains like oats, cornmeal, or wheat. A strong alcohol, the recipe for moonshine is very basic, which is why it has been popular throughout the years as something that can be made by amateur and professional distillers alike. While there are many successful (and delicious!) recipes for moonshine, here is a basic one that can be altered to fit the ingredients you have available or your taste preferences.

Making Moonshine Mash in 3 Steps

To make moonshine, you will combine your grains in an enclosed chamber with a fermenter, such as sugar or yeast. Add water, and you have a mixture that is called a “mash.” Mashes are used for other alcohols as well, such as whiskey. You’ll leave your mash in the chamber for a limited amount of time, to allow the sugars in the grains to turn into alcohol.

Before distilling, you can filter the solid husks and plant matter out of the mash. If you remove these solid materials, the liquid that is left is often called the moonshine or whiskey “wash.”

Either a mash or a wash can be distilled, so that the alcohol is separated from the water, and you can enjoy your own fine homemade whiskey.

Tips for Moonshine Mashes:

  • Corn meal does not filter well out of a wash, and a cornmeal mash may burn the bottom of a copper still
  • The first product in a distilling batch has the highest alcohol proof
  • Measure your yeast fermentation and the mash’s alcohol content using a hydrometer

Step 1: Research and Purchase Ingredients

Basic Moonshine Mash Recipe

  • 5 gallons of malt grains (rye, barley, or a combination of grains)
  • 1 package of bread yeast
  • 10 pounds sugar (any kind)
  • 5 gallons warm water

Because moonshine has often been made in secret, there are no standardized measurements for the different ingredients in moonshine - it can be a process of trial and error to find a recipe that you like and that works well in your moonshine still.

Most people have used 5-gallon grain buckets to measure grains over the years, and that is often still a typical measurement given, because stills are also measured in gallons

Some recipes call for yeast, while others call for sugar. Ours, however, requires a bit of both. After a few runs, you may find that one type of fermenter over the other is right for you.

It’s best if you can use distilled water to make your moonshine mash, because you know that distilled water will not add any impurities that could throw off the fermentation process, or the flavor or alcohol content of your final product.

Step 2: Prepare Mash

Commercial distillery fermentation chamber

In a fermentation chamber, combine approximately 5 pounds of sugar with 1-2 gallons of malt grain. Add warm water until the sugar dissolves - the water should be warm enough to dissolve the sugar but not hot enough that it kills the yeast.

Stir the mixture as the sugar dissolves. Continue stirring as you add the remaining grains, sugar, and water. Keep stirring until all sugar dissolves.

Step 3: Wait for Fermentation

Cover the fermentation container, while still allowing the mash to “breathe.” The mash can take 2 weeks or so for all the yeast to have turned as much sugar into alcohol as possible, if you let this process (called “clearing” the mash) happen naturally. However, you can use a product like Turbo Clear to shorten your fermentation time to as little as 4 days. 

When the bubbles are large and slow to move to the top of the container, you might check to see if your mash is ready to distill. Distill the mash or wash in a clean, high-quality copper still, and your final moonshine should be between 90 and 140 proof, depending on the alcohol by volume of the mash.

Moonshines can be flavored during the mash, and there are hundreds of recipes that describe how to add varying ingredients to achieve different textures, flavors, and potencies of moonshine.

Moonshines can also be flavored after distillation, by having fruit soak in a container of moonshine for a number of days, then straining out the solid materials. Flavored moonshines can be combined into cocktails, and are even used in recipes for stews, desserts, dressings, and more.

There is no end to the uses for this versatile, easy-to-make, and strong-willed alcohol. Enjoy trying different moonshine recipes, and always enjoy your moonshine responsibly.


Article by: Jim Thomas

Photo credit: Logan Ingalls, Josh Rubin