Making vodka from sugar (Moonshine)
Making sugar moonshine is a traditional moonshining recipe. There are many other sugar wash recipes and distilling methods out there, but for beginners, I recommend to follow this recipe in order to prevent spoiling precious raw materials at home. You’ll be able to make a beverage that is much better than any store-bought vodka. Let’s learn all of the nuances in full detail.
First, make sure that all of the containers and vessels used are squeaky clean. Wash them with hot water and wipe dry with a clean cloth. Many novice moonshiners neglect sterility and then complain about odd smell and flavor.
- No Rinse Cleaner/Sanitizer
- Cooking Pot (Stovetop)
- Stirring Spoon 24″
- Kitchen Scales
- Fermentation container (ss) or Fermentation container (plastic)
- Siphon (for decanting)
- Thermometer (Infared)
- Funnel with strainer & filter
- Distiller (Electric) or Distiller (Stovetop)
- Alcoholmeter & Hydrometer
- Measuring Jugs (Large) & Measuring Jugs (Small)
- Distillate collection jugs (Carboys)
- Glass Bottles – 750ml
To make 5 liters of 40% ABV moonshine you’ll need:
Making the wash
- Measuring ratio. First, let’s decide what amount of moonshine you want. At home, from 1 kilo of sugar, you’ll be able to make 1.1-1.2 liters of moonshine with 40% ABV. But for such measurements, I suggest increasing the amounts of all ingredients by 10-15% because due to various reasons (temperature, raw materials quality, and wrong distillation) real yield is always less than theoretical yield.
Per 1 kilo of sugar, you should add 4 liters of water (and another 0.5 liters if you perform inverting) and 100 grams of pressed yeast or 20 grams of dry yeast.
- Inverting sugars. This seemingly complex term means simply preparing sugar syrup with citric acid. During fermentation yeast first break down sugars into monosaccharides—glucose and fructose, which are then “waiting” for better conditions (temperature and humidity).
Moonshine made from inverted sugars ferments faster and has a better taste. Although the inverting stage is considered optional as most recipes suggest simply dissolving sugar in warm water, I recommend cooking syrup.
In order to invert sugars for wash you’ll need to do the following:
- Warm 3 liters of water to 70-80°C in a large cooking pot.
- Add sugar (6 kilos) and slowly stir the mixture until it becomes homogenous.
- Bring the syrup to boiling, cook for 10 minutes, skimming off the foam.
- Pour in the citric acid (25 gr) VERY SLOWLY (you’ll get a lot of foam), decrease the heat.
- Close the cooking pot and cook for 60 minutes.
A cooked syrup
- Preparing water. This stage is very important as it directly affects the taste of the final product. The water used for wash should pass the hygienic norms: it should be clear, tasteless, and scentless.
Before making sugar syrup I suggest settling tap water for 1-2 days. Doing this decreases water hardness and lets the sediment layer settle. After this decant the water through a thin tube.
Warning! Don’t boil or distill the water for moonshine because this will cause deoxygenation. Oxygen is required for yeast and fermentation.
- Mixing the ingredients. Pour the cooked syrup in a fermentation vessel, add cold water (24 liters). If you’re using unconverted sugars dissolve it in warm water and stir actively. In both cases, the optimal temperature of the mixture is 27-30°C.
Fill the vessel up to ¾ of its volume. Otherwise, during active fermentation, the wash might overflow and you’ll have to wipe the oddly smelling product off the floor.
- Adding yeast. You can add distillers yeast directly into the vessel, but prior to that mash them with clean hands. The best option, however, would be to first dissolve yeast in a small amount of prepared must (water and sugar), close the cooking pot and then wait for the foam to form. Usually, it takes about 5-10 minutes.
On the contrary, before adding yeast to the must you should first activate them. Just follow the instructions on a label of the yeast package. Usually, it has to do with cooling boiled water to 32-36°C, pouring in a certain amount of yeast, closing the vessel, and covering it in thick fabric or placing it in a warm place with a stable temperature. After 20-40 minutes you’ll see a layer of flat foam on its surface. This means that it’s time to dissolve activated yeast in the must.
Using baker’s yeast causes active overflowing foaming. Crumbs of a half of a cracker or 10-20 ml of vegetable oil work great as foam suppressants. Adding these products won’t affect the quality of your moonshine even a tiny bit.
- Install an airlock on the wash vessel and transfer it to a room with a stable temperature of 26-31°C (this is essential for yeast growth). Inverted sugars give wash fermentation a pleasant caramel scent.
In order to maintain temperature conditions cover the vessel with warm blankets or fur coats, and provide heat insulation with construction thermal insulating materials. You can also install fish tank heaters with a thermal regulation system. Fermentation lasts for 3-10 days (usually 4-7 days). I recommend shaking the wash for 45-60 seconds every 12-16 hours without removing the airlock. Shaking allows excessive carbon dioxide elimination. Carbon dioxide interferes with yeast growth.
The main signs that the sugar wash is ready for distillation:
- Bitter taste (all sugars are converted into ethanol)
- Carbon dioxide is no longer produced (the airlock is not bubbling)
- Top layers of the wash are lighter, there’s sediment at the bottom
- There’s no hissing sound
- You smell a strong ethanol scent
- A lighted match keeps burning when set to the wash
Be cautious, as at least 2-3 of these signs have to appear to make sure that fermentation has stopped. Otherwise, making a mistake is very easy.
- Degassing and clarification. Skipping this stage is not an option. It’s time to decant the sugar wash and pour it into a large cooking pot through a thin tube or syphon. Then heat it up to 50°C. High temperature kills the remaining yeast and promotes carbon dioxide emission.
Pour the degassed wash back into the bottle and clarify it with bentonite (preferably)—natural pipeclay sold in small packages as part of cat litter.
Warning! When choosing pipeclay keep an eye out for flavor additives which will irreversibly spoil your homemade moonshine. Also in order for this method to work wait until fermentation is fully stopped before starting clarification process.
To clarify 20 liters of wash, grind 2-3 tbsp of bentonite in a coffee-grinder and dissolve it in 250 ml of warm water. Then stir it and wait until pipeclay transforms into a viscous mass resembling creamy sour cream. This takes about 10-15 minutes.
Add bentonite to the wash, seal the vessel and shake actively for a few minutes. Leave it alone for 15-30 hours. After that, you can start distillation.
Don’t pour off the sediment into drains as this might cause the formation of cement plugs, which are very hard to eliminate.
Using bentonite eliminates foreign substances which haven’t precipitated out during fermentation. As a result, the wash won’t have an unpleasant yeast odor. Distilling the moonshine will also be much simpler because pipeclay removes most hazardous substances.
- First distilling run. Decant the wash clarified with bentonite and pour it into a distillation still. Many novice and lazy moonshiners stop after that and never taste real homemade moonshine made by following all of the rules.
Distillation is carried out on a low heat. I suggest immediately fractionalizing the yield: heads, hearts, and tails. Collect the first 50 ml per 1 kilo of sugar in a separate container. According to our proportions, these 300 ml are the “head” fraction, which can be used only for technical purposes because they are high in harmful substances.
The next middle fraction (hearts) is also called raw alcohol. Gather the middle run until ABV goes below 40%. Use an alcoholmeter to measure ABV (only at a temperature of 20°C), but you can also use a rule of thumb: keep gathering while the distillate is burning in a spoon.
Gather the last third fraction (tails) in a separate container. It contains a lot of fusil oil. This distillate can be poured in the next wash (after decanting) to increase ABV. Alternatively, you can skip gathering these fractions altogether—just shut the distillation still after gathering the hearts.
- Clarification. Before the second distilling run the middle fraction (raw alcohol) requires additional clarification due to hazardous substances. There’s no one recognized method, that’s why you can use any you want.
Clarifying sugar moonshine with carbon is very natural but if handled properly manganese solution and baking soda also work well. Just make sure to decrease ABV to 15-20% by diluting the distillate with water in order to weaken molecular linkage.
- Second distilling run. Dilute the raw alcohol for fire safety reasons and pour it in the distillation still. Start distilling on a low heat. Gather the heads the same way as before—first 50 ml per 1 kilo of sugar.
Right after gathering the first fraction it’s better to change the steam dome if there is one. Keep gathering the main product until ABV drops below 40%.
- Diluting and infusing. At the last stage, dilute the homemade moonshine with water to the desired strength (usually 40-45%). To make the taste of the drink softer and more balanced, bottle the finished product and seal, and allow it to infuse in a cool dark place for 3-4 days. This time is enough for the chemical reactions that occur when mixing liquids to stop.