What Kind Of Sugar To Use When Distilling Moonshine

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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.

Moonshine Recipe



To make 5 liters of 40% ABV moonshine you’ll need:

  • Sugar – 6 kg
  • Water – 24 liters
  • Distillers Yeast
  • Citric acid – 25 gr



Making the wash

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

  1. Warm 3 liters of water to 70-80°C in a large cooking pot.
  2. Add sugar (6 kilos) and slowly stir the mixture until it becomes homogenous.
  3. Bring the syrup to boiling, cook for 10 minutes, skimming off the foam.
  4. Pour in the citric acid (25 gr) VERY SLOWLY (you’ll get a lot of foam), decrease the heat.
  5. Close the cooking pot and cook for 60 minutes.

A cooked syrup

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.


  1. 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.

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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.

  1. 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.

Clarified Wash


  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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%.

  1. 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.

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Differences in Sugar Used for Distilling

The first step to distill a good spirit is to ferment a good wash! In order to ferment your ingredients properly, you should know where your ingredients are coming from and how they react with each other. This is especially important for the sugar that is interacting with the yeast in your ferment. 

Types of Sugar: 

There are two main types of sugar: simple sugar and compound sugar. 

Simple Sugars are monosaccharides, which means they can’t be broken down to form a simpler sugar. Simple sugars are the easiest for yeast to consume because they are 100% fermentable.

  • Fructose, or Fruit Sugar, is found to be the sweetest part of sugars and is a simple sugar that can be found in honey, fruit, and many root vegetables. Fructose tends to create a sweet flavor.
  • Glucose, or Corn Sugar, is known to be the less sweet part of sugar and is another simple sugar that is often processed from a variety of starches- potatoes, corn, wheat.
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Compound Sugars are disaccharides, which means that it is composed of two simple sugars bonded together. Yeast must first break down the bond between the sugar molecules, which can lead to a less efficient fermentation process.

  • Sucrose, also known as table sugar, is a compound of glucose and fructose, mainly found in sugar cane stems or sugar beetroots.

Examples of Sucrose:

As mentioned, sucrose is a compound of sugars that can be found in sugar cane stems and sugar beets, but it has many different names, here are just a few examples:

  • White sugar is a result of the extraction of sugar cane and sugar beets. After collecting sugar cane or sugar beets, the juice from the plants will be boiled down to remove moisture and crystallize the sugar. White sugar itself has some varieties: coarse grain, granulated sugar, caster sugar (in other words, superfine sugar), confectioner’s sugar (Powdered sugar), and lump sugar (Sugar cubes). Each variety has its own different use in baking, cooking, or distilling. 
  • Brown sugar is also sucrose sugar. Due to the presence of molasses, the sugar contains a distinctive brown color, which is between 3.5% for light brown sugar to 6.5% for dark brown sugar. Also, brown sugar is a minimally unrefined or partially refined form of sugar and can be collected from the first crystallization process of sugar cane. Therefore, brown sugar normally contains a higher content of minerals than other types of processed sugar. 

Why is This Important?

Sugar is one of the main components in fermenting, it reacts with the yeast to create ethyl alcohol which will later be distilled. Knowing which type of sugar is interacting with the yeast, and how it reacts, allows you to modify your fermentation process to achieve the desired results. 

If you’re just starting out fermenting and distilling, the simplest wash to start with is a sugar wash because it is simply a mixture of a simple sugar and yeast. To make sugar wash and depending on what type of spirit you want to make, add a certain amount of sugar into hot water and let it dissolve. Once it’s dissolved and cooled, we add water and yeast into the mixture of liquid. 

However, if you are a little more skilled in the fermenting and distilling process, you might want to try getting your sugars from natural sources such as fruits and grains. For instance, good whiskey is fermented with sugars that come from the barley, corn, rye, and/or wheat mixed with water and yeast. Whereas rum gets its natural sugars from fermented sugarcane.

As you are building your spirit recipe, don’t forget to take into account the basic differences in the sugar! Now that you know the basic sugars used in fermentation, learn more about yeast for fermentation.

Sugar and Moonshine

Even if you’re new to the ‘shiners club, you might have already figured out just how essential sugar is for making moonshine and all other distilled spirits. Basically, all you need, aside from your trusted copper pot still, is water, sugar and yeast as alcohol is obtained through the fermentation of natural sugars, with the help of yeast.

In fact, sugar is so indispensable that you can either obtain it through fermentation from fruit or cereal mashes or you can just use it as a sole ingredient, in what is called a sugar wash. Sugar washes are easy for learning to make your own moonshine as they’re fairly easy to prepare but can still yield a nice amount of clear, neutral moonshine, perfect for mixing and flavoring.

Types of sugar

Knowing the different types of fermentable sugars will help you distinguish variations in your final distillate. There are simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, and compound sugars, such as sucrose and maltose.

Glucose is usually found in fruit and plant juice; fructose is the sweetest of sugars and can also be found in fruit, vegetables, sugar cane and honey.

Sucrose is actually formed through the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of fructose and is found in sugar cane stems or sugar beet roots, while maltose is the least sweet of sugars and is formed through the germination of grains, the most important being barley, which is converted into malt (For more information on malting read: http://www.whiskeystill.net/blogs/whiskey-still-co-blog/12638473-malt-whiskey)

You can either base your moonshine on a fruit or grain mash, from which natural sugars will be extracted through fermentation, or you can use already processed commercial sugar. The main forms you can find this in are white sugar, brown and raw sugar.

Among these, raw and white sugars are used most for home distillation: they ferment easily and are affordable. Molasses, a sugar byproduct, is also used in distillation, most often in the process of making rum (http://www.whiskeystill.net/blogs/whiskey-still-co-blog/12175097-how-to-make-homemade-rum). 

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White sugar is a processed sugar obtained generally from sugar cane. It comes in many different forms and levels of crystallizing, from the standard granulated sugar, to coarse and sanding larger crystal sugars, to superfine and powdered sugar.  

Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar with a distinctive brown color due to the presence of molasses, which is between 3.5%, for light brown sugar, to 6.5% for dark brown sugar.

Natural brown sugar, or raw sugar, is obtained from the first crystallization of sugar cane and can be found as unrefined or partially refined. Unrefined brown sugar contains molasses syrup, which is higher in mineral content.

Turbinado and demerara are partially processed sugars, obtained through crystallizing raw sugar cane, then removing water and impurities through the use of a centrifuge.

Demerara has less molasses than light brown sugar, while turbinado has a golden color and a mild brown sugar flavor. Muscovado is an unrefined, dark brown sugar with a stronger molasses flavor and a sticky texture.

Sugar wash

A sugar wash is easily obtained through mixing your chosen type of sugar with water and yeast. First add the sugar to some hot water and mix, then once it’s dissolved, add colder water.

You can decide proportions depending on recipe, ingredients or the equipment you have but as a general rule, you can use about 3 liters of water for 1kg of sugar. Add your yeast and let it ferment for 4-8 days.

Once that’s done fire up your moonshine still and get to the next stage: distillation.

A typical yield from sugar wash is somewhere between 40-50%, meaning you should get about 550 ml of pure ethanol per kg of sugar. So, for 5kg of sugar, you should get some 2.75 liters of alcohol. If you run your pot still at 40%, you can get up to 7 liters of distillate from 5 kg of sugar.

So, whatever you decide to make your homemade moonshine from, sugar is your best friend. Although it might not come out as rich and tasty as a distillate obtained from malt or fruit mashes, a sugar wash is easy and cheap to make.

Posted by Jason Stone on October 11, 2017

Blackstrap molasses rum recipe

Once fermentation has finished you can now run the wash. Using a siphon remove the wash from the fermenter without disrupting the trub at the bottom of the fermenter. Move the siphoned wash to your boiler, and move the trub to a storage container which can be used in your next run as yeast or nutrients.

If you are using a potstill you should be fine. I prefer to add 2 scrubbers to my column to add a bit of reflux. If you are using a boka then no scrubbers are needed and no reflux is required. If you are using a plated system then run it without your dephlegmator. Rum is a highly flavored spirit so you do not want to achieve a pure neutral spirit.

If you have any rum oils now is the time to add them to your boiler.

If you are not doing a stripping run then you will want to run your still slow and monitor temperatures You will need to collect the first 50ml – 200ml depending on the size of the wash, and the ABV. These are your forshots and should not be consumed or used in spirits. Discard it or use it for cleaning, solvents, but do not drink.

Next you will need to start collecting cuts; with the first cuts being the heads which can be discarded, or saved and run in a neutral run later on. The amount depends on the size of wash, yeast used or stress and the alcohol content. The heads will taste and smell sweet from the Ethyl acetate. Once this sweetness decreases you’ll be entering your hearts which you want to save.

Collect down to 50% as your hearts. The next portion you can save for a neutral run or toss but don’t add it to your collections. Collect until you reach 40% ABV.

From 40% to 20% you want to collect these as your rum oils. These should be collected and saved to be used in your next still run.

As you collect and add these to your runs they will in time bleed into your hearts increasing in overall flavor.

Finally label and store your cuts. Some people cover the collections with cheese cloth, coffee filters, paper towels, etc. so the collections can aerate for 24 – 48 hours so less volatile alcohols evaporate.

If you will be doing a stripping run you can run your still hot and fast and not worry about cuts or temp monitoring.

Start off by removing the first 50ml – 200ml (depending on still size, ABV of wash) and start collecting without worrying about cuts and collect down to 20% ABV.

Collecting down to 20% is important if you want to collect the “rum oils” that have tons of flavor you’ll want carried over in the final product.

For your final run follow the process above for a non-stripping run, doing cuts, removing heads and rum oils.

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