A Step By Step Guide On How To Proof Moonshine

You probably know it but moonshine is homemade, unaged alcohol. It is traditionally made from the base of sugar, meal, corn, water, and, of course, yeast. While there are various recipes available, most moonshine can be found in the rum and whiskey varieties. 

Ask most people to think about moonshine and they’ll usually conjure up images of the prohibition during the early 20th century. Experienced moonshiners tend to be able to tell the proof of their shine by simply shaking the mason jar and then inspecting the bubbles inside.

If the moonshine has large bubbles that disappear quite quickly, it is usually an indication that it possesses a high alcohol content. If the bottle shows small bubbles that disappear slowly, then, you’ve guessed it, the moonshine will have lower alcohol content. 

Moonshine is instantly recognizable thanks to its clear color and high alcohol content. This strong alcohol has roots that date back to Prohibition when it was deemed illegal to brew your own alcohol.

Thankfully, there are no such laws today. However, when it comes to making your own moonshine at home, the process can be very tricky without the right tools. You will require certain equipment to ferment the liquid and distill the alcohol. When done right, the whole process can be invigorating and hugely rewarding.

Many people tend to come across a hurdle when trying to proof moonshine, however. This is one of the most important steps in creating good-quality liquor. Therefore, you want to get the whole process right so the moonshine is smooth and full of flavor.

And this is what we are going to guide you through today. With a little bit of science and a dash of artistry, you can proof high-quality moonshine from your very own home. Let’s find out more below. 

What Is The Typical Proof Of Moonshine?

There is no doubt that moonshine is notorious for being a potent drink. If you have ever tried this beverage, you would have been met with a strong kick from it. When considering its usual proof, it is unsurprisingly pretty high.

The proof of moonshine is generally around 150 proof. That equates to around 75 percent alcohol. However, this figure can vary depending on multiple factors. For a start, corn whiskey can not be distilled to more than 80 percent ABV or 160 proof in the USA. To be legally distributed, it is capped to 62.5 percent.

As we stated above, moonshine experts can usually tell the proof of their creations by observing the bubbles after shaking the jar. Those who have years of experience can sometimes match the readings of a hydrometer just by looking at the moonshine and the bubble patterns. 

It isn’t so easy for beginners, though. The good news is that this level of mastery is not always required thanks to some basic tools that can be used to check the proof of moonshine instead. Examples include hydrometers which are accurate, reliable, and for most moonshine brewers, a must-have.

How To Get High Proof Moonshine 

After you have created your mash and allowed it to ferment for a few weeks, your next step is to distill your moonshine. Distillation separates any alcohol from the water. 

The key to getting high-proof moonshine is to understand the distillation process. 

  • The alcohol that becomes separated from the water is ethanol. 
  • Ethanol always boils at a lower temperature than water with pure ethanol boiling at 172 degrees Fahrenheit and water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In the process of creating moonshine, the wash gets heated up to between 172 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit. This is when ethanol boils and vapor is produced. This vapor is vital as this means the ethanol is rising. 
  • The vapor becomes condensed and gets turned back into liquid form before being collected.

In order to achieve high-proof moonshine, the distillation process is the last step.

Proofing Moonshine With A Hydrometer 

To indicate and find out the potential alcohol content of any liquid, a hydrometer is regularly used. This instrument is used to measure the density of liquids compared to the density of water. Therefore, it can then show you the water’s alcohol content.

There are two types of hydrometers available:

  • Proofing
  • Brewing

Proofing hydrometers, also known as spirit hydrometers, are generally used to measure the final and absolute alcohol content of water.

Brewing hydrometers are used to measure the potential alcohol content via a gravity reading. 

There are 4 basic steps to proofing moonshine. They are:

  1. Using a hydrometer and a copper moonshine parrot. These will accurately proof your moonshine.
  2. Place your hydrometer into the copper parrot.
  3. Once your moonshine has filled the copper parrot, your hydrometer should start to float.
  4. At this point, your hydrometer will indicate the liquid’s proof.

Knowing the proper proof of your moonshine will make it easier to monitor the whole process. Not only is this important to proofing and diluting the moonshine, but it is essential for making cuts during a run. We suggest keeping notes on runs as you go along. This will make the entire process much easier for future runs. Knowing the temperature and proof of the liquid will cut the process time and guesswork every time from then on. 

How To Use A Hydrometer 

When it comes to homebrewing, a hydrometer is an essential piece of kit. This instrument can measure the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) in liquid simply by measuring the amount of sugar in it.

A hydrometer should be used throughout the fermentation process to ensure the sugar is converted into alcohol.

Before you make your first batch of moonshine, we recommend running a test with your hydrometer.

Many people tend to use a trial jar when they use a hydrometer. Trial jars are 200mm long and made from clear plastic. You can simply fill the jar to around 35mm from its top with the liquid you intend to use and then drop your hydrometer into the jar. 

You can read the Specific Gravity (SG) from the lower two levels. This can be seen from the side of the test jar. Special Gravity is used as an easy way to obtain information about the concentration of solutions of different materials such as sugar, brines, and acids.

While most people rely on a hydrometer to guide them, you can also achieve accurate readings from them to work out the ABV of the drink. For the most accurate readings, the hydrometer should be used in a liquid that has a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). 

To find the ABV, take the starting gravity from the finish gravity. Then, divide this number by 7.362.

You should use a hydrometer at the beginning of the fermentation process and at the end. This will let you know if the fermentation has been successful with all of the sugars being used. This also informs you of the potential ABV achieved from the fermentation process. 

The Difference Between ABV And Proof 

Many people get confused when they try to measure the ABV and proof of alcohol. But, these are two different aspects of brewing alcohol.

The alcohol content of a beverage is measured in proof. It is not always so straightforward, however. This is because the bottle of alcohol will often carry a different number.

ABV is short for Alcohol By Volume. The number here states how much alcohol there is by volume in the drink. In other words, the percentage of alcohol in the liquid. ABV is the standard measure used for measuring alcohol strength and is used globally. 

Proof is different from ABV. The formula to measure proof is two times alcohol by volume (ABV). For instance, vodka can be 45 percent ABC but 90 proof.

Making 200 Proof Alcohol: Is It Possible?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to make 200 proof alcohol through distillation. If you’re wondering what 200 proof alcohol is, it is when the liquid is 100 percent ethanol. 190 proof simply means that the liquid is 95 percent ethanol with the other 5 percent consisting of water.

The highest proof that is currently available in the world is Everclear with 190 proof. Getting any higher than this is tricky business. There are actually limits to how pure alcohol can become. The higher the proof becomes, the more volatile it gets with a higher risk of becoming affected by environmental factors. 

If you wish to make 200 proof alcohol (in other words, ethanol), you would need to distill magnesium ethoxide. However, an issue arises. As this becomes exposed to oxygen, the liquid tends to absorb moisture from the atmosphere. The result? 95 percent ethanol. 

Moreover, ethanol is regarded as an azeotrope meaning that a mixture will have two more liquids that can not be altered by regular distillation. Therefore, any vapor produced from ethanol is just 95.57 percent alcohol.

Even boiling a pot of ethanol is limited to 95.57 percent. And this includes boiling it to its bitter end. You can try and try but 200 proof will always be out of your reach.

Through a distillation process, the highest and strongest concentration of ethanol possible is 190 proof. Therefore, 200 proof alcohol just is not possible using this process.

Why Do We Measure Alcohol In Proof?

You may be wondering that measuring alcohol in proof is a pretty unusual way of doing so. Surely there are other ways, right? Well, it all dates back hundreds of years.

The first use of the term “proof” was used in 16th-century England. This was to tax liquor that boasted a higher percentage of alcohol. In modern times, new technologies have allowed us to easily tell the alcohol content of liquor. However, compared to the past, the process has changed. 

During the 16th-century and following centuries, a gun pellet was soaked in alcohol. If this lit up, the alcohol was determined to be a “proof spirit.” This meant that the liquid had a higher amount of alcohol and, therefore, was taxed at a higher rate. 

As you can probably imagine, there were certain issues with this method. Firstly, it was not the most accurate way of finding out the proof of the liquid. This resulted in a new system being developed based on the scientific advancements of the day.

Scientists found changes in density and gravity within the alcohol itself and were able to measure its proof far more accurately.

This proof system became the standard and has remained similar or the same ever since. In the USA, proof spirits contain 50 percent alcohol by volume but the UK has 57.1 percent alcohol by volume. This differs throughout the world with some being much stronger. 

In Summary 

Moonshine has been made successfully for almost a century. However, this doesn’t mean it is always an easy process.

If you’re prepared, have the correct tools and knowledge with a pinch of science and artistry, your moonshine can become the potent, perfect batch.