In this week’s Voice, I wrote about the underground moonshine scene that’s quietly been emerging in New York City over the past several months. During that time, I met with professional moonshiners (like those at Kings County Distillery) as well as those who make the ‘shine at home, which is strictly against the law. The threat of arrest isn’t stopping these renegade imbibers, however. And in the course of my research, I got to watch actual moonshine being made in a Brooklyn apartment. While most of the distillers I met used actual stills, one moonshiner, Lance, proved that you can make damn good hooch with everyday kitchen equipment. Here’s what he does. Caveat — don’t try this at home. Caveat — if you do try it, don’t say we told you to. Making moonshine at home is a full-on felony.
Yet if one hypothetically wanted to make moonshine, he’d need to start with a mash, which is prepared by combining cracked corn (plus wheat, rye, or barley) and water and bringing it to a boil. Yeast — often a turbo yeast — is then added, which will convert the sugars to alcohol. Then let it sit in a nice cool place for about a week or two.
OK, now you’re ready to get cooking. To distill his moonshine, Lance uses a regular pot and a Crock-Pot top that’s been fitted with a rubber gasket. From the gasket emerges a copper coil. This is so that when you heat the mash in the pot, the alcohol vapors will travel through the coil, leaving only water in place since alcohol evaporates faster than water.
Lance covers the rim of the pot and edge of the lid with a paste made from flour and water. This will ensure that no steam (i.e., precious alcohol vapor) seeps out. Lance also suggests using whole-wheat flour, which is sturdier and won’t cause as many leaks.
After all is set up, you’d want to bring your mash to a rolling boil.
Lance’s setup uses an empty Poland Spring bottle filled with ice, which helps cool down the copper coil. The cooling process turns the steam into liquid, rendering moonshine. During the process, Lance needed to replenish the ice frequently, so best to get a big bag from the bodega if you plan on making any. A large pan can also help catch the liquid that melts.
The whole process of making moonshine takes a while; when Lance made his moonshine, it took about four hours and he yielded about half a liter. It’s also imperative to discard the first 250 milliliters or so of the spirit, because that might contain poisonous methanol. You also don’t want to save the bit at the end, so make sure you have a hydrometer to measure the proof of your spirit as you go along.
But as you can see, the Pyrex measuring cup is filled with good ole Brooklyn moonshine. And it was damn tasty.
Do not use the above information as a guide to making your own moonshine. Remember, making and distilling alcohol is a complicated and potentially dangerous process. Lance’s still might be homemade, but he takes the craft seriously. For more detailed information on home distilling, check out homedistiller.org and artisandistilling.org, two sites suggested to me by the city’s finest moonshiners.
Stay tuned throughout the week for more on urban moonshining!