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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:

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 ( 

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

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