Recipe for Moonshine

Make your own poteen! This easy recipe for moonshine uses potatoes and malted barley for the base and can be whipped up without much stress. Banned for 350 years, now back in play. Can you hear those shindig bells a-chimin'?

Recipe for Moonshine

This recipe for moonshine was traditionally produced in a pot still (the Irish term for this smooth moonshine whiskey – poitín – translates as ‘little pot’, see Note 1), with the constituent parts being: the main pot (vessel), with a wooden cap atop, the arm, and a worm (coil) placed inside a wooden vat. While today these pieces are typically made from copper, the Irish peasant would have distilled their poitin in stills built from the cheapest metal available: tin.

Poitin - Irish Liquor

For the more well-to-do, the pot (and perhaps the arm) were made from copper, but the worm would’ve been the only copper mainstay across the board. Which was handy as, once the distilling of this mystical Irish liquor was done, the poitin still was quickly disassembled and the parts hidden around the countryside. Often underwater, in a local bog or river. It’s easy to provide an alternative explanation for having a copper pot, less so a copper coil. In making this easy moonshine recipe, it’s advisable to use such a pot still, but a modern column/reflux still is also suitable.

For more on the culture and traditions surrounding this ancient Irish drink, Check out our in-depth article Poteen: The Irish Liquor. We do a deep dive into the origins of poitin and the history of (illicit) distilling in the Irish countryside. For in truth it’s not just a drink, it’s a slice of heritage. Encapsulating the Irish soul.

Because knowing the intriguing history behind poteen makes your homemade version taste even better!

Poitin

The list of what has found its way into the ‘authentic’ Irish moonshine recipe is an extensive one. Even today, poitin is made using various different ingredients. Poitin is also renowned for its broad range of quality, from the elixir of the gods to certain death in a shot glass. So it is with folk recipes. And just as with many Irish dishes, the recipe for moonshine is easy and flexible at heart.

Because times were tough, you made your poitin recipe from whatever you had. Just like your family’s Irish potato soup or preferred recipe for Dublin coddle emerged from the ingredients you had on hand, so too was it with your particular take on moonshine whiskey. What’s more, your poitin not only reflected your level of expertise, but also your level of affluence, containing as it did that which you could afford to spare. And that also varied greatly.

Recipe for moonshine setup
From humble origins, mighty Irish moonshine did spring forth.

In fact, the range of ingredients for poitin was even broader than those of even the most traditional Irish food recipes, with each input defined by one essential feature: its ability to produce sugars which could be turned into alcohol. Milk whey, sugar, treacle, sugar beet pulp, any grains you could afford.

It all depended on whatever was going at the time. Poitin was of course by tradition a product of malted barley, but centuries of protracted restriction, taxation and, ultimately, prohibition, meant that in practice the Irish liquor was made using various combinations of base ingredients.

Irish potatoes for Irish moonshine

For the impoverished tenant farmer living on 7 lbs of spuds per day, this often meant working Irish potatoes into the mix. You used whatever you could get your hands on. The best moonshine was costly to produce and included large quantities of oats.

But as it so happens your loyal horse Irish Moonshine has just been taken to the knacker’s yard prematurely, leaving behind his retirement nest egg without an appointed heir. What better way to honor the oath he took to you than by you taking the oats he honored? Irish shots ringing out in salutation of the fallen.

The general rule for what made it into your moonshine recipe was: if you could spare it, it went into the poitin still.

Easy Moonshine Recipe

This easy recipe for moonshine uses potatoes and malted barley for the base. Either of these could be used by itself or in tangent with other ingredients, but the processes involved will be similar. The quantities we used produced a smallish batch, but if you’ve a shindig coming up and need more on the Irish drinks front that cane be accomodated.

Simply keep the same proportions as you make the necessary adjustments to quantity. Including table sugar helps to up the yield, so count on about half a US gallon (2 litres) of end product at 100 proof (50% ABV) from the quantities given below.

Irish moonshine
Persecuted on Erin’s Isle, evil leprechauns emigrated to the New World, living among the folk once more – as moonshine whiskey boys.

Ingredients for Moonshine Whiskey

Makes enough poitin for a small, spirited gathering

  • 1 1/2 packets (21 g (3/4 oz) distiller’s yeast; turbo yeast will do a swift job, but it’s not recommended
  • 30 lb Potatoes
  • 3 lb Malted Barley
  • 2 lb White Sugar
  • 2 1/2 US gallons (10 litres) high-quality water
  • Water for Cooling


Directions

The Wash

For the unacquainted, the wash, or wort, is simply your base, unfermented liquid. The first step in this recipe for moonshine is to ferment your cereals, by brewing them as you would during the beer making process. Although poitin is quite a versatile creature and many types of cereals can be used, the best moonshine traditionally had barley as its backbone. And with good reason, barley contains a high amount of enzymes, meaning there’s lots of lovely starch to be converted into fermentable sugars, and ultimately into potent Irish liquor.

You can use different types of barley, standard malted barley or ale often feature in the best moonshine recipes. The most important thing is that it should be sprouted and not spray-dried as the drying process tends to wipe out a lot of the enzymes. In the past, the peasant would’ve dunked the grain in a bog then dried it in a kiln he’d built into the Irish countryside specifically for this purpose.

1. Malt your Barley by soaking in water overnight (8 hours); a sterilized Fermentation Bucket is a hospitable place for it to pass the night-time hours. Next morning, Spread out the grain on a clean surface in a shallow layer, leaving it to Sprout. This process will take about 4 to 5 days. You should Turn the barley each day, ensuring the air dries it evenly. [Skip this step if you’re not malting the barley yourself.]

2. Crush the barley. Use a Mill, but make sure you don’t grind it too finely. You want a rough consistency, and can even do it by hand if you’ve got a bit of elbow grease about you. Traditionally the poteen maker performed this part using a mill stone and the fighting Irish spirit (so don’t whine).

3. Taking an adequately sized Brewing Pot, Precook your Potatoes. Irish potatoes are nutritious little vitamin rocks, so pop them into a pot for 12 minutes on medium heat. Scrubbed clean and chopped into chunks, but unpeeled. Parboiling the potatoes will take that hard edge off. Discard the water once the time is up and Mash the spuds.

The Mash

4. Given the ingredients, Step Mashing works best. Place the potatoes and the malted barley in your brewing pot and Cover with good quality Water. Bring the pot to 113 F (45 C) and Hold at that temperature for 15 minutes, Stirring it often to prevent sticking.

5. Crank up the heat to 131 F (55 C) and Hold for another 15 minutes. Do this again at 149 F (65 C), and a final 15 minutes at 158 F (70 C). Stirring all the while.

6. The starches should at this point have all broken down, Increasing the temperature to 176 F (80 C) will finish the process. As soon as you hit 176 F, quickly Reduce to a temperature where the Yeast can be pitched (ideally to around the 70 F (21 C) mark). If you’ve a proper cooling setup, this isn’t a chore. Otherwise, get out the ice buckets and garden hoses, there are various methods. Stir the Sugar into your wort and make sure it has dissolved before you begin the cooling. The specific gravity should be in the 1.070 range.

The Ferment

7. Transfer to your Carboy/Fermentation Bucket. Pitch your yeast, adding it to the liquid and stirring to help the little yeasties on their way. The toiling Irish poitin maker would’ve used bread yeast back in the day, but thanks to the wonder of globalization things like distiller’s yeast can make short work for you. Using turbo yeast is not advisable, but if you do decide to use it, opt for the classic rather than the ultra-rapid fermentation at the speed of microwaving they’re selling you.

8. Close your vessel and add an Airlock. Allow to Ferment for several days; if you are using turbo yeast it’ll be done pretty soon. You’ll know it’s ready when you no longer hear it Gurgling. (If you haven’t heard the voice of brew belching or it has petered out too soon, fermentation may be stuck or your yeast may have died, Give it a Shake or two.)

9. Once fermentation has finished, Siphon off the majority of what’s in your bucket and transfer to your still. This will be about 80-85% of the contents – leave the bottom part where it is, there is a reason it has sunk so low, it’s of bad character and thus can be of no further use to you in your valiant quest for the best moonshine.

The Setup

10. Now to the business end of this recipe for moonshine, Distilling all that lovely Irish alcohol. To prevent his sweetheart from escaping, the poteen maker of old sealed up all the joints of the poitin still with an oatmeal paste, and filled the cap with water. Best moonshine tactics also included erecting the poitin still on common grounds, to aid denial of ownership, and using only the driest of turf for the flame, as it produced less smoke (and thus less visitors coming to inquire as to your position regarding illegal potcheen making).

As always you’ll want to keep the fire burning strong and Discard the first liquid produced. This is methanol. This is known to hamper vision. As the still gets up to full heat, the evaporating liquid produces this methanol (as its boiling point is 148.5 F), before the ethanol (with a higher boiling point of 172.8 F) starts to come through. Methanol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, but consuming it in large quantities can make you pretty sick, and in concentrated quantities induce serious health effects (See Note 2 below on helping to ensure safe distilling).

The Distill

11. Now its time to Pop your fermented liquid into your gleaming, stellar and sterilized still. Irish moonshine is traditionally run through the poitin still twice, testing the ‘singling’ of the first run to see when the run has come to an end. You do this by throwing a glass of it on the fire. If it ignites, the run is still ongoing. For the punchiest of final products you can quadruple distill, but the alcohol content of poteen is already quite high. In fact, your bigger concern will be diluting it down to more quaffable levels, for those of your companions still with soft mouths (but wicked tongues).

12. The potent first pint of ‘doubling’ (the second run) that came out of the poitin still, the ‘pure drop’, was traditionally set aside for medicinal purposes, to treat arthritis and other ailments. Carry out the fire test again with the doubling, but when it does no longer ignites continue to collect the watery ‘feint’ coming out. Use this to proof the poteen to your desired level of alcohol content and dilute further with water as necessary.

13. Pour the first shot of your potcheen into a glass held in your right hand, then Throw the contents over your left shoulder. As you do, Invite the faeries to drink and issue Words of Praise. With a bit of luck, they will be appeased, your illicit act overlooked and your children spared retributive misfortune.

14. Bottle your creature for later or drink this unaged potato whiskey like a peasant of old, all in one great night of Irish shots and shindigging – so as to quickly destroy the evidence, and get back to acting like a law-abiding potato farmer.

The Age

15. Made in the traditional way, this recipe for moonshine produces that infamous Irish liquor poitín, unaged whiskey, or ‘white whiskey’. But if you’ve got a nice wooden cask hanging about, feel free to throw in your Irish moonshine for a few years. You’ll get to play Jehovah, turning what looks like water into what tastes like a top Irish drink. The continuing denomination of ‘poitin’ as opposed to (a kind of) whiskey or perhaps ‘potato whiskey’, is a mite confusing it could be said. Despite their many admirable attributes, Irish peasant farmers knew little about (non-livestock) branding.

16. Infusing poteen with fruits or various flavorings is common practice these days, with many home distillers using various kinds of boiled sweets (hard candies) for this purpose. Simply crush them up a little, then leave the sweets to gradually dissolve into the (bottled) poitin.

Distilling may be illegal or subject to license in your location, do inform yourself concerning local regulations before undertaking private distilling.

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Note 1. The various English versions (‘poitin’ (without the fada on the ‘i’), ‘poteen’, ‘potcheen’, ‘potheen’, etc.) are all bastardizations of the original Irish term.

Note 2. Moonshining is generally quite a safe pursuit. Provided you know what you’re doing, you’re in essence performing the same process as a commercial distillery. The problem is that the (novice) distiller doesn’t always understand what exactly it is they’re doing, or are bootleggers loath to throw away any of their merchandise. Do of course do your own further due diligence, but tossing the first 3 oz (90 ml) of liquid from the still would be appropriate. Irish Buzz is in love with your eyes: we encourage you to keep them safe (and (moon)shining).

If in doubt, the flame test is always fun to do. Simply Set the liquid alight: if the flame is yellow it’s methanol, if blue it’s ethanol. Or, if that’s too many -thanols and shades to remember – and your brain happens to be part of a human, rather than a repository for some kind of alcoholic carpet sample book – simply recall the rhyme:

If it’s yellow, it’ll blind a fellow. If it’s red, it’s full of lead. If it’s blue, it’s good for you!

..ahem..
..in a more general sense, similar to the way Guinness is “good” for you.


20 Comments

  1. Hi Stacey, I have a 23L carboy and was wondering how much potatoes/barley to use to fill up the carboy with mash? Many thanks, Andrew!

  2. Well lads. I have distilled my first batch of potato poitin and it has turned out very well! It isn’t as sweet as I imagined but crystal clear…thanks for the expert advice. You mentioned using just barley on its own and scratching the potatoes- if I were to do this, what weight of malted barley would you recommend against the measurement of 2 1/2 gallon water and 2lbs white sugar given in this article?

    • That’s the Ticket, Eoghan! Glad to hear our expert advice has you tippling away there nicely on your “crystal clear” firewater!
      What did your full recipe look like in the end? What’s her bouquet like? And did you take a gravity reading? (!Time for our 100 questions!)

      Good stuff, much better to not have it too sweet. Some of the commercial poteens are so sickly sweet!
      If you do want to add that kind of edge, your best bet to infuse it later on.

      Using the same amounts, anywhere from about 4 to 6 lbs of malted barley would work well. Again, if you do have it on hand, use it.

    • That’s the Ticket, Eoghan! Glad to hear our expert advice has you tippling away there nicely on your “crystal clear” hooch!
      What did your full recipe look like in the end? What’s her bouquet like? And did you take a gravity reading? (!Time for our 100 questions!)

      Good stuff, much better to not have it too sweet. Some of the commercial poteens are so sickly sweet!
      If you do want to add that kind of edge, your best bet to infuse it later on.

      Using the same amounts, anywhere from about 4 to 6 lbs of malted barley would work well. Again, if you do have it on hand, use it.

  3. Many thanks for the speedy reply – that’s great. Sorry for the 100 questions, but could I therefore swap my proportions and use say 4lbs potatoes and 10lbs barley? I have so much malted barley to use up and I’d like to get as high a yield as possible. Thanks lads. Really interesting stuff.

    • Go for it, should be quality.

      If you’ve got so much barley, you can also just scratch the potatoes altogether!

      You’ll have a nice ‘poteen’ aka unaged malt whiskey.

  4. Many thanks lads for the speedy response, in that case I’ll likely cut my potatoes proportion way down to 3lbs potatoes, and then use 6lbs barley, if you think them proportions would work. Barley is so much easier accessed for where we live in Ireland. Sorry for the 100 questions, I just like to be sure.

    • No worries, Eoghan. We’re happy to help you out!

      Locked down with few Schpudz but rakes of barley! Not sure if that’s lucky or not!

      That will work, although you won’t get as much sugars and hence less alcohol.
      If it’s handy and not going to cost you a bomb, our advice would be to use as much barley as you can.

      The poteen we would’ve originally been making centuries ago would’ve been from barley. But there came a tipping point when it was just more viable to use potatoes. The Irish farmer was raising cash crops like barley to pay the rent and live on cheap, easy-to-produce potatoes.

      Potatoes are high in starch, but it takes a lot of them to make spirits. But if you have a lot, you can use a lot!

      Perhaps check out, too, our piece on the history of poitin, as this goes into it deeper.

      If you end up going full Celtic farmer on it, see if there’s some heather around the place there you can throw into the mix!

      Best of luck with it! We expect updates!

  5. Hi there. I’m greatly interested in this recipe and have it currently fermenting. However, the potatoes were a lot of work. Is there any way I could alter my proportions of barley-potatoes? É.g bring my potatoes down to 20 lbs and up my barley to 5lbs?

    Many thanks.

    • Greetings, Eoghan! Great that you Stepped up and Made your own Poitin!

      Yup, that proportion would work. Barley trumps Spuds any day, so it should be a quality product.

      Let us know how it Turns out.

      ❆ Seasonal Salutes ☘️🎄☘️ from Irish Buzz ❆

    • G’day there, Mark. It depends on how strong-lipped (and iron-chested) the imbiber is! Poitín runs from your typical 80 proof all the way to (OVER) 180 proof (!). You’d be quadruple distilling it to reach the top end, mind. Your best bet is to gather the runs in small (3- or 4-oz) containers, checking the gravity as you go. Then combine them as you will, using the feint to bring it down to more quaffable levels, if you think it might overpower the more casual tipplers among you. ☘️?☘️

  6. Hi there, I am just wondering where the 10 gallons of water are being used? I used about 2 gallons boil the potatoes then to cover the potatoes and barley when cooking. Am I missing something? Thank you! Mark

    • Hi there, Mark. Good spot — Cheers! That amount included the overall amount of water we used (incl. for cooling), admittedly a bit confusing — we’ve changed it. How’d your poitín turn out for you?

  7. Sounds good to me. Must get all the ingredients and pots etc.and give it s go . Thanks Charlie here

    • Hi there, David. Lowering the amounts proportionally all round would be your best bet. But this is more a base recipe already and doesn’t produce a huge yield, so you won’t have much end product. How big are your pot and fermentation bucket? Perhaps you could brew a bigger batch, then distill it in 2-gallon batches – for a better effort:return ratio..

  8. Works great! And easy to make once you get set up. My husband is straight up Irish and we’d had poitin on the agenda but couldn’t find a legitimate recipe. Left barley to soak during the week, then worked the magic over the weekend. Used our regular still. That is three weeks ago and we have nearly drank half the batch! Ideas on infusing some of the rest?

    When you say candies, is that what the Irish do? I though you guys were all herbs like Aqvavit. Anyway, thank you for this five star recipe. A really great find.

    5/5

    • Hi, Stacey! Yes, distilling poitín really isn’t too difficult. But like any art, gaining experience through repetition means you can always add that little extra finesse. And that goes double for flavoring, you get to know what works mostly through experimentation – trial and error. And everyone will have their own preferences, right?

      If you go the herbal route, make sure to use only the fresh stuff (pods, seeds, leaves). Same for any spices. More popular in Ireland, however, is to use the vast array of Irish/British hard boiled sweets. Simple Break up the sweets, then Pop them into your bottle of poitín. Great results have been had with Bulls-eyes (Humbugs), Clove Rock, Apple Drops, Peppermints.

      Be sure to give the bottle a bit of a shake from time to time, as this will help extract flavor.

      If you happen to also be afflicted by our national obsession with Irish bacon, you can even try flavoring it with that! ‘Fat washing’, it’s called.

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