Mash Recipes for Alcohol Production

This is a partial document from Mother Earth who has a very large collection of material
involving distillation from Mother's Alcohol Fuel Seminar at

Romantic notions of the mountain moonshiner stoking up his still deep in the woods soon fade away when one seriously attempts to produce his or her own "liquid sunshine". For example, though distillation is the fun part of the process, preparing the mash, fermenting it, and using the by-products are the real work -- as well as the keys to running an efficient operation. MOTHER's staffers have been hard at it for the last year -- mixing and mashing -- and we've put together a series of formulas to help take the mystery and confusion out of ethanol fuel production.

The list of raw materials that can be used to make alcohol grows each day. Newcomers -- such as mangel-wurzels (or fodder beets), Jerusalem artichokes, manioc, poplar trees, cellulose waste, and even cattails -- have been added to the list of traditionals, which includes corn, sugar cane, potatoes, rice, and barley. (There are also peculiar -- but potentially fruitful -- food industry byproducts such as waste pastry and stale tortilla chips.)

Despite the variety, every alcohol-producing raw material belongs to one of three groups: starches, sugars, or cellulose. And though the materials in each category are treated differently, the end product is always the same: glucose (or simple sugar), which yeast can easily convert to alcohol. The chart accompanying this section covers most of the major raw materials and how they are prepared.

STARCHES - All starches are converted to sugar with the help of enzymes, which are used during the cooking process. These biochemical activators function only at the correct temperature and can be destroyed by boiling. (Enzymes are available from a variety of sources, including THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS, or you can produce your own at home by sprouting barley.) You'll also need to agitate the mash thoroughly and later in the process you'll need to maintain a full rolling boil to bring about complete conversion. (However, if you use a high-speed mixer or pump to create the violent agitation, the boll can be eliminated by holding the mash at 180 deg F for 45 minutes while mixing the brew continuously.)

SUGARS - Sugar crops such as sugar beets, sugar cane, and molasses give a greater yield per acre than starch crops as a rule, because the material doesn't require conversion. Unfortunately, sugars don't store well. Processing includes squeezing the juice out of the stalks of plants or leaching it from their tubers. Whichever way you extract the sugar, be sure to sterilize the syrup to discourage contamination. Then, before you add the yeast, the sugar concentration should be adjusted to 18% (using a saccharometer). In addition, yeast food should be introduced along with the yeast to increase alcohol production. Cheese whey also contains sugar (in the form of lactose) but is treated somewhat differently from the other sugars, although the end result is still good old ethanol.

CELLULOSE - America "produces" 500 million tons of cellulose waste (such as wood chips and paper-processing by-products) a year. This waste, if properly handled, could yield almost 40 billion gallons of ethanol annually. However, cellulose is a hard nut to crack ... in fact, it's made virtually indestructible by a binding agent called lignin. Only in the last few years have researchers begun to develop economical methods for converting cellulose. There are successful approaches based on both enzymatic and acidic conversion. Cellulase (the enzyme that converts cellulose to glucose) was isolated by the U.S. Army in 1945. Since then, that enzyme has been improved, and though it is now fairly expensive, it will be available at reduced prices as demand increases.

Another method of converting tough cellulosic fiber involves forcing cellulose pulp (under high temperature and pressure) into a short -- but intense -- acid bath. The acid immediately converts the cellulose to glucose, but must be removed quickly to avoid further processing and the destruction of the glucose. Researchers at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania have developed still other methods -- very effective extrusion systems -- but they're well beyond the pocketbook of the small-time operator.

The following chart is meant to serve as a rough guideline to mashing. Once you start your own operation, you'll probably discover shortcuts that will allow you to use less heat and/or enzyme powder than the chart indicates. In addition, you'll need to look into proper mash testing and fermentation procedures, as well as the best ways to handle and sell your by-products.


Wheat, Corn, Rye, Barley, Milo, Rice, Cattails

Pastry Waste

Potatoes, Cassava (Manioc), Taro


Sugar Beets, Mangel-wurzels (Fodder Beets), Artichoke Tubers

Sweet Sorghum, Cane, Artichoke Stalks

Molasses, Sugar Products

Cheese Whey


Three-step Mashing Recipe

MILLING - Shell, clean, and grind a bushel of corn (56 pounds) into a fine meal of about the size needed for livestock feed. Use a 3/16" screen on a hammermill (or a similar grinder) to eliminate any large starch grains. However, do not grind the corn into a flour. If the grains are too small, it'll be very difficult to separate the solids from the mash, with a resulting loss of feed grain and a miserable mess inside your still.

  1. STEP ONE: COOKING - Start with 30 gallons of water in your cooker, and then add the cornmeal slowly, to prevent lumping. Once the meal is stirred in, stir in 3 level measuring spoons of MOTHER's Alcohol Fuel Mash Cooking Enzyme (mixed in water) and bring the mixture up to 170 deg F (77 deg C). Hold the mash at this temperature for 15 minutes, stirring vigorously throughout the process. Then bring the liquid to a rapid rolling boil and hold it there for 30 minutes more. Be particularly careful that the mash doesn't stick to the bottom of the cooker. (For batches larger than a bushel, we recommend using an automatic agitator, which should spin at 30 to 45 RPM.)
  2. STEP TWO: CONVERTING - Using the cooling coil, bring the temperature of the mash down to 170 deg F (77 deg C), and add 3 more measuring spoons of MOTHER's Cooking Enzyme (mixed in water). Keep the mixture at this temperature for 30 minutes, while you agitate it constantly.
  3. STEP THREE: FERMENTATION - Start cold water flowing through the cooling coil again, to reduce the temperature to 90 deg F (32 deg C) as rapidly as possible. Once the mash has cooled, add 6 measuring spoons of MOTHER's Alcohol Fuel Fermentation Powder (a complex glucoamylase, yeast, and denaturant combination), stir the mash for 10 minutes, and then cover the tank. While it's fermenting, the mash must be kept between 85 and 90 deg F (29-32 deg C). Consequently, you may need to cover the tank with wet burlap in hot weather, or insulate it during colder months. At this temperature, the mash will reach maturity in 2-1/2 to 3 days.

TESTING PROCEDURES - Using a saccharometer: At the beginning of fermentation, the specific gravity of the mash should be about 1.080 (8 to 12% alcohol potential), while by the end of the process it will have dropped to 1.007 or less (0 to 1% alcohol potential). Once the specific gravity has remained constant for 6 hours, you can be sure that the mash is ready for distillation. But to double check that complete conversion has been attained, both a standard starch test (using iodine) and a glucose test (using glucose test strips available at drug stores) must read negative.

Important - You must have a cooling coil - To make a cooling coil, just wind a 30-foot length of soft copper tubing around a large pipe (6 inches, or more, in diameter), and add garden hose adapters at each end. Attach the hoses to the tube, and drop the assembly into your cooking vat.

Preparing a Mash From Saccharide-rich Materials

Alcohol can easily be produced from sugar-bearing crops instead of the standard complex carbohydrates such as corn or grain. For example, sugar cane, sugar beets, or fruit can be processed -- by crushing the raw material to extract the juices -- to form a perfectly acceptable mash. Furthermore, the more refined examples of sacchariferous compounds -- such as raw sugar or molasses -- can also easily be turned into a high-yield fermentation material.

SUGAR CONCENTRATION - Once the sugar juices have been extracted -- in a cider press, for example -- the sugar concentration in a potential mash must be adjusted to suit the growth of yeast: between 14 and 18%. Such a concentration should be measured with a Balling hydrometer -- sometimes called a saccharometer -- at 60 deg F. Excessively high sugar concentrations (which inhibit yeast growth by promoting more rapid alcohol fermentation) should be diluted with water, whereas liquids with low readings (which are wasteful of fermenting space and the energy used in distillation) should be augmented with a concentrated sugar.

(EXAMPLE: Molasses which contains 60% sugar by weight should be diluted with three parts water to form a 15% solution.)

pH ADJUSTMENT - The pH should be maintained between 4.0 and 4.5 to give the yeast a healthy environment for growth, while retarding bacterial formation. Sulfuric acid is the most common and least expensive substance available for lowering pH, though lactic acid does the same job, while restricting the growth of butyric acid bacteria. It's also possible to inoculate the mash with lactic acid bacteria before fermentation to provide a substitute for the acid itself.

ADDITION OF NUTRIENTS - Some of the more sophisticated distillers actually go so far as to augment their sugar-heavy mashes with nitrogen and phosphorus, two nutrients which sugars tend to be deficient in. A variety of ammonium salts -- such as ammonium sulfate or phosphate -- can be added to encourage a healthy yeast culture. Such a procedure is usually more complicated than the backyard alcohol producer should consider, but -- in the event of yeast growth problems -- some cautious experimentation might be in order.

MIXING A YEAST STARTER - For every 100 gallons of mash remove 1 quart of solution and add 2 ounces of dry activated yeast to it. Then allow the inoculated wort -- as it is called in brewing technology -- to incubate for 60 to 90 minutes while holding the temperature between 77 and 95 deg F. This technique promotes the rapid growth of yeast and speeds the entire fermentation process.

PITCHING THE WORT - Combining of the yeast-inoculated mixture with the main mash is called "pitching". There are several ways in which the yeast starter can be added to the fermentation tank, but the most important aspect of the process is keeping the mash well aerated. One technique consists of using baffles which the mash flows over as it enters the tank. The splashing introduces air to the wort, which encourages a thriving yeast population. Another approach is to place a compressed air line -- with a bacterial filter -- in the bottom of the tank. However, for the small producer a human-powered stirrer (a canoe paddle, for example) will be satisfactory. (Of course, once the yeast population is thoroughly established, aeration must be halted to allow the microbes to adapt to the anaerobic conditions which result in maximum production of alcohol.)

TEMPERATURE CONTROL - Since the temperature of the fermenting mash should -- ideally -- be around 85 deg F, the pitching temperature will be determined by the ambient air temperature. For example, if the outside mercury is quite high, the initial temperature of the mash should be in the low seventies, and it may be necessary to cool the wort as the yeast begins to produce warmth of its own. On the other hand, low air temperature dictates an introductory level of 85 to 90 deg F. (Note: Any temperature over 90 deg F will both evaporate alcohol and encourage bacterial growth.)

COMPLETION OF FERMENTATION - Assuming that you have properly controlled the sugar concentration, the pH, the yeast nutrition, and the temperature, fermentation should be completed in about 50 hours. Activity will lessen in the mash, and the cap on top of the mixture will break apart and sink once the yeast has done its job..

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