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What Does the XXX on Moonshine Jugs Mean?

15 February 2012

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The XXX on moonshine jugs is a classic symbol. It has been caricatured and cartooned many times in modern portrayals of the moonshiner. Everyone instinctively knows that “XXX” written on a jug indicates that it contains moonshine, but what does that symbol mean and why did moonshiners scrawl that on their jugs?

The “XXX” signifies how many times the moonshine batch had been run through the still. Three X’s indicated that it had been run through three times and that the shine was pure alcohol.

In the old days, before the invention of more modern distilling techniques like thump kegs and reflux stills, moonshiners used a basic pot still – the simplest of all types of stills. It’s made up of two components: a boiler to cook the mash and a condenser to collect and cool the alcohol vapor back to a liquid.

moonshine jugWhile it is an effective device, you don’t get pure alcohol when you run a batch through the first time. The fermented mash, which is very similar to beer, starts out at about 5-10% alcohol by volume (ABV). When you run the mash through a pot still, the product coming out of the other end contains about 30-40% alcohol, the rest being mostly water. This is called “singlings.” (While the first run produces liquor at about 60-80 proof and is drinkable, you wouldn’t want to drink it since it still has quite a bit of off flavors carried over through the water from the mash.) To raise the alcohol content, you have to save up all the results of your first runs, and then run all of that through the still a second time. The second run raises it up to the 60-70% ABV range. Moonshine that had been run through the still three times was very close to being pure alcohol, above 80% ABV. The three XXX’s scrawled on the front of a moonshine jug indicated that it had been run through the still three times and that it had high, almost pure, alcohol content.

Now, with that said, I have never once seen a historic example of a jug with three X’s written on it. Any jugs like that would have to be quite old since moonshiners moved to half gallon mason jars many years ago. If any readers have an example of an old moonshine jug with the XXX’s still visible, I would love to see it and we could even post your photos here on the site.

Moonshine History

34 Comments to “What Does the XXX on Moonshine Jugs Mean?”

  1. Always wondered what that meant.

  2. Very interesting

  3. You’ve got great stuffs here dude! Good readings! Pot stills are legends, they’re thriving until this modern distilling times. And ‘been looking for the same “XXX” jug too, there should be one.. perhaps hidden in the woods ;)

  4. Thank “Yew” sooooo much ! this bit of information is JUST the ticket I needed!

    Muchas Garcia!

    JDBParker
    Virginia

  5. [...] run; three X’s means pure alcohol. Posted November 23, 2012 This fact is thanks to MoonshineHeritage.com The XXX on moonshine jugs is a classic symbol. It has been caricatured and cartooned many times in [...]

  6. i tried sum peach moonshine good stuff i can only imagine what
    apple pie moonshine taste like,,,

  7. If you re run 2 quarts will you get back 2 quarts?

  8. can u run it a forth time
    XXXX

    • dan, you can run it to your hearts content but you loose volume every time you do, usually running it a second time is plenty, hence the name rerun. it’ll come out plenty strong

      • Instead of doing four runs with a pot still, do two with a reflux column. With a decent column, not boiling too hard, and some patience you should be able to get 90%.

  9. [...] Know what we think though? That the XXX doesn’t stand for porn and instead Peach is just a filthy, filthy drunk. [...]

  10. bolches yarboclos pa todos los borrachos

  11. James Alf Kirkland passed down a recipe that his grandfather gave him. I have this recipe today its well over 150 years old. his sone Roy Kirklin was killed making moonshine in 1927 3 men murdered him in the Hebbertsburg Community of Cumberland County Tennessee.
    I have a new hobby of searching for old moonshine sites have found alot of good artifacts. some of the old 1 gallon jugs most are broken, pot and pans etc.

    • I would love to see the recipe and any pictures from the sites you have found. I grew up in and around Stewart County TN. and have a family history that sounds close to yours.
      Bill

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  13. After you fill your jugs (milk jug) in time can they lose there proofing

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  23. […] Click here for the steps and instructions for making moonshine. Visit MoonshineHeritage.com for more bits and pieces of information about moonshine, such as what the “XXX” on moonshine jugs means. […]

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  26. A good write up just what I was looking for.

  27. Back in the days, a lot of moonshiners were brought to prison for doing such illegal stuffs. T’was illegal because they don’t pay taxes from what they profit from this product. But today, you can see in the US and Canada that there a lot of Big Companies making their own version/s of moonshine/s. Some of them have different flavors to complement the taste of moonshine. Im just wondering, if moonshine can be made from Rye, Corn, Wheat and Barley, Which do you think is the best among these four?
    I would appreciate all your comments.
    Thanks in advance.! kampay mga Pare!

  28. Does anyone know what a capital “T” on a jug mean

  29. The best moonshine I have found besides some Everclear would just tastes nasty would be white dog.
    It’s about 20% over 100 proof and it has that sort of snappy corn in route to your nose flavor.
    Some of the 80 proof moonshine is that come in jars at your local liquor store taste like crap…
    It really depends if you want to taste authentic moon sign go to Kentucky otherwise look for the stuff that’s at least $25 a jar

  30. Back in 1952 after a tour in the Army in Korea, I tied up with a relative in Alabama and got started in the moonshine business. Started out hauling and graduated to making a short time later. Did this until Feb. 1955 when I was caught at the still by three agents of the ATTU. (Alochol and Tobacco Tax Unit) Agent Snarr was in charge of the arresting unit. There was three of us and were just wrapping up a run on a six sack pot. One of my friends was caught right at the still, and handcuffed to a small tree at the still.

    While the rest of the Officers were chasing me and my other friend, the one caught and handcuffed to the tree managed to climb the tree with the handcuffs and managed to get away.

    One of the Officers started calling me names and began shooting over my head. I was headed for a pine thicket where I figured I would be able to lose the Officer chasing me, but I managed to step into a stump hole nearly breaking my leg, and was caught.

    I was the only one caught and was escorted back to the still where the other Officers began destroying the still. We had an old Packard car we had converted to a flay bed truck just over the hill from the still. The Officers placed dynamite under it and blew it up since they couldn’t get it started and I wouldn’t tell them how.

    As I was being escorted down the old logging road toward where the ATTU Officers were parked, agent Snarr who had what looked like a root with a piece of leather wrapped around the knob on the end. He aked me who it was that ran with his handcuffs, and I didn’t answer. He asked me again and again I didn’t answer. A few seconds later I was laying on the ground with a tremendous headache and trying to figure out how I had got on the ground so quick.

    This happened two more times before one of the younger agents placed his arm around me, and told Snarr to ease up on me. He then explained to me that losing handcuffs was detrimental to an officers career. He said just tell him the name of the person that was handcuffed to the tree, and that was all that was required. Again I refused to say anything.

    I was taken into the county seat and booked into the county jail where I spent the night. The next morning my friends bailed me out.

    I was charged with owning and operating an illicit distillery. I pleaded guilty to operating but not guilty to owning. I was given three years probation, and there is a lot more to the story.

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