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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

26 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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