People have been making “moonshine” since the 1800’s, and while a lot has changed about moonshining in the last 200 years one thing remains the same, it is technically illegal. But in this day and age where “handcrafted”, “handmade” and “homegrown” are the ultimate buzz words, home distillation is becoming increasingly popular. Home brewing and amateur wine making was made legal in the 1970’s, so why is home distillation still an issue? How can this resurgence be happening if it is illegal? These questions keep coming up, so we’ll lay out the facts for you to clear up any confusion.
The simple answer is, distilling your own alcohol is perfectly legal, however you need the proper permits to do so. There are both federal and state laws that regulate home distillation. Under federal law you are allowed to own/possess a still of any size. If you are using the still for distilling water or essential oils it does not have to be registered and no specific permits are required. It is also legal to distill alcohol for fuel, but you do need an Alcohol Fuel Producer Permit. If you are distilling alcohol for consumption it is illegal unless you have a Distilled Spirits Plant Permit. It does not matter if the alcohol is only for personal consumption and will not be sold - a permit is still required.
So, in order to distill alcohol without being in violation of federal law you need to have a permit. But here’s the catch, getting a Distilled Spirits Plant Permit is fairly difficult and unless you actually plan on opening a commercial distillery, it’s not really worth your time to try and acquire one of these permits.
But there is movement to try and decriminalize non-commercial micro-distilling. A Hobby Distillers Organization has been formed with the express intent of changing federal law and they currently have a bill in Congress. And although federal law trumps state law, several states have moved toward legalization. Matt Rowley reports in a Whisky Advocate article reprinted on the Hobby Distillers Organization site:
Alaska, for instance, excludes “private” manufacture of spirits from its alcohol control laws…except in quantities that exceed federal limits. In other words, Alaska allows zero liters for home distillers. Missouri is more explicit, asserting that “No person at least twenty-one years of age shall be required to obtain a license to manufacture intoxicating liquor…for personal or family use….” Arizona expressly permits personal distilling of spirits such as brandy or whiskey if owners register their rigs with the state’s Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.
One of the main reasons home distillation remains illegal is that there is some risk of explosion during the process and methanol poisoning from the finished product. But many people argue that these risks are overstated and as Josh Bayne, founder of the Craft Distilling Academy, states, “It is no less safe than frying a turkey. I think it is actually safer.”
Make sure you are informed about the laws in your state and that you are knowledgable about the process and risks associated with distilling your own spirits. There are many resources online including Homedistiller.org, and as they recommend, read everything you can. Check out our various sizes of handcrafted copper stills, and then have fun and see what you come up with!