Stills and the law behind
Distilling Moonshine and Spirits
By: Jessica Bunker
While Stills are commonly used for the distillation of many products like essential oils, perfumes and flavoring for food. The most common use is for the distillation of Moonshine and spirits. Although it is legal to own a still it is illegal to produce moonshine and distilled sprits without the proper permits. So unless you want to wind up in Jail and or owe a hefty fine of $5,000 and up, please read the rest of the article to learn about the proper avenues to go about obtaining the proper documents and permits.
While individuals of legal drinking age may produce wine or beer at home for personal use, Federal law strictly prohibits individuals from producing distilled spirits at home (see 26 United States Code (U.S.C.) 5042(a) (2) and 5053(e). Producing distilled spirits at any place other than a TTB-qualified distilled spirits plant can expose you to Federal charges for serious offenses and lead to consequences.
Federal law states that it is legal to own a still of any size. It doesn’t matter if you have a 1 gallon still or a 100 gallon still. According to the federal government, it is legal to have a still for decoration, distilling water, distilling essential oils, etc. The still does not need to be registered with anyone and no permits are needed as long as it is not being used to distill spirits. However, it is illegal to distill alcohol without having either a “distilled spirits permit” or a “federal fuel alcohol permit.” It does not matter if the alcohol is for personal use only and not for sale.
A common misconception most people make is that only stills that are 1 gallon and smaller are legal. This is false. The law states that stills 1 gallon or less that are not being used to distill alcohol are not tracked by the TTB, It is perfectly legal to own a still larger than 1 gallon so long as it is not being used to distill alcohol or it is permitted to be used for distilling fuel alcohol or spirits.
If a person wishes to legally distill alcohol, they have two options. The first option is to obtain a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit. This is the permit that industry giants like Jack Daniels possess, which makes it legal for them to distill and sell to the public. This permit is very difficult to get. Unless you’re opening a distillery with the intention of selling your product in liquor stores the chances of getting issued a permit is very unlikely it is way too expensive and complicated for a home distiller to obtain. Instead pursue a fuel alcohol permit.
A Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit is free and easy to get (download here). Most people obtain this permit very easily and in most cases the government usually doesn’t check up on the permit holders. Just be advised that the federal government will expect that you’re putting your alcohol in your lawnmower or any other machine and not drinking it! If you’re not planning to use your still for alcohol you do not need to get a permit or register the still with the federal government. Federal rules state that stills only need to be reported and registered if the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau asks the manufacturer to do so. Though, again, if you are using it to distill alcohol, you will want to get a federal fuel alcohol permit or a spirit distiller’s permit, if that’s what you’re using it for.
State distilling laws are different in every state. Some states have no laws on owning a still, but prohibit the distillation of alcohol while other states prohibit possession of a still unless it’s for fuel alcohol. Some states may prohibit possession of distillation equipment and distilling altogether. You’ll need to research more about your states laws. Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations state that still manufacturers need to keep customer info. Additionally, these records may also be requested by the federal TTB and still manufacturers are required to submit them if asked.
Federal law provides no exemptions for the production of distilled spirits for personal use. Under no circumstances should you ever distill or sell alcohol without a permit. If you choose to distill alcohol, make sure to obtain all fuel and or spirit permits.