Producing beer or wine at home is a popular hobby for many, with some legally giving away their home brews to friends and family of legal drinking age. When it comes to distilling spirits at home, the laws are much stricter. Despite the federal laws in place, you can easily find home distilling kits for sale online (even Amazon has some available for purchase). This raises questions about the legality of home distilling and the enforcement of those laws.
Is Home Distilling Illegal?
Short answer – yes. According to federal law, home distilling is strictly prohibited. The only legal way you could distill spirits at home is if you are recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as a qualified distilled spirits plant.
How does something become a TTB-qualified distilled spirits plant? There are numerous requirements that must be met that also make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use. Some of these requirements are paying special tax, filing an extensive application, filing a bond, providing adequate equipment to measure spirits, providing suitable tanks and pipelines, providing a separate building (other than a dwelling), and maintaining detailed records, and filing reports.
Individuals of legal drinking age are perfectly within their legal right to produce beer and wine at home for personal use, but the same rule does not apply to spirits. It is legal to own a small still and use it for other purposes like distilling water, essential oils, perfume, etc., by water or steam extraction methods. However, production via a solvent method that yields alcohol as a byproduct is subject to TTB requirements.
Why is Home Distilling Illegal?
It may be frustrating for home-distilling enthusiasts to see people produce their own beer and wine without issue, but there is a reason behind the laws in place. For one, home distilling can be incredibly dangerous. The process of home distilling is complex, and cutting corners can lead to catastrophic results. The danger lies both in the distilling process and consumption of the finished product.
One of the biggest potential risks comes with methanol. Methanol occurs naturally in the fermentation process and is present in low levels in many alcoholic beverages. If not careful, you can develop methanol poisoning through inhalation – especially during the distilling process – or by drinking it.
Another risk is alcohol poisoning. Homemade alcohol can have dangerously high ABV levels. At such high ABV concentrations, it becomes dangerous and potentially fatal. Proper distilling involves the use of an alcohol meter that accurately measures the alcohol concentration of distilled spirits.
And finally, the risk of explosion is present if the alcohol is not carefully distilled. At certain concentration levels, the alcohol becomes highly flammable and can turn explosive.
What About State Laws?
This is where things can get confusing. Do a quick Google search of “at-home distilling,” and you will find multiple sites giving conflicting information. This is why it is always recommended to defer to TTB guidelines and check with your state government about the legality of home distilling instead of relying on third-party websites.
The general consensus – and a good rule of thumb – is that operating a still for alcohol production requires permitting and the still being registered with the appropriate state governing body.
Potential Legal Expansion into Home Distilling
It is important to acknowledge that any home distilling of alcohol is done so at your own risk. After all, you can buy distilling kits online and secure the necessary ingredients to make moonshine, whiskey, or some other type of spirit. That doesn’t make it any more legal.
There are some states that have tried to pass bills allowing home distilling of spirits. In 2021, New Hampshire forwarded a bill that never made it out of session. Ohio and West Virginia both put forth bills to allow personal distilling in 2023, but those were also never passed in any of the chambers.
It is interesting that states push for this despite federal prohibition. Any future attempts at legalizing at-home distilling remain to be seen, including the ramifications of state vs. federal laws, permits, and taxes.
Keeping an Eye on Bev Alc Regulations and Legislation
Fintech has a dedicated regulatory team that tracks all relevant regulatory and legislative updates from across the nation. You can find more regulatory information on our Compliance Map and reach out to [email protected] for any inquiries.