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What's the Punishment for Distilling Alcohol at Home?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

So you have a family recipe for moonshine, which your hipster friends find superb. Your people have passed down the secrets of distillation for generations, and you are proud of this tradition, especially when you see how popular your homemade spirits are with pals.

They insist you should go into business and are even willing to invest. Can you legally distill alcohol at home, or have you been breaking the law all along (which, considering the colorful history of moonshine in ths country, kind of fits the liquor)?

Limited Homemade Liquor

If you are of legal drinking age, you may produce wine and beer at home for personal or family use only. You cannot, however, have a still or distill liquor at home, according to federal law. And the penalties for doing so are quite severe. Mere possession of an unregistered still violates Section 5601(a)(1) of the US Code and is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

"Producing distilled spirits at any place other than a [government]-qualified distilled spirits plant can expose you to Federal charges for serious offenses and lead to consequences," the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau warns. The agency goes on to list a slew of felony offenses that could land you in prison for 5 years, all stemming from unlicensed and improper distillation of liquor.

The following are just a few examples:

  • USC 5601(a)(2) -- Engaging in business as a distiller without filing an application and receiving notice of registration.
  • USC 5601(a)(6) -- Distilling on a prohibited premises (a distilled spirits plant may not be located in a residence or in sheds, yards, or enclosures connected to a residence).
  • USC 5601(a)(7) -- Unlawful production or use of material fit for production of distilled spirits.
  • USC 5601(a)(8) -- Unlawful production of distilled spirits.

Local Law

On a practical level it seems highly unlikely that you will get busted for your home moonshine operation if you only share a bit with friends on occasion. But do not go into business without seeking the proper licenses and finding an appropriate location for distillation. Local laws vary and your state may have more severe prohibitions than the federal government when it comes to making liquor at home.

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