When most people think of illegal liquor, they conjure up images of Prohibition-era bathtub gin or jugs of moonshine labeled "XXX." You might not be aware that even today, it's against the law to concoct any distilled alcoholic beverage at home without obtaining a permit and paying taxes on all distilled alcohol produced.
You are allowed to own a still without a permit, provided you are only manufacturing distilled water or essential oils. To distill alcohol for running farm equipment or other devices, you still have to have a permit for operating the machine, although you will not have to pay taxes on the alcohol you produce. Be aware that if you are purchasing a still and state that you plan to use it for products other than alcohol, the seller may still be required to give your name, address and equipment purchased to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Obtaining a License
To legally distill liquor, you will need to fill out a lengthy application for a license, post a bond, have approved equipment, produce extensive records and file timely reports. You will also be subject to a special tax on every bottle of liquor you produce. For more information on these requirements, view the regulations on the TTB website in the document 27 CFR Part 19, which is listed in the resources section below. For distilling alcohol for farm use, you will still need all of the documentation but will not have to pay the special tax.
What You Can Brew
You are allowed to brew up to 100 gallons of wine or beer for personal consumption. If your household consists of two or more adults, that amount is raised to 200 gallons per year. You do not need a permit or license to home brew wine or beer, nor will you be required to pay tax.
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Penalties for Home Distillation of Liquor
Federal penalties are stiff when it comes to making unlawful liquor or other alcoholic beverages. If convicted of operating an illegal still, the maker may face penalties of up to $10,000, five years in prison or both.