Know Your Rights - Moonshine Laws

Unless the thought of digging ditches with chains around your ankles is appealing, you better read this article on the legalities of making moonshine very closely. There are federal and state laws regulating home distilling. To avoid trouble with the revenooers and your local sheriff, it is best to follow both sets of laws. We'll summarize federal laws in this article, which are important to know. However, also be sure to check out laws regulating distillation for your state.

Federal Distillation Laws

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 feds, 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. 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, not for sale, etc. 

Also, we'd like to take this opportunity to correct some misinformation reported by "ehow.com," which is a website dedicated to scraping high quality, original content from other sites and repackaging it in poorly written, thinly researched, trash. Sorry if we seem a bit worked up, but sites like "ehow" exist solely to steal information from original content creators and make money from ad revenue, which diminishes the power of the web by putting spam roadblocks between individuals who seek good information and the accurate information they seek.

A recent "ehow" article on distilling suggests that only stills 1 gallon and smaller are legal. This is simply not true. The actual law merely states that stills 1 gallon or less are not tracked by the TTB (see more on this below). However, this does not mean that larger stills cannot be owned. As we mentioned above, there is absolutely no federal restriction on owning a still larger than 1 gallon. Anyone can own any size of still without being in violation of any federal law. Furthermore, the TTB does not necessarily track all stills larger than one gallon. TTB registration, reporting, and information collection is explained below. 

Federal Distilled Spirits & Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit

There are two alcohol distillation permit options to satisfy federal requirements. The first is a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit. This is the permit that industry giants like the Jack Daniels and Makers Mark distilleries possess, which makes it legal for them to distill and distribute to the public. As one might imagine, this permit is very difficult to get.

In short, unless you're opening a distillery with the intention of selling your product in a tasting room or liquor stores, don't even bother looking into getting a distilled spirits permit; it's way to expensive and complicated for a home distiller to obtain. Instead pursue a fuel alcohol permit (which we'll describe next).

The Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit (link below) is free and easy to get. We've never heard of anyone being denied the permit and have never heard of anyone even being checked up on. Just be advised that the feds will expect that you're putting your alcohol in you lawnmower, and not drinking it!

Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit

Here's the link for the federal fuel alcohol permit: http://www.ttb.gov/forms/f511074.pdf If you happen to build a Clawhammer moonshine still kit, you'lll write "owner" in the manufacturer line and make up a serial number (e.g. "001"). List the type as a "pot still with column." The capacity is the size of boiler (i.e. 1 gallon, 5 gallon, 10 gallon, etc...).

Note, if you're not planning to use your still for alcohol you do not need to get a permit or register the still with anyone. Federal rules state that stills only need to be reported / registered if the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau asks the manufacturer to do so (more on this below). Though, again, if you are using it to distill alcohol, it's best to at least get a fuel alcohol permit so you've got a leg to stand on if anyone ever does come knocking.

State Distillation Laws

State distilling law is different in every state. Some states have no laws on owning a still, but prohibit the distillation of alcohol (such as Colorado, which charges a small fine if one is caught doing so) while other states prohibit possession of a still unless it's for fuel alcohol (such as North Carolina, which requires a state fuel alcohol permit). Some states may prohibit possession of distillation equipment and distilling altogether (we're not aware of any, but it's possible). You'll need to Google the laws in your state.

Still Registration and Reporting

Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations state that still manufacturers need to begin providing customer info, upon request, if asked to do so. This does not include information on past customers. The rules merely state that manufacturers need to begin reporting once asked to do so (which only applies from that point forward).

Clawhammer Supply is NOT required to report customer information. We don't anticipate ever needing to do so either. The TTB only requires manufacturers of finished, functional equipment to report (again, only if asked). They define a still as, "Any apparatus capable of being used for separating alcoholic or spirituous vapors, or spiritous solutions, or spirits, from spirituous solutions or mixtures..." Clawhammer's product is a kit. As it leaves the door from our shop, it's nothing more than a collection of strategically cut flat copper sheet and unassembled pipe. In the condition that it is sold, it's certainly not capable of being used for boiling or separating alcoholic or spirituous vapors.

The bottom line is that Clawhammer Supply manufactures and sells boxes of copper parts. The parts aren't good for much more than scrap unless they're fabricated into something more useful by the purchaser. It's certainly possible, and perhaps even likely, that our kits will be assembled into stills and used to make alcohol....but that's really none of our business. Long story short, we do not have to report customer information. We contacted the TTB several years ago to confirm this, which they did, and we haven't heard from them since.

Click here to read the actual federal laws on the subject of distillation. If you have the time to read the rulings, do so very carefully. Pay attention to the details in part 29. What you'll notice is that manufacturing your own still or purchasing a still in the form of a kit has a LOT of advantages if your goal is to fly under the radar. There is absolutely no legal mandate for parts manufacturers to collect information and there is no requirement for homemade stills to be registered.