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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 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and officials, you'll need to comply with federal and state laws, as well as any local 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 as long as it is being used for the aforementioned purposes. However, be advised 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.
A common misconception is that only stills 1 gallon and smaller are legal. This is not true. Actual law merely states that stills 1 gallon or less that are not being used to distill alcohol are not tracked by the TTB (see more on this below. 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.
Federal Distilled Spirits & Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit
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 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 liquor stores, don't even bother looking into getting a distilled spirits permit; it's way too expensive and complicated for a home distiller to obtain. Instead pursue a fuel alcohol permit (which we'll describe next).
Option two is a Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit (link below), which 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 Supply moonshine still kit, you'll write "Clawhammer Supply" in the manufacturer line and your order number for the serial number (e.g. "6601"). List the type as a "pot still." 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 the federal government. 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, you will want to get a federal fuel alcohol permit (or a spirit distillers permit, if that's what you're using it for).
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. You'll need to Google the laws in your state to find out.
Still Registration and Reporting
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.
How to Stay Out of Trouble
Federal law provides no exemptions for the production of distilled spirits for personal or family use. Under no circumstances should you ever distil or sell alcohol without a permit. If you choose to distill alcohol, make sure to obtain all applicable fuel or spirit permits (listed above). Additionally, check your state laws and make sure that owning and / or operating a still is permissible.
Click here to read the actual federal laws on the subject of distillation.