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March 14, 2023
Last updated

Is Moonshine Illegal?

Owner of Clawhammer Supply

The question is, is making moonshine illegal? The answer to this is somewhat complicated and unless the thought of digging ditches with chains around one's ankles is appealing, potential distillers better read on because in this article we're going to summarize whether or not moonshine is illegal.

The first thing you need to know is that there are federal and state laws that pertain to home distilling. Heck, in some cases there are even local laws. To avoid trouble with the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and officials, distillers need to comply with all laws; federal and state laws, as well as any local laws. 

Spoiler alert, depending on where you live, it is generally not legal to make moonshine. So, maybe the best question isn't "is moonshine legal?" Perhaps a better question is, why is moonshine illegal? We'll discuss all this and more below.

When is Home Distilling Legal?

Federal law states that it is legal to own a still of any size. It doesn't matter if an individual has a 1 gallon still or a 100 gallon still. More specifically, 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.

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 do not need a serial number (see more on this below).

We don’t claim to be lawyers, and our post on the legalities of distilling should NOT be taken as legal advice, however, we've done a lot of digging on this topic and feel that we have a pretty good handle on whether or not possessing a still and making moonshine is illegal.

UPDATE: there has been some debate in the comments regarding which types of stills are allowed according to federal law. Our interpretation is that the federal government does not require registration of stills that are not being used to produce distilled spirits. Here is our reasoning:

First, you must read the section USC Sec. 5179(a), a provision of Internal Revelue code. Pay careful attention to the wording and terminology used, particularly the exceptions made for different distillation use cases as well as the requirements for when a still is actually considered “set up.”

Ҥ5179. Registration of stills
(a) Requirements
Every person having in his possession or custody, or under his control, any still or distilling apparatus set up, shall register such still or apparatus with the Secretary immediately on its being set up, by subscribing and filing with the Secretary a statement, in writing, setting forth the particular place where such still or distilling apparatus is set up, the kind of still and its capacity, the owner thereof, his place of residence, and the purpose for which said still or distilling apparatus has been or is intended to be used (except that stills or distilling apparatus not used or intended to be used for the distillation, redistillation, or recovery of distilled spirits are not required to be registered under this section).”

Note the exception: “stills or distilling apparatus not used or intended to be used for the distillation, redistillation, or recovery of distilled spirits are not required to be registered under this section.”

Additionally, and somewhat redundantly, a still is not considered “set up” until it meets this definition, as noted in part 29 of title 27 in the US Code of Federal Regulations:

“(b) When still is set up. A still will be regarded as set up and subject to registry when it is in position over a furnace, or connected with a boiler so that heat may be applied, irrespective of whether a condenser is in position.”

Additionally, here is the relevant bit of code that clarifies "offenses," i.e violations of the provision:

26 USC Sec. 5601 classifies the following as “an offense”:

“Any person who has in his possession or custody, or under his control, any still or distilling apparatus set up which is not registered, as required by section 5179(a)”

Our interpretation is that you are technically not required to register a still that is not being used for alcohol production AND even if it is, it does not need to be registered until it is “set up” according to the above mentioned definition.

Is Moonshine Illegal?

Regardless of whether you possess a still that can be legally, according to federal law, operated, 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. 

Federal Distilled Spirits & Federal Fuel Alcohol Permits

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 an individual is opening a distillery with the intention of selling their 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). Be advised that the conditions of the permit only allow a distiller to use the alcohol they produce for fuel purposes, not for consumption.

Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit

Here's the link for the federal fuel alcohol permit: For those that happen to build a copper still kit or purchase a stainless distiller from Clawhammer Supply, they'll write "Clawhammer Supply" in the manufacturer line and their order number for the serial number (e.g. "6601") on a sticker that is supplied with the equipment. List the type as a "pot still." The capacity is the size of boiler (i.e. 1 gallon, 5 gallon, 10 gallon, etc...). This will be the identifying information for the still.

Note, those not planning to use their still for alcohol 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). However, for those who are going to use the equipment to distill alcohol, the use your order number (which is also your serial number) on all permit paperwork.

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. Google state laws to find the rules and regulations in your state. Also, make sure to comply with these rules and regulations.

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 an individual ever distill or sell alcohol without a permit. If an individual chooses to distill alcohol, make sure to obtain all applicable fuel or spirit permits (listed above). Additionally, check state laws and make sure that owning and / or operating a still is permissible. Clawhammer distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only. Read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation. And make sure to hire a legal professional to help you navigate the permitting process because this information on this website is not intended to be relied upon by anyone as the basis for any action or decision whatsoever.

Click here to read the actual federal laws on the subject of distillation.

Kyle Brown is the owner of Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company which he founded in 2009. His passion is teaching people about the many uses of distillation equipment as well as how to make beer at home. When he isn't brewing beer or writing about it, you can find him at his local gym or on the running trail.

  • As a current scofflaw and former police officer who loves reading law. Honestly, I really do, I would like to express my appreciation for the way you wrote this article. It is straight forward and unambiguous, no subtraction and no embellishments.
    now, flip the coin.i also want to express my condolences for having to deal with all the coffeeshop lawyers who Re going to tell you how you are wrong about each letter In every paragraph, ; because someone’s cousin got arrested for shining a the cops told him so. There is a caNyon of difference between aN intelligent person writing an article to inform people so they can stay out of jail, and a whiney mouth breather who says his uncle Joe’s neighbor told him he could make all he wants as long as he DoNt
    Sell any on the west side.of state line Avenue in Texarkana on the 2nd Tuesday of the week. Because I know you’re going to have to endure people Asking the most outlandish ‘what if" questions. I’ve known enough from being a licensed peace officer in two states that in many cases a person can be arrested simply for the possession of untaxed spirits. Sorry for the bad spelling.i don’t type well since i had strike last year

    Posted by on December 05, 2023
  • I would like to start a micro distillery what is the best way to get this started in North Carolina?

    Posted by James on October 17, 2022
  • Hey Jeeze, the 10th amendment gives a state the right to govern itself.

    Posted by J on December 08, 2021
  • Which parts have the serial numbers on them?

    Posted by Bobio on March 16, 2021
  • Does this stuff ship to Canada.Is it legal?

    Posted by Brian on November 30, 2020
  • I’m all for legalizing home distilling. Let me know what the fee’s will be

    Posted by Eldon on December 02, 2020
  • I was behind trying to get home distilling through Congress has there been any new talk of trying again . I have sent emails to rep.s have not heard from them yet

    Posted by Eldon on December 02, 2020
  • Moonshiners to the rescue in this pandemic. Make the alcohol and sell it to disinfect and to prevent the spread of the covi19 virus. We have to take care of each other and now is our chance.

    Posted by Dave on May 26, 2020
  • Love all the comments folks…heree is mine…Let All.. Americans just Do It..Make Our Own Moonshine/Alcohol…then what? We need to come together as our forfather did and protest all laws and regulations that forbid Us a Free Right…such as bootlegging..this Capitalism is bullshit and the 10% only being the ones getting rich and the politics behide it is all wrong…Protesting and Uniting is the only way to Change the Laws….

    Posted by Bob on April 28, 2020
  • Well how do I apply for a personal use disstiller permit

    Posted by Craig Green on April 22, 2020
  • I have found wevils in my mash grain . Should I THROW Away or use it anyway. thanks ,rwk

    Posted by on March 16, 2020
  • >>>I live in Missouri and is it correct…I’m not required to have a permit to distil alcohol up to 200 gallons a year as long as I’m twenty one years of age and I don’t sell any of my moonshine but rather that I keep it in the family?<<<<

    Maybe but federal law supercedes State law. Didn’t that occur to you???


    Posted by John on February 25, 2020
  • Grandma loves my apple pie made with a touch of apple shine, but she strictly forbids any of the grandkids from drinking alcohol,,

    Posted by Amish Al on December 13, 2019
  • If im mowing the lawn am I considered to be the lawnmower lol

    Posted by BOozer on November 25, 2019
  • It’s a shame we fight for our country and we die for our country we let aliens in any change the law you can’t do that it’s just not America what the hell is going on stop the government that’s stopping us big breweries and the congressman’s with all the money back and that’s stopping us you’re not free in America you still have somebody to tell you what to do until that day is over with you can forget it
    Posted by p/b roger on November 18, 2019
  • Paul Pantone GEET fuel system runs on 12 percent alcohol. Engine is the still ! See YouTube😃 yeast water sugar ferment. When done dump it all in the bubbler that next goes up center of exhaust through reactor pipe on to engine water and all check this out.

    Posted by Gerard Dugas on September 11, 2019
  • Where can I find a lawnmower that runs on apple moonshine? will pay shipping

    Posted by George on July 01, 2019
  • bootlegging is still happening as moonshine permits are 100 k or more

    Posted by on March 27, 2019
  • Don’t you have to make reports and keep records of production and use with a Federal Fuel Alcohol permit?

    Posted by Kras on November 27, 2018
  • best place to buy still 1 to 5 gal.

    Posted by carson on June 18, 2018

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