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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.

  • Pair mass work off as I grind is this bad. Do I need to kill off this batera

    Posted by swiss on September 15, 2015
  • Oregon’s Reg’s

    Production of Alcohol for Fuel
    ORS 471.403 prohibits the distilling of alcoholic
    liquor without a license. Producers of alcohol for fuel
    will not violate ORS 471.403 if they comply with the
    following requirements:
    (1) Any person who produces motor fuels containing
    distilled spirits must possess a Federal Alcohol Fuel
    Producer’s Permit, pursuant to Title 27, CFR, Section
    19.935, and must comply with all pertinent federal
    regulations in effect as of January 1, 1984.
    (2) Prior to beginning operation, the person must
    furnish the Commission with a copy of the Alcohol
    Fuel Producer’s Permit and a copy of the application
    for the permit.
    (3) Alcohol produced or held under the permit
    may not be used, sold or made available for human
    [Publications: Publications referenced are available
    from the agency.]
    Stat. Auth.: ORS 471 & ORS 472, including ORS
    471.030, 471.730(1) & (5), 472.030, 472.060(1) & (2)
    Stats. Implemented: ORS 471.205 & ORS 471.730(8)
    Hist.: LCC 14-1979, f. 8-27-79, ef. 8-29-79;
    Renumbered from 845-010-0785; LCC 1-1984, f. &
    ef. 4-3-84; OLCC 6-2003, f. 4-25-03, cert. ef. 5-1-03

    Posted by John on September 15, 2015
  • What can I do to help the cause?. How can I get a permit in Massachusetts to distill ethanol? I only make 12 gallons of 65% abv per month.

    Posted by Lucas on September 14, 2015
  • Here’s the site for getting a fuel alcohol permit in the State of Tennessee:

    Posted by Robert on February 06, 2015
  • Please add me to e- mail list

    Posted by Charley Watkins on November 13, 2014
  • i would like to know all the laws regulationd on making selling owning ect alckoholl and all liqers and equtment i am wanting to start making but i want evrething on my end to be legel so can you send me all the inf on evrething pleas and thank you

    Posted by earnest on November 08, 2014
  • Your site is awesome. Love the history of it all and hope to purchase a personal still one day.

    Posted by Mark Hanmer on October 21, 2014
  • this is to clawhammer& need reply. can I distill seawater to use as my mashing water? really need to know yes or no.

    Posted by bill on September 25, 2014
  • Since I, too, am a lazy slug and don’t have the time or inclination to pore through mounds of law books, I have taken the liberty to provide the following link to the Home Distiller’s Association which provides information for those of us who live in Florida and may want to make a small batch or two of home-made spirits. The bottom line is that it’s ILLEGAL to own a still in Florida unless you pay a $4,000 fee to the State for a Craft Distiller’s permit. Outrageous.

    Posted by Dan Colley on June 14, 2014
    APPLICATION FOR AN ALCOHOL FUEL PRODUCER UNDER 26 U.S.C. 5181what is the cost to have this permit The Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit

    Posted by renee on May 23, 2014
  • Who ever said that there family works for the atf and fta that is illegal to own a still ur family just don’t want u making or have one that’s why they told u that

    Posted by jack on April 08, 2014
  • i got your kit,thanks.i also got the free you have any more?

    Posted by george w caudill on April 02, 2014
  • So Forida does not allow you to make beer or wine? Or to even buy beer or wine? [See last two sentences of this post] After all moonshine is just distilled beer or wine.
    Posted by Lou on February 12, 2014

    Under Florida Law it is illegal for any person to have in his possession any still or apparatus designed or adapted for the manufacture of an alcoholic beverage. It is also unlawful to have any mash, wort, or other fermented liquid that can be used to manufacture an alcoholic beverage. Possession of less than a gallon is a misdemeanor or more than a gallon is a felony.

    Posted by Rila on March 13, 2014
  • are these the biggest kit’s that you make do you have others’s such as 25 gallon or larger.

    Posted by Randy Moore on March 09, 2014
  • Do you people ship to canada and if so what is the exchange rate for a 10 gallon still, I assume it comes in all parts required to put together, right. Again thanks, enjoy reading all about the stills and construction of such, keep up the good work bob

    Posted by Bob Hayes on February 18, 2014
  • Under Florida Law it is illegal for any person to have in his possession any still or apparatus designed or adapted for the manufacture of an alcoholic beverage. It is also unlawful to have any mash, wort, or other fermented liquid that can be used to manufacture an alcoholic beverage. Possession of less than a gallon is a misdemeanor or more than a gallon is a felony.

    Posted by Lou on February 12, 2014
  • i was watching a show on amazon called hatfields and mccoys white lightening. And they had made claim that west virginia had lifted its prohibition laws. I was hopeing to find out if there was any truth to this?

    Posted by Lee on February 06, 2014
  • I just recieved my kit via UPS looks great.But on the top of my 1-1/2 pipe there is only a cork ,is that right ? I thought there was a reducer to 1/2 copper pipe 90 then to another 90 tha t goes to cooling jacket ? I just bought the one gallon kit .Please let me know. thank you Tibor S.

    Posted by Tibor Stotz on January 29, 2014
  • If I were to buy a 5 gallon kit would it come with everything needed to imitate a working still. And is it all made out of copper, is the signature curly worm included as well. Do I have to shape the pieces or simply put together? Sorry for all the questions.

    Posted by David Kerper on January 15, 2014
  • I get the reason for getting the permit, but if you get one for fuel alcohol and thats not what your using it for isnt it pretty much the same as not having one at all?

    Posted by don on January 10, 2014

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