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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: http://www.ttb.gov/forms/f511074.pdf 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.

  • do you sell a made finished still. Or just the kits.

    Posted by ken on December 22, 2013
  • Does anyone know about shipping one from U.S.A to Australia? I live in Western Australia.

    Posted by Melissa on December 13, 2013
  • Whoever said it’s legal to have a still, is stupid. You can’t have one no matter what. By federal law having a still is possession of materiel relating to moonshine. I know this cause i have family who are with the A.B.C. and the A.T.F.

    Posted by aj on December 13, 2013
  • is it legal to make moonshine in tennessee? if so what is the limit now?

    Posted by Robert Lane on December 01, 2013
  • This was great info I just need to see if West Virginia is allowing stills and moonshine making in the state

    Posted by Kathy on October 25, 2013
  • what the law in va

    Posted by clarence on September 11, 2013
  • Iwould like to know the lawas and taxes due on producing moonshine in kentucky and possibal old receipes for production

    Posted by ron paul on September 10, 2013
  • Is it legal to have a still and make moonshine in ky?
    Where can I get copies or find the laws of moonshine making in ky

    Posted by Gizmo on July 27, 2013
  • how much moonshine can you make for personal use only

    Posted by charles on May 28, 2013
  • how much moonshine can you make for personal use only

    Posted by charles on May 28, 2013
  • how much moonshine can you make legal in wv

    Posted by charles on May 28, 2013
  • Can a person own one of your stills and make moonshine for his own consumtion in Texas or Oklahoma?

    Posted by tom bruring on May 06, 2013
  • Bramblett,

    First, thanks for the post. Again, we don’t claim to be lawyers, and our post on the legalities of distilling should NOT be taken as legal advice, but we definitely want to make sure we aren’t publishing blatantly false info. That said, we stand by our original position on this… The feds to NOT require registration of stills that are not being used to produce distilled spirits. Here is our reasoning:

    You’re comment: “according to the federal statute that i found it doesnt matter if it is for decoration, water, oils or shine. you must register your still with the federal gov.”

    The statute that you reference (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)”

    First, you must read the section that it references (5179(a)). Second, pay careful attention to the wording and terminology used, particularly “set up.” They use that term over and over again.

    Here’s what 5179(a) says:

    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.”

    So bottom the line 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.

    Posted by Clawhammer Supply on April 01, 2013
  • Good lesson about moonshine! trading and using moonshine stills does involve some legalities you need to know of. but it sure makes up for a good passion

    Posted by Jason Stone on March 12, 2013
  • is it legal to moonshine in kentucky, it is what are the laws?

    Posted by margaret hesler on March 10, 2013
  • in the section entitled federal distillation laws, you guys say that you do not have to register your still. I have been doing research on this and according to the federal statute that i found it doesnt matter if it is for decoration, water, oils or shine. you must register your still with the federal gov. here is a link to the statute. http://uscode.house.gov/uscode-cgi/fastweb.exe?getdoc+uscview+t26t28+1636+98++%28distillation%29
    if you have something that says otherwise please let me know. i am doing research because i had one of your products in my “cart” and just before i entered my info my wife stopped me and told me to do some research to make sure im not gonna end up in the penitentiary. if you have some info please let me know and let me know where to find it.

    Posted by Travis Bramblett on March 08, 2013
  • Can a person own one of your stills and make moonshine for his own consumtion in Georgai?

    Posted by Wylan on February 17, 2013
  • Can I get some recipes
    So is it hard to get legal

    Posted by Curtis on February 17, 2013
  • What sates has the easiest laws,rules regulations etc to try and open up a disllery to make and sale moonshine.I have no criminal record never broken the law just looking to retire open up a distelery and make a honest living.I am not a rich man am a hard worker and looking for something like this to do enjoy and make money

    Posted by richard vanover on January 19, 2013
  • Chalk one up for the Show-Me state!

    State Versus Federal Law

    Missouri is the only state whose laws expressly give residents the right to distill alcohol. Federal law is thought to supersede state law under the Interstate Commerce Clause, but the “Show Me State” continues to include freedom to operate an alcohol still within its statutes. Section 311.055 of the Missouri Revised Statues (August 28, 2009) reads:

    “No person at least twenty-one years of age shall be required to obtain a license to manufacture intoxicating liquor, as defined in section 311.020, for personal or family use. The aggregate amount of intoxicating liquor manufactured per household shall not exceed two hundred gallons per calendar year if there are two or more persons over the age of twenty-one years in such household, or one hundred gallons per calendar year if there is only one person over the age of twenty-one years in such household.

    Posted by Mitch on January 14, 2013


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