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Thread: Home distilling

  1. #1
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    Home distilling

    Does anyone out there know exactly why you can brew your own beer or make your own wine, but you cannot distill your own spirits?

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Home distilling

    The flip answer would be because it's legal to make beer and wine but not spirits.

    Why isn't it legal? It mostly has to do with the inherent prejudice against spirits, a perception that spirits are inherently more dangerous than beer or wine. Also, the taxes on spirits are much higher. An ounce of home brew costs the taxing authorities much less in lost revenue than an ounce of home made spirits. Some people will tell you that home distilling is significantly more dangerous than home brewing or winemaking, though I think that's overblown. It is true that a distillery can explode or cause a really nasty fire. There is also concern about people doing it wrong and being poisoned by the "heads and tails." There also isn't a whole lot of demand for it. Plenty of people do distill illegally and unless they are doing it on a commercial scale and selling it there isn't much prosecution and, of course, it's still illegal to produce wine or beer on a commercial scale without a license too.

  3. #3
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    Re: Home distilling

    It's worth noting that homebrewing of beer and wine wasn't
    legalized until 1978, so it's a relatively recent phenomenon
    (well, less than 30 years old). A lot of people think that
    it was legalized at the end of Prohibition, but it wasn't.

    With regard to alcohol laws in general, they're pretty much
    a big mess that doesn't really strike anyone as particularly
    logical or well reasoned.

    Tim Dellinger

  4. #4
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    Re: Home distilling

    With regard to alcohol laws in general, they're pretty much a big mess that doesn't really strike anyone as particularly logical or well reasoned.
    That's for sure. I would wager that thousands of people have broken some sort of alcohol law inadvertantly just because, thinking rationally, they did not see how they were doing anything wrong.

    Just out of curiosity, though, does anyone have a personal legal horror story along these lines? Despite all of the complicated laws governing production, sales, transport, etc., I don't personally know anyone who has been prosecuted for something like carrying one bottle too many over a state line. When I was growing up, I knew plenty of people who made homemade wine. They seemed to greet the lifting of the homemade wine ban with a shrug.

    A couple of years back, there was a very large "bust" in Franklin County, VA involving the production and sale of moonshine. I'm not sure how it played out, but I think that some of the suspects were facing potential sentences of twenty years or more. I also vaguely remember someone in local law enforcement saying something about how, relatively speaking, moonshine was a very small social problem in Franklin County and that, while they were cooperating with ABC, the moonshine bust was a waste of time and valuable resources.

    As for safety - I knew a guy in high school who tried to make homemade wine in his closet. During fermentation, his apparatus blew up. No one was hurt, but it ruined a lot of clothes.

  5. #5
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    Re: Home distilling

    What I've never understood is the actual 'economics' of moonshining. That Franklin County operation was supposedly the largest setup ever found in Virginia (I believe it was something along the lines of 20-30 *THOUSAND* gallons per run on this thing!). How do you unload that much product?!? Who buys the stuff? Is commercial whiskey so expensive that there's such a huge demand? I just don't get it.

    My tiny exposure to moonshine was more like a novelty.

  6. #6
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    Re: Home distilling

    I've never quite understood it either. I have never witnessed a moonshine purchase, but I remember reading that the Franklin County "products" went for $35/gallon. I guess if you like moonshine and don't like cheap bourbon, it's worth it. As far as who buys it, I know that in the area where I grew up in Northwestern VA, a lot of folks loved it. There was an area near my home called "The Mash," a nickname from prohibition days I'm told, where a lot of moonshine was produced years ago. Some acquaintances back that way tell me that moonshine might go for $60/gallon if it's good. To me, that says it's about appreciation of moonshine, not getting a bargain.

    Growing up, I also heard about one my distant relatives who used to run moonshine from VA to Georgia to make extra money. This would have been in the late 50's or early 60's that he was doing so. A family story is that he was caught once by a state trooper with a trunk full of shine; being a smooth talker, he convinced the state trooper that since it was someone else's car he had borrowed (his wife's!), he had no idea how it got there. The shine was confiscated, but no charges were filed.

  7. #7
    Bourbonian of the Year 2006
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    Re: Home distilling

    Chuck hit it on the head.
    Its all about taxes.
    If there were no tax on booze, there would be no law against distilling.
    I've worked in a few labs that handled pure ethanol for medical use. We'd buy 50 gallon drums of 95% and 100% ethanol. No tax. We had special permits and even redistilled some to purify it. (Special permit also). It was rediculously cheap!!! You had to account for every ounce. ATF would be there in a minute, if they thought you were selling or drinking it.
    Why?
    Because they wouldn't be getting their revenue.
    We kept our books perfectly. Wouldn't risk the exorbitant fines or criminal penalties.


  8. #8
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    Re: Home distilling

    >What I've never understood is the actual 'economics' of moonshining.
    >...
    >How do you unload that much product?!? Who buys the stuff?


    I've always been told that it's sold to shady and/or unlicensed
    bars in cities to the north.

    From the New York Times, available at http://www.randlemanland.com/shine.html :

    Moonshiners produce whiskey for as little as $3 a gallon, the investigators
    say, then package it in six-packs of gallon plastic jugs, a thicker-gauge
    variation of milk containers, and sell it, unlabeled, for $10 or $12 a gallon
    to nip joints, shot houses and the back rooms of bars in Philadelphia,
    Richmond, Washington and Baltimore. The bars then sell it for as little
    as $1 a shot, much less than the price of lawful whiskey.


    From CNN, available at
    http://www.cnn.com/2000/FOOD/news/08/28/moonshine.ap/ :

    There are no firm figures on exactly how much illegal liquor is made in the
    United States each year. But investigators say modern moonshiners generate
    millions of dollars in revenue providing whiskey for illegal shot houses in
    Philadelphia, Washington, D.C, and other East Coast cities, where it is sold
    for $1 to $3 per shot.



    Tim Dellinger

  9. #9
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    Re: Home distilling

    Thanks to all of those answers.....sheeeeeeeeeesh.. Imagine if drugs were legalized and taxed..J/K May Life always find your glass half full

 

 

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