Making Alcohol Legally

January 18, 2010

After saying yesterday that it is illegal to distill without a license, I want to clarify the law when it comes to brewing wine, beer, and cider. Cider: Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols devoted a whole chapter to this topic. Basically, under Federal legislation enacted in 1979

(A) EXEMPTION. – Any adult may, without payment of tax, produce wine for personal or family use and not for sale.

(B)   LIMITATION. – The aggregate amount of wine exempt from tax under this paragraph with respect to any household shall not exceed –

(i)             200 gallons per calendar year if there are two or more adults in such household, or

(ii)            100 gallons per calendar year if there is only one adult in such household.

(C) ADULTS. – For purposes of this paragraph, the term ‘adult’ means any individual who has attained eighteen years of age, or the minimum age (if any) established by law applicable in the locality in which the household is situated at which wine may be sold to individuals, whichever is greater.

Proulx and Nichols quoted Jerry Bowerman, chef, Wine, Beer, and Spirits Regulations Branch, Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as saying, “there are no provisions in law or regulations for a period to cover the production of distilled spirits for personal consumption.” He continues:

“A person who desires to produce distilled spirit must qualify as a distilled spirit plant proprietor prior to commencing actual production. Among the requirements prescribed in Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27 CFR, Part 19, Subparts F, G, and H, qualifications would entail the submission and approval of applications for registration as a distilled spirits plant and for an operating permit to cover the various activities to be conducted, the registration of all stills, preparation of a plat, plans, and flow diagrams, filing of bonds and consent of surety, and installation of security devices such as walls and fences to protect the premises.”

According to Proulx and Nichols, “all distilled spirits produced for consumption are taxed at the rate of $13.50 per proof gallon.”

There are two things I would like to point out about this topic. The first one is that many people do not realize that while it is illegal to distill without jumping though all these hoops, it is legal, assuming you are of age, to purchase a spirit and customize it with fruit, syrups, sugar, and other ingredients to make your own liquor. I would imagine this to be much easier process to go though. In fact, Clear Creek Distillery’s liquiors are brandy with unfermented fruit and maybe sugar added to it, though since they are commercial, they do have to gain federal approval for sale. Someone wishing to do this for personal use or as a gift does not have to worry about federal regulations to do this.

However, for those of you how have their hearts on distilling, Clear Creek Distillery offers a class on the topic. I don’t know if that would meet the criteria set by the government, but I imagine it would be a start. I have also recently stumbled across the Society of Wine Educators, and it appears that they have a Certified Specialist of Spirits Program . Could be worth checking out. So look around – there are classes out there to get one started in distilling legally.

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8 Responses to “Making Alcohol Legally”


  1. […] sugars or complex carbs in them that can be fermented into a beer or wine in step two, which is legal. I know I was oblivious that distilling started with beer and wine until I toured a distillery. I […]


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  3. […] household can make not sellable 300 gallons of beer or wine a year (I was lead to believe it was 200 gallons, but maybe the laws changed), if you took all 300 of those gallons and distilled them at 10% […]


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