Is making moonshine safe? Many would-be shiners love the idea of making their own spirits at home but are worried about the repercussions. Let’s take an in-depth look at the safety risks of making your own shine and how to keep yourself safe.
Making moonshine is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Along with this time-honored tradition also come tales of risk. Moonshining has long been associated with many dangers, but there are measures you can take to protect yourself. Let’s look at some of the biggest risks associated with moonshining and how to better protect yourself.
Is Moonshining Illegal?
The answer to this question will vary depending on the area in which you live. In some countries, making your own spirits is completely legal and an accepted practice. In other areas, the laws around distilling can vary from in different parts of the country.
In the United States, for example, the laws around distilling vary from state to state. In some areas, you are able to use a still as long as you obtain the right permit. In other areas, it seems just owning a still is a violation of the law.
For this reason, it is important to know what the laws are in your area and the best way to protect yourself while still enjoying this hobby. In many states, you are able to apply for a fuel alcohol permit in order to protect yourself from persecution. This permit says that you are using your still to make ethanol for your lawnmower.
There is only one federal permit that needs to be obtained. It could be found here.
This permit is not available in all countries or all areas. For example, in Ontario, Canada there is not an option to purchase a fuel alcohol permit. However, just across the bridge in Michigan the possession of a still is not considered illegal and you are able to get a fuel alcohol permit.
Read more: Is Moonshine Illegal?
Why is Making Moonshine Illegal?
It is important to note that the laws around moonshine are associated around the loss of tax revenue rather than any safety issues. In fact, making your own spirits was not only legal, but it was used as a form of currency for early American pioneers.
However, when Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton needed to find a way to pay off federal debt he decided to tax domestically distilled spirits.
With this new law put in place, moonshining officially began. Before this law, new pioneers were simply distilling. After this law their activities had to take place ‘by the light of the moon’ which made them ‘moonshiners’.
Why is Making Moonshine Illegal in Some States and not Others?
There are laws pertaining to home distilling at both the state and federal level. In the United States, the federal law states that it is legal to own a still, regardless of size, for distilling water, making essential oils or simply for decoration.
However, using your still for distilling alcohol is considered illegal if you do not have the right permit. In the United States you will be required to obtain a ‘distilled spirits permit’ or a ‘fuel alcohol permit’. These permits are required regardless of whether you are only producing spirits for personal use.
It is important to note that each state has different laws regarding distillation. It is important to familiarize yourself with the distilling laws in your state in order to properly protect yourself from persecution.
For more information and to see the laws in your area, check out Is Moonshine Illegal?
What is the Safest Equipment for Making Moonshine?
It is important to invest in good quality equipment to make your moonshine. You want to look for a still that is made with the right materials. Specifically you are looking for either 100% food grade copper, 304 stainless steel, or a combination of both. You also want to look your still to be assembled with lead-free solder.
In the past many stills were assembled at home using questionable parts such as sheet metal, car radiators or other random materials on hand. This practice is very dangerous as these materials were not designed to the same standards as equipment used to prepare or house food and drink for human consumption.
This means as well as your moonshine you could be ingesting a lot of chemicals or other by products that can seriously harm your health.
In addition to the danger of consuming dangerous chemicals, you also have to consider whether making your own still is actually safe. There are many factors that are considered when designing a still in order to make it safe for distilling. This is not always a consideration when you are making a still designed by someone who is not an expert in the field.
Read next: The 2021 Copper Still Review
Where is the Safest Spot to Distill?
For many, the safest place to distill is not in the house. The reason for this is two-fold. First, there are many flammable vapors that are released during distillation. This means that any spark could result in a fire.
In addition, the ethanol expelled during distillation is also extremely flammable. If it was to spill and travel to your heat source it could also result in a fire.
Similar to a grease fire, water will not help you if your still is to go up in flames. Instead, you will need to have a fire extinguisher nearby.
It is for these reasons that many moonshiners will choose to distill either outdoors or in an outdoor building. When distilling in these areas the risk of fire is not any less, but the items that are more likely to be burned are of less value.
While our Moonshine Still Kits are able to be used on an electric or gas stovetop, they can also be used on an induction burner. This is a great option if you want to use a still kit but do not want to risk distilling in your home.
Is there an Easier Option for Distilling?
Another great option is to use an air still. Unlike a traditional still which requires a heat and water source, an air still only requires an electrical outlet. This means that it is even easier to find a spot to distill outside using an outdoor outlet or extension cord.
Many newer to moonshine prefer to use an air still because it is a more straightforward way to make shine and it is a much less hands-on process. Other than changing out your collection jars you really only need to sit and wait.
Our Mist 1 Gallon air still is a great option for those who want to find an easy to use still with minimal risk. The Mist is about the size of your kitchen kettle and just as easy to use.
What are the Best Practices for Running a Still?
There are several things to consider when running a still. One of the most dangerous things that you need to be on the lookout for is leaking alcohol vapors. Leaking alcohol vapors are the result of a leak in the still’s column. This is especially dangerous as this could lead to an explosion.
Look for Leaks
It is also important to look for any leaks that could lead to a loss of your mash. Not only is it a loss of the ingredients that you invested but the ingredients you are losing are extremely flammable.
Always Distill Water First
A great way to determine if there are any dangerous leaks in your still is to distill water through it first. Not only is this a great way to give your still a really good clean before your run, but it also lets you check for leaks. While leaks during water distillation are not flammable, they will be hot. Make sure to protect yourself from contact burns.
Seal Leaks or Shut it Down
If you discover any leaks during the process, you can solder them once your still has been emptied and cooled. If you discover leaks when you are distilling, you can try and stop them using a flour paste. First you apply a flour paste around the leak and then seal it by tying a rag around the leak.
If this does not work, it is better to stop distilling, allow the equipment to cool and then apply some solder to the leak.
Never Leave your Still Unattended
With these potential dangers in mind, it makes sense that you would never leave your still unattended. Even if your still did not leak when you distilled your water, a leak could still happen during a run.
In addition, it is important for even seasoned shiners to pay close attention to temperature during their run and adjust if necessary.
One of the biggest no-nos in moonshining is forgetting to fractionate. When you fractionate your moonshine you are separating the different outputs of your distiller by temperature. Seasoned shiners can also fractionate by taste and smell.
Not everything that comes out of your still is safe for consumption. It is important to monitor your output closely in order to make sure you are fractionating properly.
Fractionating is important because otherwise your moonshine will contain methanol. The consumption of methanol can be very dangerous and even result in death. By monitoring the temperature of your output closely you should be able to discard the foreshots (the first bit of output which contains methanol) and alleviate this risk.
For more information on fractionating (and everything else moonshine) check out our complete How to Make Moonshine guide.
Use a Glass Collection Vessel
There are two very important reasons moonshine is collected in a glass vessel. The first comes back to the fact that you need a material that is safe for human consumption. Using a different material for collection would likely heat the material up to the point of melting and possibly release some dangerous toxins into your shine.
The possibility of melting also increases the possibility of fire. It also is more likely you could be burned while trying to fractionate your yield as the vessel could be unstable.
Always Keep a Fire Extinguisher Handy
Whether you are distilling inside or out, you need to have a fire extinguisher handy. If your still is to cause a fire it is not one that can be put out with water. It is important to have the right safety equipment nearby in order to protect yourself.
Direct your Output well Away from your Heat Source
It is important to have a long collection arm in order to avoid any potential of your ethanol coming into contact with your heat source. Again, this comes back to the point that making moonshine comes with a risk of fire or explosion so you want to be very careful.
Can Moonshine Make you go Blind?
Moonshine is often linked with blindness in the minds of many people. The fact that we still make this connection today just shows the success of the many campaigns that were put on during prohibition to discourage home distilling.
While many of these campaigns were false, there is also some truth to this association.
On one hand, many moonshiners would add antifreeze to their shine in an effort to try and increase its potency. Of course, this resulted in the ingestion of dangerous ingredients and the resulting sickness and even death.
Secondly, when moonshine is not fractionated it contains methanol which is poisonous.
Methanol is extremely toxic to humans. When consumed in excess, the body will convert methanol into formic acid.
Formic acid can alter the function of various cells and can stop them from working. For example, 10 ml of pure methanol is very likely to cause severe damage to your optical nerves which results in blindness. Consuming 15ml of methanol can be fatal.
Read more: How to Avoid Moonshine Blindess
Never Sell your Moonshine
In most areas the permit required for a commercial distillers permit is too expensive and too cumbersome to make any type of commercial venture worthwhile.
With that in mind, unless you have a permit to sell your moonshine you should not be selling your moonshine.
Many shiners have reported that local law enforcement has said off the record that the shiners on her radar are the ones who are distributing and selling moonshine, not the ones who are simply making and consuming it.
The penalty for making and selling moonshine can range from jail time to thousands of dollars in fines. In some states, property and materials can also be seized.
Is it Safe to Drink Moonshine?
Drinking any type of alcohol can be dangerous. Arguably, the biggest reason for this is the effects ethanol has on the body.
Consuming alcohol changes the way the brain functions. Communication pathways are affected which can change your mood, behavior and coordination.
With this in mind, the consequences of your actions under the influence of alcohol can be very dangerous, especially if you attempt to operate any large equipment such as a vehicle.
Consuming moonshine increases these risks as the chances of overconsumption is increased with high proof alcohol.
Is Making Moonshine Safe?
When you are choosing to make moonshine, you are taking on some risk. Unfortunately, there is no magic answer to remove all risk from moonshining.
We can only provide the information necessary to protect yourself from getting in trouble, it is up to the individual moonshiner to obtain the necessary permits or not. To choose to follow the suggested safety guidelines or not. However, the risks associated with making moonshine can be managed when you follow the proper safety guidelines.