Is Moonshine Illegal?

Is Moonshine Illegal?

Many changes in pop culture have people wondering, is making moonshine illegal? 


The combination of several hit tv shows, popular moonshine recipes and a foggy knowledge of the law have many people wondering if moonshine is actually legal. After all, how can they have a show detailing exactly how people are making moonshine if they weren't legally allowed to do it? 





Moonshining was once viewed as an illicit activity that can only be practiced under the veil of darkness, but it seems like this may be changing. Today stills to make quality moonshine are readily available online. Shows like Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners showcase the world of home brewing and some commercial spirits even bear the name ‘moonshine’. So is making moonshine illegal or not?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, but... 


is moonshine illegal?

Is Moonshine Illegal? 

To truly understand the legallity of moonshine it is important to understand its roots. While many falsely believe that making moonshine is illegal, it is in fact not. It is perfectly legal to make moonshine with the proper permits and by paying the approproate taxes. Moonshine after all, is a tax infraction. 

To understand this is to have a brief history of moonshine. While moonshining was in practice long before the United States of America was colonized, it was a popular past-time in early America. 

Moonshining was not only legal, but it was a way of life for many early American pioneers. Farmers soon discovered that fermenting their excess grains was a way to not only avoid waste but also make money. 


Many early settlers, particularly those in grain-producing states, quickly discovered their corn and grain was worth much more once it was distilled into whiskey.


In fact, moonshine could even be used as a form of currency during this time. 

A Whiskey Tax



The trouble began largely when Alexander Hamilton, the founding father now famous for his tenacity and song lyrics, figured out a way to deal with the debt associated with the American Revolution. He decided that placing taxes on alcohol would be a good way to pay off the debt accumulated from the war. 

Of course, all of the farmers were not on board. After all, they had just finished fighting against the British tax tariffs. This tension exploded with the Whiskey rebellion. This crackdown on moonshining was led by George Washington and resulted in a large loss of life. 

Making moonshine officially became illegal when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) passed the 1862 Revenue Act. This Act imposed taxes on alcohol (along with many other items) and was written to collect taxes on imported distilled spirits, but also included the homemade variety. It has been illegal to make spirits in American homes ever since.

This change did not come without backlash. A Whiskey Rebellion soon followed which saw many farmers rise up against this change. Unfortunately many of lose opposed would lose their lives. 


history of moonshine


Check out What is Moonshine Prohibition? 


Is Moonshine Legal in the United States? 



In the United States owning a still of any size is legal. This is because stills can make much more than just moonshine.

Stills can easily be used to make essential oils, distilled water, perfume as well as fuel. Many falsely believe that owning a small still is legal, but larger stills are not. This is simply not true. The government is more concerned about how you plan to use your still. 


This is largely how it is believed that Moonshiners is able to be filmed without any legal penalities.



While the product produced is believed to be moonshine, it could also simply be water. Also, there is no proof that those participating in the show have not obtained the proper permits to be making their moonshine. 


It is illegal to use your still to distill alcohol without first having a ‘distilled spirits permit’ or a ‘federal fuel alcohol permit.’ It does not matter if the spirits you are making are only for personal use and not for sale. 


How to Legally Distill Spirits at Home




There are ways to legally distill spirits at home in the United States. In fact, there are two different permit options available to ensure that you can make your own spirits at home without worrying about trouble with the law. 


Federal Distilled Permit



The first option is to obtain a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit. This is basically a permit saying that you would like to start your own business making spirits. This is the same permit that the big spirit companies like Jack Daniels would have in hand. As you can imagine, they are very hard to get. 


In fact, unless you are actually planning to open a distillery and sell your product to the public there is no point in applying for this permit. It is an expensive and complicated process that is not designed to help a homebrewer avoid any legal ramifications. 



Fuel Alcohol Permit



What you can do is get a fuel alcohol permit. This option is actually free and easy to get. In fact, by getting this permit all you are saying to the government is that you plan on putting the alcohol you make into your lawnmower and not into your body. 

Of course, it is important to remember that this permit will not protect you if it is found that you are distilling spirits for the purpose of consumption or distribution. The only way this permit will protect you is if you are making ethanol for the purpose of running your gas mower. 


Apply for your fuel alcohol permit here. 



If you are purchasing a still without the intention of making alcohol, you do not require a permit.


You can legally use your still to make perfumes, essential oils, and distilled water. You only need to look into these options if you are planning to use your still to make spirits.


In fact, when doing some legally, you are not really making moonshine since it really only refers to the illicit production, transportation, and distribution of spirits. Put a permit in your hands and you are now a distiller. 


moonshine laws in your area

What are the Moonshining Laws in my Area? 


While it is essential to know what the laws are governing moonshine, it is also important to look at the laws in your area.


Many states have specific laws around distillation. Unfortunately, Federal law will always trump them. However, many states have laws that would theoretically make moonshining legal, if it wasn’t a federal offense. 

 It is important to know what is and isn’t legal in your area.  In some states owning a still is legal but distillation will result in a small fine which is the case in Colorado.


In Missouri, you can theoretically manufacture 100 gallons of liquor per year. 


Other states that theoretically allow moonshining are Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island.

Check out this link that breaks down the distilling laws by state. 

Still Registration and Reporting

The Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations state that still manufacturers need to keep their customer’s information. This is required as the information could be requested by the  Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. 

Click here to read the actual federal laws on the subject of distillation.


is moonshine illegal

Why is Making Moonshine Still Illegal?



Making moonshine was not always illegal. In fact, in many areas of the world making moonshine is perfectly legal. New Zealand was the first country to make distilling moonshine for personal consumption legal in 1996.


In 1997 Russia tiered down the penalty for making moonshine from a criminal offense to a misdemeanor. As of 2002, it is no longer even considered a misdemeanor.

However, it seems the good old United States of America is holding strong onto its moonshining laws. While the government often leans strongly on health concerns and safety issues, the origins lie in money. 


Check out our Delicious Corn Whiskey Recipe

 What Proof is Illegal Moonshine? 



While many associate moonshine with a grain alcohol with a high alcohol content, this is not true of all moonshine. 


In fact, getting your moonshine to a high proof requires a good recipe, healthy yeast and multiple distillations. 


However, just because your moonshine does not have a high proof does not mean it is not considered moonshine. In fact, one of the most popular moonshine recipes, sugar shine, usually only produces a product that is about 20% alcohol. However, the low cost of ingredients and simple method make this recipe a winner. 


 Check out 7 Things to Look for in a Still 

Is it Illegal to Brew Beer and Wine at Home? 



Homebrewing of beer was a federal offense until the law was officially changed in 1978. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that homebrewers were allowed to make their own beer in all 50 states. 

Since the regulation of alcohol is largely left to each individual state, those living in Alabama and Mississippi were the last to benefit from the removal of this law. The rules around brewing wine are somewhat ambiguous, but this law does not include the production of spirits. 

Many may wonder why there is a distinction between the two different types of brewing. Considering that the process of brewing both types of alcohol are similar. However, there are two probable reasons: taxes and health concerns. 



Copper moonshine still


How Much is Moonshine Worth? 



When you look at the amount of money each type of liquor is worth, spirits far outweigh beer or wine in the eyes of the United States Government. 

The U.S. government has an excise tax of $2.14 for each 750-milliliter bottle of 80-proof spirits, compared with 21 cents for a bottle of wine (of 14 percent alcohol or less) and 5 cents for a can of beer. 

While the exact figure the government stands to lose to moonshining is not known, it is enough to warrant investigation. For example, an ATF investigation in 2000 busted a Virginia store that sold enough raw materials to make 1.4 million gallons of liquor with a potential loss of $19.6 billion in tax revenue. 

With this in mind, it is probable that tax revenue is a good motivator for the United States government to go after moonshiners for the foreseeable future. Of course, there are also some major health and safety concerns as well. 


What is Moonshine Made From? 



One of the best things about moonshine is that it can be made from almost anything. 


In general, there are three different types of moonshine recipes: sugar, fruit and grain. 


There are pros and cons to each type of recipe and most shiners are quick to find a favorite. 

Sugar-based recipes are simple to make and require less work however, they also produce shine with a considerably lower proof or ABV (alcohol by volume). 

Fruit-based recipes produce a shine with a subtle fruity flavor. However, these recipes can be labor intensive and expensive to produce. 

Grain-based recipes require a little more work during the mash making phase as you are required to cook your ingredients in order to convert them from a starch into a fermentable sugar. 


Liquor Still for Sale: What You Need to Know



Now that you know a little more about the legality of moonshine, you are probably wondering how to buy your own still. 


Stills can be easily obtained online because they are an item that has many possible purposes. 


In addition to distilling liquor, your still can also distill water, make essential oils and even make purfume. 


What is the Best Moonshine Still for Beginners? 


In order to know which still is the best for you, it is important to consider how you want to use your still. 


Mist 1 Gallon Air Still 



If you are looking for a simple and economical way to make a neutral spirit, the Mist 1 Gallon Air Still  is for you. 

The Mist may be compact, but it really packs a punch. It is about the size of your kitchen kettle and just as easy to use. 

The Mist's plug and play design means that you can get moonshine at the press of a button. 



Is the Mist Right for Me? 


Of course, the Mist is not right for every shiner.  With its hands-off approach, it can be difficult to do cuts and fractions with the Mist. This means that the Mist should really only be used to make sugar shine, which only really needs the heads thrown away. 

However, sugar shine makes a great neutral spirit that can be easily flavored to replace many of the liquors in your favorite cocktail. 


Check out our Sinful Dark Chocolate Moonshine Recipe



The Copperhead All-in-One Still


The Copperhead All in One Still is a great upgrade from The Mist for those who want to take their shine to the next level. 


The Copperhead really is the best of both worlds. With a 5.5 gallon barrel, the Copperhead is small enough to be used on a stovetop and yet large enough to take on those larger runs to get the biggest bang for your buck. 


The Copperhead features a stainless steel barrel and copper coils. This is a winning combination as stainless steel is easy to clean and maintain and copper is necessary to neutralize any sulfur in your shine. 

By combining these materials, the Copperhead is easy to use and maintain, and produces great tasting shine. 


How Much Alcohol is in Moonshine?







The amount of alcohol or ABV (alcohol by volume) in moonshine will vary based on several different factors. 

These factors include the recipe used, how well the yeast was nourished and how many times the mash is distilled. 


On average, the ABV of moonshine is 40% but it can climb as high as 60-80%. To determine the 'proof' of the shine, you simply multiply the number by 2. So if the ABV is 40, your shine is 80 proof. 



Is Making Moonshine Safe? 




Just like any practice, there is a safe way to make moonshine as well as an unsafe way. The act of making moonshine is a three-step process that requires the maker to pay close attention to detail. Making moonshine is very similar to performing a high school science experiment. You are working with heat and flammable materials. The maker needs to pay close attention to time, temperature, and ingredients. It is also important to use quality equipment. 

So while the process of making moonshine is fairly straightforward, it is time-consuming and needs to be done properly. 

One of the biggest concerns with making moonshine comes with not using proper equipment. Moonshine needs to be made with clean equipment that uses food grade materials. Many early concerns with the safety of moonshine involved making moonshine with unsafe and unsanitary parts. 


Of course, failing to follow proper procedure can lead to dangerous situations. For example, if you are not doing open-air fermentation and fail to add an airlock can cause a build-up of carbon dioxide. This can lead to a dangerous situation. 

Making moonshine can also lead to burns. This is the case whenever you are working with heat. However, moonshine involves a large amount of liquids that are heated to high temperatures. Failing to take caution can lead to dangerous situations. 

Finally, the process of distilling moonshine leads to a large amount of alcohol. Alcohol is highly flammable. It is important to take every precaution when handling alcohol. 

In addition, moonshine is alcohol with a high ABV (alcohol by volume). It is recommended to dilute your moonshine before consumption and to sip with caution. 

 For more information, check out Is it Safe to Make Moonshine? 

Is Drinking Moonshine Safe? 



Much of the worry associated with making moonshine lies in the consumption of it. This makes sense since when homebrewing beer or wine you are making a product that will likely have an alcohol volume between 5% and 14%. When making moonshine, you can often get yields that are more than 50% (100 proof). 

In addition to the risks associated with drinking high-proof alcohol, there are also risks associated with the potential of ingesting methanol. 

When producing moonshine from a grain mash you are not only going to yield consumable alcohol (ethanol) you are also going to produce a whole bunch of nasty by-products that you need to avoid. 

When distilling moonshine, your output will change depending on the temperature of your still. It is important to fractionate your yield based on temperature so that you are able to isolate the ethanol that you are able to consume. 

Consuming large amounts of methanol is hazardous to your health. It is important to fractionate your yield for this reason. For more information on how to fractionate moonshine, check out our How to Make Moonshine guide. 




Keep or Toss?


134°F or 56.5°C




147°F or 64°C



Ethyl Acetate 

171°F or 77.1°C


Keep for a second distillation or toss


172°F or 78°C




207°F or 82°C


Keep for a second distillation or toss


207°F or 97°C


Keep for a second distillation or toss


212°F or 100°C


Keep for a second distillation or toss


241°F 116°C


Keep for a second distillation or toss

Amyl alcohol

280°F or 137.8°F


Keep for a second distillation or toss


322°F or 161°C


Keep for a second distillation or toss



Following the Federal Law




Making spirits at home with plans to drink it is against federal law. Only with the right permits may a person make ethanol, either for use strictly as fuel, or as part of a commercial endeavor — like launching a craft spirits company, of which hundreds have opened nationwide in recent years.

Besides the legal issues involved, there are also health concerns to worry about. Moonshine can become tainted with toxic liquids, especially methanol, the form of alcohol reputed to cause blindness and death. Making moonshine also poses obvious risks of fire or explosion.

While most states prohibit home moonshining, state laws sometimes conflict with federal law. In Missouri, for example, a person 21 or over may produce up to 100 gallons of spirits per year for personal consumption without a permit.

But federal law trumps state law, and to the feds, distilling at home for personal consumption is illegal, period.