With some frequency, the question is asked: “can I make my own liquor?” After all, the Internet is filled with helpful instructions on how to do this, stores that will gladly sell you the equipment, and videos of people demonstrating the process. So I suppose the technical answer to the question asked is that yes – it is possible to do this. But that doesn’t mean that it is permissible. Under federal law, home distillation remains illegal. Similarly, the laws of most states prohibit home distillation. So if you want to do this legally in the United States, you need (at a minimum) a federal permit. Obtaining that permit likely makes it impossible – or at the very least seriously impracticable – to start making spirits for personal use rather than commercial sale.
Of course, this does not mean that home distillation isn’t occurring. In fact the TTB’s own statistics show that their enforcement of laws regarding “illicit liquor” decreased significantly over the quarter century from 1970 to 1995. But this isn’t a dead letter, and as recently as 2014, federal agents operating in Florida raided several home distillers – arresting eight people and seizing dozens of home stills.
The question remains as to whether and when these rules will be relaxed. Given the number of states that have recently legalized the use of marijuana (still very much illegal under federal law), we should not be surprised that there are movements afoot to try to get both the states and feds to begin moving that direction. As yet, however, I’ve yet to hear of anyone touting the medicinal effects of a Manhattan – so progress may be slow.