Is It Illegal to Make Whiskey?

Gangsters_1929DISCLAIMER:  I am not a lawyer.  I am not providing legal advice.  Laws vary from State to State.  The federal government also has its own set of regulation pertaining to distillation of spirits.  So, check your local and State laws as well as the Federal laws and obtain the correct permits and licenses if you plan on distilling spirits. 

Is It legal to make whisky at home?  Well, it depends. OK, let me explain. First off the production of whiskey or distillation is the separation of alcohol from other components, mostly water, from fermented sugars.  To do this legally you need to have the correct permits and licensing.  If you are not licensed to make such a product then it is illegal according to Federal and State laws. Here is what the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has to say.

Under Federal rules administered by TTB, it depends on how you use the still. You may not produce alcohol with these stills unless you qualify as a distilled spirits plant (see earlier question). However, owning a small still and using it for other purposes is allowed. You should also check with your State and local authorities – their rules may differ.

A still is defined as apparatus capable of being used to separate ethyl alcohol from a mixture that contains alcohol. Small stills (with a cubic distilling capacity of a gallon or less) that are used for laboratory purposes or for distilling water or other non-alcoholic materials are exempt from our rules. If you buy a small still and use it to distill water or extract essential oils by steam or water extraction methods, you are not subject to TTB requirements. If you produce essential oils by a solvent method and you get alcohol as a by-product of your process, we consider that distilling. Even though you are using and recovering purchased alcohol, you are separating the alcohol from a mixture -distilling.


Notice that event the Feds are telling you to check with your State and local authorities.  So in addition to getting the correct permits from the TTB we also need to get the appropriate permits from our State and local government.

The TTB has a few different types of permits that one can obtain.  Remember, there are many other purposes for distilled spirits.  They can be used in industry as fuels, cleaners, solvents, laboratory reagents, etc.  Let’s look at a some of these permits:

  • Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) – Beverage
    Purpose: Produce, bottle, rectify, store beverage spirits.
    Examples: Neutral spirits like vodka or grain spirits, whiskey, gin, brandy, blended applejack, rum, Tequila, etc.
  • Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) – Industrial
    Purpose: Manufacture and package spirits for industrial use.
    Examples: Laboratory reagents, sanitation, cleaning, medicine, cosmetics, perfumes, etc.
  • Experimental Distilled Spirits Plant
    Purpose:  For limited periods of time for experimentation and development of industrial spirits to produce spirits or processes for producing or refining spirits.
    Examples:  Startup company’s speedier process for making whiskey could lift Cleveland’s spirits

Each permit type has its own tax structure, reporting requirements and application.  However, before you start down the path of collecting the necessary information and filing the appropriate TTB application you should also research your State requirements, fees, etc.  Some States it can be very expensive for the permit whereas other are relatively inexpensive.  For example, Washington State has a $100 application fee for the Craft Distillery (less than 60,000 gallons).

In “Is It Illegal to Make Whiskey – Part 2?” we will look into more details concerning State requirements and permit fees.