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Distillation is only legal in New Zealand. Some European countries turn a blind eye to it, but elsewhere it is illegal, with punishment ranging from fines to imprisonment or floggings. So if you are going to distill, just be aware of the potential legal ramifications.

This is the biggie. It probably isn't legal for you to distill unless you are fortunate enough to be in New Zealand. It would pay to check your local legislation before you go and start. That aside, information is not illegal. Just don't get caught using your knowledge.

New Zealand

Wheeler & Willmott report in "Spirits Unlimited"

Customs Act 1996 Excise Regulation 9 "Any person who produces beer, wine or spirits for his or her own consumption is exempt from excise tax"

The NZ Customs Act is available online at The exemption for home distilling is at It says: There is an exemption from the manufacturing area licensing requirement for any area you use within your private house to manufacture the following:

  • tobacco grown on your own land, manufactured exclusively for your own personal use
  • beer, wine and spirits manufactured exclusively for personal use.

What it doesn't define is "personal use". Some take this to mean that you simply cannot sell the alcohol, whilst others say that it extends to not even being able to give it away.

How did it become legal in New Zealand? Ray and Des explain ...

Tom : The story of how distilling became legal in New Zealand is rather interesting. It all dates back to the last Labour Government in the mid 80's when they decided in their wisdom that Government Departments would be sold off to private enterprise, turned into State owned enterprises (companies) or in the case of Departments like Customs, which really couldn't do either, be run like businesses and make a profit where ever possible. During the redrafting of our liquor laws 1989/90 the Customs Department demanded an explanation from Government that if they were supposed to be business like, why did they have to check on all licensed stills in the Country where they only collected revenue from the ones that made alcohol? The solution to the problem? Make the ownership of a still no longer illegal which they did by simply removing that section from the act. Very shortly after this became the case two bright sparks by the name of Peter Wheeler and Malcolm Wheeler (yes the same ones that wrote the book and own Spirits Unlimited) decided that if the ownership of a still was no longer illegal then they would start selling them to the general public. This created a beautiful catch 22 for Customs, under the Customs act if you distilled alcohol you had to have a license and pay excise tax, but the thought of policing home stills for small amounts of alcohol filled them with horror so they made an internal policy that although there was nothing to stop them licensing home stills, that they wouldn't do it. This left them in another no win situation, the maximum fine under the act was $500 and confiscation of the offending alcohol, the cost of a prosecution several thousand dollars so they didn't deem that to be an efficient use the their money either so they largely turned a blind eye to it all. After many submissions to Government (myself included) when the liquor laws where changed again in October 1996 sanity prevailed and the customs act was changed and the word spirits added into the part about brewing beer, wine or the growing of tobacco for your own use was free of excise tax. This is a pretty unique set of circumstances which are unlikely to be replicated overseas, it is believed that there is a lot of pressure for Australia to follow and we are watching with great interest to see if it happens.

Des : The situation to some extent got too big for the government to control and as the product being produced could not be faulted on health grounds (yes it was tested by "the powers that be") there was really no other choice but to legalize it. In about September 1995 it was estimated that there were close to 2000 stills, capable of producing alcohol, being used as 'ornaments' in the Auckland city alone. A number of us interested parties made submissions to our local members of parliament and the governing bodies in support of the law change. There have really been no problems and so long as it stays that way, other governments may eventually see the light. However it must be remembered that alcohol production is a good, easy, and inexpensive source of tax revenue to any government. For this reason I urge all New Zealanders to 'play the game' and abide by the rules. We have something unique to be cherished.


Excise Laws Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Act 2006 (para 77FK - Offense in relation to stills)

77FK Offense in relation to stills

(1) A person commits an offense if:

    (a)  the person does any of the following things:
        (i)  makes or commences to make any still;
        (ii)  removes, sets up or erects any still;
        (iii)  sells or otherwise disposes of, or purchases or otherwise acquires any still, either by itself or with other property, or as part of any premises;
        (iv)  imports any still;
        (v)  has possession, custody or control of any still; and
    (b)  the still is of a capacity exceeding 5 litres; and
    (c)  the person is not a licensed manufacturer;

The upside to the note above is that if the still is of a capacity not exceeding 5L (I would assume that is mash capacity to be on the safe side) then you are not required to hold a license for your still or for producing spirits. Note: blending is counted as producing so again, to be on the safe side I would recommend not storing your spirits in casks or containers larger than 5L if you are intending or in the process of blending them.

If you are going to use a larger still, there is a nice form to fill out - to which you must attach ground plans for your premises, a one off licensing fee, and insurance (minimum AU$1'000 - maximum AU$10'000) after which you will be at the mercy of government officials who will want to inspect your still and will expect you to provide very detailed records of exactly what has gone in and out of your still along with records of leaks from casks etc. Basically making the process almost impossible for the home distiller.

The previous Distillation act has been repealed as was the former source of information on this (the distillation act of 1901) - Licensing forms are still used and can be found in the Distillation Act of 1926. (Repealed 2006)

United States

Tough out of luck - see the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, their FAQ page, and some of the latest amended laws. You will find ....

Spirits You cannot produce spirits for beverage purposes without paying taxes and without prior approval of paperwork to operate a distilled spirits plant. [See 26 U.S.C. 5601 & 5602 for some of the criminal penalties.] There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use. Some of these requirements are paying special tax, filing an extensive application, filing a bond, providing adequate equipment to measure spirits, providing suitable tanks and pipelines, providing a separate building (other than a dwelling) and maintaining detailed records, and filing reports. All of these requirements are listed in 27 CFR Part 19.

Ray emailed the BATF for the reference statutes concerning home distillation. Here is their response:

Ray, you have not been able to locate anything on home production because there is no provision for it. Moonshining is still illegal!! Unlike wine or beer, the laws and regulations governing distilled spirits contain no provision that would allow someone to produce spirits in their home for personal use. Under 26 U.S.C. Section 5171 operations as a distiller, warehouseman or processor may be conducted only on the bonded premises of a qualified distilled spirits plant. To qualify such a plant, a registration, application for permit and bond must be filed in addition to other supporting organizational documents. 26 U.S.C. 5178 places restrictions on where a plant can be located. Hope this answers your question.

Carol Coy Industry Specialist National Revenue Center-Cincinnati, OH Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms e-mail:

What all this basically comes down to is ...

  • Americans can own a still, but it must be no larger than 1 gallon, and may only be used for water purification or the extraction of essential oils from plants.
  • Dealers/manufacturers of stills in the United States must surrender any address or other info on any customer who buys a still to the BATF, when they request it. No warrant is required.

What this means is that anyone who buys a still in America can at any time expect a knock at the door and a man with a badge demanding to see what is being done with the still they bought. How this affects the companies seen advertising 5 gallon stills for use as a water purifier, was not listed, nor is there any info on solar stills. It is probably VERY illegal to import a still too.

If you're trying the angle of making alcohol as a fuel (yes, this is legal!) TTB Fuel permit FAQ

Whats the cost of doing it right ? Don advises ...

State distiller's license (varies from $75-$4,500 per year) & a Federal license ($500 per year) plus State & Fed. production taxes. Registration of all supplies, suppliers, formulas (Subject to classification and approval) and label reg. (Subject to classification and approval). More paperwork than money. If you already have a brewery or winery (bonded premises) an "alternation of premises" may be obtained to operate a distillery (with the additional license) on site. Well worth the trouble, because there is still room at the top.

See Prohibition.


HVD advises ..

If trying to register a fuel alcohol still in Canada, contact the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency - info available under Excise Tax.

You might try calling Chris Lewis (fuel sector) at 613-957-8642

You will need to obtain a license for constructing or using any type of distillation equipment (except that used for distilling water, but even that has to meet certain specs to avoid running afoul of the tax act).

I would suggest reading the Excise Tax Act (also online) boring as it may be, it contains a lot of info, which might help to know about before calling the folks at CCRA.

In any event, the regulations in Canada make it very troublesome to even attempt to do experimenting in any reasonable way. For example the vessel your fuel condenses into has to be locked and opened only when Excise Tax officer is there ....kind of hard if you want to check out quality of your batch... other roadblocks also will apply.

Eyendall adds:

This is one interpretation of the Canada Excise Act. Actually it is quite ambiguous as the prohibitions, procedures and penalties apply specifically to the conduct of a business and there is no reference at all to hobby distilling. It can be argued that possession of an unlicensed still and production for personal use and consumption is not a business activity and therefore not prohibited under the Act. A Google search has not turned-up any record of any successful (or unsuccessful) prosecutions of a hobby distiller under the Excise Act.


See Erwins note to the newsgroup (I have no idea what it is saying .. hope it aint naughty ..)

I took the liberty to make a compilation of relevant laws & penalties concerning distillation:

Wet van 31 October 1991, houdende vereenvoudiging en uniformering van de accijnswetgeving (Wet op de accijns [Versie geldig vanaf: 01-01-1999])

Afdeling 2. Algemene verbodsbepalingen

Artikel 5

  • 1. Het is niet toegestaan:

a. een accijnsgoed te vervaardigen buiten een accijnsgoederenplaats die voor dat soort accijnsgoed als zodanig is aangewezen; b. een accijnsgoed voorhanden te hebben dat niet overeenkomstig de bepalingen van deze wet in de heffing is betrokken.

  • 2. Het verbod als bedoeld in het eerste lid, onderdeel a, is niet van toepassing indien het vervaardigen geschiedt overeenkomstig de wettelijke bepalingen, bedoeld in artikel 2, tweede lid, onderdeel a, van de Douanewet.
  • 3. Onder bij algemene maatregel van bestuur te stellen voorwaarden en beperkingen wordt ontheffing verleend van de in het eerste lid bedoelde verboden voor:

a. het vervaardigen van accijnsgoederen uit andere accijnsgoederen, waarbij het accijnsbedrag dat de eerstbedoelde accijnsgoederen vertegenwoordigen niet hoger is dan het accijnsbedrag dat de accijnsgoederen vertegenwoordigen waaruit zij zijn vervaardigd; b. het vervaardigen van accijnsgoederen waarvoor een vrijstelling van accijns geldt op de voet van artikel 65; c. het thuis vervaardigen van bier en wijn door particulieren, voor zover die goederen worden aangewend voor eigen gebruik; d. het vervaardigen en het voorhanden hebben van andere minerale oliën dan bedoeld in het vierde lid, mits deze minerale oliën niet op grond van artikel 28 worden gelijkgesteld met minerale oliën waarvoor in artikel 27 een tarief is vastgesteld


Afdeling 1. Verbodsbepalingen

Artikel 90

  • 1. Het is niet toegestaan een distilleertoestel te vervaardigen of voorhanden te hebben zonder een daartoe strekkende vergunning van de inspecteur.
  • 2. Onder een distilleertoestel wordt verstaan elk toestel - ook indien dit niet gereed is voor dadelijk gebruik - dat geschikt is voor het afscheiden van ethanol uit ethanolhoudende stoffen.
  • 3. De vergunning wordt op verzoek verleend.
  • 4. Het verlenen, het aanpassen en het intrekken van een vergunning alsmede het afwijzen van een verzoek daartoe geschieden bij voor bezwaar vatbare beschikking.
  • 5. Binnen acht weken na ontvangst van het verzoek geeft de inspecteur een voor bezwaar vatbare beschikking op dat verzoek, dan wel zendt hij de in het zesde lid bedoelde kennisgeving.
  • 6. Indien de inspecteur de voor bezwaar vatbare beschikking niet binnen de in het vijfde lid genoemde termijn kan geven, stelt hij belanghebbende daarvan onder opgaaf van redenen in kennis en noemt hij de termijn waarop de voor bezwaar vatbare beschikking wel zal worden gegeven.
  • 7. Bij ministeriële regeling kunnen:

a. regels worden gesteld met betrekking tot de in de vergunning op te nemen voorwaarden; b. distilleertoestellen worden aangewezen waarvoor geen vergunning is vereist.

  • 8. Artikel 83 is van overeenkomstige toepassing op plaatsen waar distilleertoestellen worden vervaardigd of voorhanden zijn.

Afdeling 2. Strafbepalingen

Artikel 97

Degene die opzettelijk een in artikel 5 opgenomen verbod overtreedt, wordt gestraft met gevangenisstraf van ten hoogste vier jaren of geldboete van de vierde categorie of, indien dit bedrag hoger is, ten hoogste eenmaal het bedrag van de te weinig geheven accijns.

Artikel 98

Degene die opzettelijk een accijnsgoed waarvoor vrijstelling of teruggaaf van accijns is verleend een bestemming geeft waarvoor geen vrijstelling of teruggaaf van accijns zou zijn verleend, wordt gestraft met gevangenisstraf van ten hoogste vier jaren of geldboete van de vierde categorie of, indien dit bedrag hoger is, ten hoogste eenmaal het bedrag van de te weinig geheven accijns.

Artikel 99

1. Degene die het in artikel 90, eerste lid, opgenomen verbod overtreedt, wordt gestraft met geldboete van de derde categorie.

2. Degene die het in artikel 90, eerste lid, opgenomen verbod overtreedt terwijl hij weet of redelijkerwijs kan weten dat het distilleertoestel bestemd is of zal worden bestemd om te worden gebruikt tot ontduiking van de accijns, wordt gestraft met gevangenisstraf van ten hoogste vier jaren of geldboete van de vierde categorie.

Artikel 100

1. Degene die een in de artikelen 90a, 91, eerste en tweede lid, of 92 opgenomen verbod overtreedt, wordt gestraft met geldboete van de derde categorie.

2. Degene die een van de in het eerste lid bedoelde verboden opzettelijk overtreedt, wordt gestraft met gevangenisstraf van ten hoogste twee jaren of geldboete van de vierde categorie.

This is not the complete text of this law, just a compilation. I am not a legal expert, nor connected with any law firm or customs. I just want to share this knowledge with you.

Greetings Erwin

Bert adds ...

Of course it is prohibited to have an unregistered installation to make any alcoholic drink at all as told in the Dutch text. You may not make wine, beer of any other drink at all without a permit. The regulation is made to collect taxes on the drinks.

In the case that one make his own drinks for use at home and not for sale there is no big fiscal interest at stake and the inspection (represented by Mr H. Blijker 21 Apr 1987) has therefore no interest to stop the activity. (it costs more than it brings) So if you stay small and don't show it too much in public (to provoke) you don't have to fear for problems. It is called: "gedogen".

Kareltje adds:

A very readable article is written by a lawyer and can be found here:

United Kingdom

Distillation in the UK is a criminal offence, under section 25 of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979. It is also a criminal offence for distillation to take place on property that you either own or occupy or to be in possession of 'low wines, feints, worts or washes.'

These are summary offences, meaning they will be tried in the Magistrates Court, and not before a jury.

Giles writes, concerning what the risks are ...

I took the trouble to look this up a while ago in 'Halsbury's Laws of England' which is the legal encyclopaedia used by the courts and lawyers in general. It is very authoritative. Basically, the situation is this. You can't distill alcohol without a rectifier's licence (Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 s18(1)).

If you do and are caught you will be liable to pay the duty on the alcohol in the spirits you make (currently £19.56 per litre) and to pay a fine of whichever is the greater of £250 and 5% of the duty payable. (Finance Act 1994 s9(2)). Forget getting a license. There are rules about how large (or rather how small) the still can be which would render any home device unlawful and in any case you'd have to pay the duty which sort of defeats the object. [section removed]

In short, you might say that the consequences of a raid on a genuine hobby distiller making liquor for him or herself would be embarrassing but not necessarily disastrous. As for the likelihood of getting caught; well I have never heard of a case in my lifetime (I'm 47). My own guess is that the Customs an Excise are far too busy chasing drugs and liquor smugglers and dealing with VAT fraud to bother with a small time....... Hang on, there's someone at the door.


Héctor wrote to the dbd ...

In this parts we have a rather "folkloric" approach to the illegality of both still making and its use. In small towns like mine (where most of the moonshining occurs) it mainly depends on if you get to befriend your local chief of the "Guardia Nacional" (exactly translates to National Guard but it's a wholly different institution than the US namesake. This is a branch of our military that polices civilians and is like a heavily armed combination of IRS and ATF). If the guy likes you, you can strike a deal with him and tacitly accept that he would be "milking" you whenever he gets a tip from an envious neighbor (there must be a way to hide that smell!), or, if you produce with a certain regularity, brace yourself to be his cash-box. Sometimes, and depending also on his drinking/eating habits, you can get away with him only taking some "samples", others, some small living-stock or farm produce, but if you produce to sell he would only take cash. "Mordida" as mexicans call this deeply ingrained form of petty corruption is widespread here but not universal. Worse luck if your local "Guardia" chief gets relocated and you get a new teetotaler one.

Legally you must purchase your still from a registered manufacturer and pay the equivalent of US $7700 upon opting for a license and pay half that annually for renewal. Excise is 9.5 % of your retail price (plus 14.5 % VAT). You can't distill legally unless you're able to produce at least 50,000 liters annually.


En Français

La législation française est très stricte, il est interdit de posséder (ou même d'acheter, d'importer, de vendre, de déplacer) un alambic (ou partie d'alambic), à moins d'avoir obtenu une autorisation (article 306 du code général des impôts). Le même article préventivement refuse l'autorisation au non-professionel. In English

In English

The french legislation is very strict, it is prohibited to own (or even to buy, to import, to sell, to move) a still (or part of a still), unless you have obtained an authorisation (article 306 of the code général des impôts). The same article preventively refuse the authorisation to anyone but a professional.