Is Making Moonshine Illegal? (Explained!)

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The phrase moonshine is infamous with shady characters bootlegging dodgy alcohol in the middle of the night.. so you might be wondering, is making moonshine really illegal?

There are a lot of factors that make this drink illegal, such as tax, prohibition, the dangers involved when making moonshine, and generally not abiding by your state laws and regulations. In this article, we’ll get into the aspects of what makes manufacturing moonshine illegal, and how to legally go about making the drink.

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What is Moonshine And Why Is It Called Moonshine?

During the prohibition era, Moonshine was a high-proof alcohol that has been made and stored without government authorization. The word “moonshine” comes from the fact that moonshiners often distilled their product at night when they could operate without being detected by law enforcement officers.

Moonshine is also called white whiskey or white lightning. The liquor is typically made from corn mash and sugar but can be made from any starch-based foodstuff.

Nowadays, distilling and selling high-proof alcohol is perfectly legal with the correct licenses. Moonshine has come to refer to a white, corn-based whiskey in a semblance of the illegal hooch from decades prior.

Is Making Moonshine Illegal

Making moonshine is illegal at a federal level, but it’s still possible to make your own alcohol at home, given you have the license to do so.

The federal government allows you to make your own beer, wine, and distilled spirits — and this includes moonshine — as long as you follow certain guidelines. These rules are designed to protect people from potentially dangerous substances and prevent them from making hooch that could be dangerous for consumption. But if you’re willing to put in some work and follow the rules, you can enjoy drinking your own homemade moonshine without fear of legal repercussions.

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Why Is Making Moonshine Illegal

In a few parts of the world, making moonshine is legal, even though it may be illegal to sell it. However, in the United States and many other countries, there are laws against making moonshine primarily as a hangover from the prohibition era.

Governments charge tax on the production of alcohol known as excise tax. This is easy to control and administer when home distilling is illegal. There are also numerous dangers (such as methanol poisoning) associated with a lack of quality control.

The Legal History

The practice of distilling alcohol at home has been around since the early days of America, but it wasn’t until 1791 that the government began to regulate the industry.

In that year, Congress passed an excise tax on whiskey to help pay off the federal debt incurred during the Revolutionary War. The government wanted to make sure people paid their fair share — but they also wanted to make sure people were paying enough taxes on their booze. That’s why they require distillers to obtain licenses from federal agents and pay taxes on their production. 

Around the early 1800s, Congress passed another law requiring every distiller in America to register with the federal government and pay a tax on every gallon of whiskey produced. Farmers (and moonshiners) didn’t like the sound of having to share their profits with the government, so they broke out into a violent protest about not paying taxes. 

From the 1860s, moonshiners fought against excise tax (which was collected to fund the Civil War) with the help of the Ku Klux Klan. Because of the enforcement of Prohibition (banning the production, selling, transporting, and importing of alcohol), the demand for moonshine increased. 

The Dangers of Making Moonshine

The dangers of making moonshine include: 

Lack of quality control. 

It’s easy for inexperienced and unscrupulous moonshiners to make drinks that can poison drinkers or make them sick. This is especially true if they use ingredients like methanol, which can make people very sick (or lead to death) when consumed in large quantities.

Using improper materials. 

Moonshiners often use unsanitary equipment and water sources that lead to contamination and illness.

Methanol poisoning. 

Methanol is a toxic alcohol found in products like paint thinners and windshield wiper fluid. When making moonshine, methanol is produced during the fermentation or distillation process and breathed in by someone who inhales the air containing it. Methanol is poisonous because it metabolizes into formic acid, which can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, seizures, and even death if consumed in large quantities.

Toxic fumes.

The process of making moonshine creates toxic fumes such as methanol, which can be absorbed through the skin or even inhaled in small quantities. These fumes can cause eye irritation, drowsiness, headaches, and even death.

Combustible vapors.

When you make moonshine in your home, there can be a buildup of ethanol vapors when your workspace is not properly ventilated. Ethanol is highly flammable and can lead to an explosion if it comes in contact with an open flame.

Moonshine In The U.S

According to federal regulations, it is illegal to make moonshine unless you have a license to do so. Some of the requirements for (legally) making moonshine include:

  • Paying taxes.
  • Acquiring the necessary paperwork.
  • Filing claims.
  • Using suitable equipment to produce the spirit
  • Maintaining records of your operations.

In What States Is it Legal to Make Moonshine?

Most states in the United States allow residents to make moonshine.

What Are The Penalties For Making Moonshine?

Within title 26 of the United States Codes 5601 and 5602, punishable criminal activities include:

  • Owning an unregistered still.
  • Running an unregistered distillery business.
  • Distilling on prohibited premises.
  • Illegal production of distilled spirits.
  • Buying or processing distilled spirits without paying taxes for the spirits.
  • Hiding and removing untaxed distilled spirits.

The penalties for these activities are:

  • 5 years imprisonment.
  • $10,000 fine.
  • Both the fine and imprisonment.

How to Make Moonshine Legally

There are different ways to legally make moonshine, but there are some illegal ways. The first thing that must be done is to obtain permission from your local government to distill your own alcohol. Most states require you to get a license for this type of activity and some require you to have an actual commercial brewery before applying for one. 

Bear in mind, that it’s sometimes difficult and expensive to obtain a license. You’d also have to pay taxes on your product and report all sales. 

Once you have permission from your state, then you can start making moonshine legally. You will need some basic equipment, such as a still and fermenter, and all the necessary ingredients such as corn/rye grain, and yeast. Once these items are obtained, they can be combined to create your own batch of homemade moonshine.

In What Countries Is It Legal to Make Moonshine?

Here’s a list of the countries where it’s legal to make moonshine at home (for personal consumption).

  • New Zealand
  • Russia
  • Kenya
  • Serbia
  • North Macedonia
  • South Africa


Making moonshine is illegal if you don’t have the license and permits in place. The penalties and consequences vary greatly depending on the state that you live in. If you’re caught doing this, you might go to jail or pay a heavy fine. But, the good news is that you can still make moonshine for personal consumption. If you decide to embark on commercializing your moonshine, it’s better to be on the safe side and adhere to federal, state, and local regulations.



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