Alcohol Free the 'Shine! Why It's Finally Time to Legalize Liquor


If drinking makes us healthier and wealthier, why is America's liquor policy so screwy?

Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing in 1978, and that newfound freedom fueled the craft beer movement that continues to lavish beer lovers with endless choices. But in many ways, laws that govern whiskey, gin, and other distilled spirits are stuck in the 1920s.

Federal agents still raid distilleries much like they did during Prohibition, and making any amount of moonshine at home is not only illegal, it's a felony that can carry up to five years in prison. The result is a market dominated by a few big names, where would-be craftsmen are forced to hide their work.

And yet, despite the danger, America is in the midst of "moonshine renaissance," in which a new wave of hipster hobbyists has joined with old-time 'shiners to flout the law and do what they love to do.

"Free the 'Shine" is written and produced by Paul Detrick and Zach Weissmueller. Senior Producer: Ted Balaker; Additional Camera: Meredith Bragg, Josh Swain, and Alex Manning.

Approximately six minutes.

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  1. makes Jimmy Carter suck less right there (even accounting for Billy beer)

  2. Carter makes us laugh because Carter was lame, but compared to all of the other democrats he looks sane.…

    1. A democrat holds hostages. What makes this day any different from all the others the past two years?

    2. Jimmy Carter had a PHD in nuclear physics, was the captain of a nuclear submarine and was in line to be the be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before his father died and he left the Navy to run the family business. Unless you have as impressive a resume you have no qualifications to determine who is lame or not.

      1. Jimmy Carter has a Bachelors degree from the Naval Academy (not a PhD), left the navy after six years as a lieutenant (not a submarine commander)upon the death of his father, and while he aspired to be Chief of Naval Operations (not Chairman of the JCS) he was only “in line” as much as the next man.

        Regardless, you can determine whether someone is lame or not without beating his resume.

      2. I don’t believe he had a PhD in anything. He did graduate from Annapolis. He resigned his commission after 6 years. While he aspired to be CNO, that’s a long way from being in line to be the Chief, JCS. Unless it’s a heck of a long line.

  3. In other boozy news you can use, oh yes it’s Ladies’ Night.

    1. Virtually every professional brewer I know started off as a homebrewer, and virtually every homebrewer I know wants to open up their own brewery some day. It only makes sense that legalizing home-distilling would both provide a breeding ground for a future generation of craft distillers (not to mention grow the market for craft spirits that are currently being produced).

      1. And I would add that consuming more craft spirits might lead me to finally master the art of threaded commenting.

    2. This is just a plot by men to get us drunk and rape us. Or use their male gaze.

      1. Misandrist.

      2. Jezzy Ball Raider?! *hic*

        You are the hottest woman I have ever seen…

  4. Nice doc, but they failed to mention New Zealand, which did legalize home distillation. Kind of like a doc on drug decrim that doesn’t mention Portugal.

    Also, while adulteration in a black market remains the main risk, methanol (which boils at a lower temperature than ethanol) and most amyl alcohols (which boil at a higher temperature) should be gotten rid of. Good moonshiners will “toss the first and last” distillations from a batch of mash because that’s where these more toxic alcohols are concentrated. (This is ignoring flavored alcohols, which will keep some of the amyl alcohols).

    1. If you’re going to toss the last distillation, why make it?

      1. Not a vodka drinker, then, SF?

        1. I drink all my liver can handle. Stop dodging the question.

          1. That’s a really good question. I’m friends with a still on Facebook (no joke; the still at North Shore Distillery, “Still Ethel,” has her own FB account) so maybe I’ll ask her.

          2. See kinnath’s post below. And perhaps this isn’t true of experienced moonshiners, but you might not know it’s the last distillation until it’s done with.

      2. It would make more sense to toss it before it is distilled, wouldn’t it?


          Heads and Tails

          Whenever you distill something, the most volatile products come out first. So when you distill a mash, the low boiling point compounds in it (in general the Nitrogenous Substances, Aldehydes, and Esters) will appear in the first distillate. This part of the distillation is commonly called the “Heads”. You can prevent them from contaminating the product you are attempting to separate by watching the temperature and discarding (or saving for addition to the next batch) everything that boils off before you reach the boiling point of the target component.

          But, depending on the nature of the wash, it’s sometimes difficult to isolate the heads by simply monitoring the temperature. It’s easy to miss the boiling points of those compounds that vaporize below 70? C when there is an excess of heat input, and the vapors rise up the column quickly to reach the thermometer bulb. Many experienced distillers carefully monitor the taste and smell of the first distillate from the still to insure that all the heads are boiled off before they begin the collection of the body of the spirits. Others simply discard a small (e.g.150 ml) fixed amount, before beginning the collection of the ethanol.

          A similar distillation cutoff point is also encountered as the ethanol nears depletion from the distillation. This phase is commonly referred to as the “Tails”. The tails contain an increased amount of the higher boiling point compounds, such as the higher alcohols and furfurol. These compounds can also spoil the taste of the spirits if the collection is carried on too long. A cutoff similar to that of the heads should be made.

          Again this point can be recognized by monitoring either the temperature or the taste and smell of the distillate. Many distillers simply limit the collection of the pure spirits to a narrow range of temperatures (e.g. 78.3 – 80 C), and then make the cut. Others sample the specific gravity of the distillate as it nears the end of the run. Still others use the smell and taste indicators.

          In any event, there usually is considerable ethanol that can be recovered from that remaining after the tails have been cut. Commonly, the tail collection is saved for inclusion in the next batch.

          It is probably more accurate to say that you stop distilling to “cut” the tails rather that “throwing away” the tails.

          1. Why don’t they use those fractional condensation columns? Or a GC adsorption column, some sort of detector, and take whatever cuts they want?

            1. They do. If they are not using alembic or pot (single pass) still, they are using some sort of column still that does exactly as you suggest.

          2. What kinnath said.

    2. The Australian situation is interesting. It’s legal to purchase a still of up to 5 litres (1.3 gallons), but not to use it to distill alcohol. Instead you get a booklet that explains how to distill water and essential oils, with a section labelled “for NZ users only” with instructions on how to make spirits. You can however buy everything you need to set up and run a “micro-distillery” at the same shop you buy your home-brew kits – and in some states you can get everything you need to grow “hydroponic tomatoes” at the same store.

    3. Interestingly enough, one of the most effective treatments for methyl alcohol poisoning is consumption of copious quantities of ethyl alcohol.

      The human body prefers to metabolize ethyl alcohol over methyl alcohol, so the toxic effects of methanol (as well as some of the nasty glycols found in antifreeze and what-not) can be neutralized by staying drunk off of ethanol for a few days until the undesired alcohols pass out of your system.

      The more you know!

  5. Build your own home distillation apparatus.

    Now that’s news you can use.

    1. Bookmarked. 🙂

  6. Even if you don’t get prison time, they can still confiscate everything used in the production. So if you distill in your garage, they can confiscate your house. If you brought the ingredients home in your car, they can confiscate your car.

    1. The could, but they would never do that.

      Give me one example where the government has confiscated someone’s house because they had a homemade still in it. Or for that matter, give me one example where the government confiscated any private property someone used to commit a crime.

      It’s not worth the headache the police and courts have to go through, and it’s not like they profit from the sale of the property. They can’t even sell it because they still have to give it back to you after the trial is concluded.

      1. Above comment was just a troll. Nothing is really getting me going today except for that tree-hugging nut job at Discovery, so I thought I’d create my own entertainment.

        After thoughtful consideration, I realized I should acknowledge my childish prank and go on about my daily business.

        1. simul-post. Damn you.

      2. Is this a joke post?

        How many factual errors are there in it?

        I count 4.

        1. There are only 4 factual errors because I only made 4 definitive statements. I could have gone on but I figured heads would have started exploding.

      3. Meh, troll or not, here’s the law. Granted, I don’t have any examples of this actually happening at my finger tips, but I’m sure it wouldn’t take much web searching to find it:

        ? 5615. Property subject to forfeiture

        The following property shall be forfeited to the United States:
        (1) Unregistered still or distilling apparatus
        Every still or distilling apparatus not registered as required by section 5179, together with all personal property in the possession or custody or under the control of the person required by section 5179 to register the still or distilling apparatus, and found in the building or in any yard or inclosure connected with the building in which such still or distilling apparatus is set up;

        1. Wow. That law basically says they can take any property belonging to, in possession of or in any way attached to the person who failed to register the still.

          I’ve yet to hear of any specific cases where ATF agents seized property for moonshine operations since they went from the Treasury to the DoJ, but I’m sure they still occur.

          I wonder if there’s some serious competition between the feds and local jurisdictions to seize property first.

          I also wonder if anyone in Indiana ever got back with Radley on the seized items/corruption story from a few weeks back. We need an update on that, BTW.

          1. Whitman’s book Chasing the White Dog details plenty of the state’s crimes against property

            1. Wow… those fuckers can use property forfeiture on things other than drug-related crimes.

              What fuckers they be.

  7. Reminds me of the TV mini-series Frontier House, where one of the contestant families was headed by a business guy who I and my friend loved because with him it was anything goes. Like when he & his wife cheated by finding a modern spring bed in a dump and installing it clandestinely; I believe he was right when he said on camera that that was in keeping with the spirit of the contest, because our ancestors certainly would have used such a device had they found one.

    He said he had a trick up his sleeve for making money, and I thought he was going to be pot, but it was even better…hooch! Yes, he ran a still and they gave him goods in trade at the gen’l store.

    Regardless of what they said about failure to chop enough wood, I’m sure that in real life, he would not only have lasted thru winter, he would’ve owned the Dakota Territory in a few years, and today it would be the commercial capital of the continent.

    Anyway, people who want to home or small-business distill other products — chiefly fragrances — apparently have trouble obtaining the equipment too.

    1. That show drove me nuts. Good old PBS thought guns were evil and wouldn’t let people hunt. Then they were shocked when people were not getting enough to eat. No one lived on the frontier without hunting.

      1. That was disturbing, especially when they encountered dangers much greater than guns, i.e. nearly killing the boy when he fell off the wagon train minutes after they started out! But no matter what was wrong with the show was more than made up for by the all-time best TV character name: Rawhide Johnson. Just delivering that with a straight face has to be among the high points of TV history.

        I especially liked the poignant passage re 9/11/2001, acknowledging that you can’t hide completely from the world, and the dramatic editing that went from a shot of them packing up & leaving the set to the shot from the overpass of the family on vacation in Acapulco. And the way one of the families broke up.

        But yeah, if that guy had been around there in 1883, hx would be dramatically different, I’m sure of it. Fucking unrecognized fun-loving genius who woulda flourished in that environment.

    2. I hear ya, John. I watched the one set on a ranch in Texas. The total absence of guns was really jarring, but when they had the “local Indians” kidnap one of the ranch hands and it was resolved with some kind of encounter group negotiation, I quit.

      1. Yeah, and on Frontier House they wouldn’t let them have narcotics. Pussies. They could’ve gotten them a prescription for the TV show, or an educational exemption. But…Rawhide Johnson!!

  8. We legalized home brewing, and the eventual result is craft brewers who make the some of the best beer in the world, who have revived neglected styles, and who are opening people’s eyes to the simple joy of quality beer and ale made with care.

    Maybe if we do the same with distilling, the results would be the same.

    Naw, that makes too much sense.

    1. We’ve actually got a couple great craft distilleries around Chicago that are doing some cool stuff. Of course, that’s less than the amount of craft breweries that have opened here in the past year.

      1. Where are these distilleries?

        1. There’s Koval up in Ravenswood (right next to Metropolitan Brewing) and North Shore distillery in Lake Bluff. You can find products from both distilleries at Binny’s.

          1. Thanks, I’ll check it out.

  9. Oh, I thought this was another Mumia post.



    Tell me you didn’t think it.

  10. I’ve never heard of tomato moonshine before but I’d bet it would be really good. It sounds like some of the other flavored whiskeys that colonial Americans distilled. They’d use apples, pears, cherries, just whatever fruit they had at hand to give their corn squeezin’s a little extra tastiness. Hell, if some craft distiller brought back those old styles, I might actually get my government-recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

    1. “I might actually get my government-recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.”

      Clamabo Wabo?

    2. Some fruit essences are high in formaldehyde, formic acid, methanol, acetaldehyde. Like I know tomato juice has a fair amount of HCHO and CH3OH. But it’s not hard to remove them.

  11. The laws regarding the distillation of spirits are so insane as to make the war on drugs seem sensible. Awesome to see this issue raised by Reason. I really didn’t think anyone gave a shit about corn liquor outside my beloved Appalachia. Thanks guys.

  12. I can’t believe that someone at Reason did a moonshine video and didn’t mention the famous Popcorn Sutton. After a moonshining conviction he killed himself rather than spend the rest of his life in prison for making it.

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  15. If you make beer or wine wrong, it tastes bad and can give you a stomach ache. If you make liquor wrong, you can create methanol and go blind or die. Of course, I’m sure politicians don’t know this. They only know who is lining their pockets.

    1. If you go outside, you’ll be exposed to radiation which can give you cancer. You’ll also have to watch out for cars and bears, which can kill you instantly. Let’s hope no powerful special interest that significantly benefits from keeping people inside all the time.

    2. If it were legal to distill alcohol, then small distillers would be able to conduct their business legally, which means:

      ?They would be subject to health and safety regulations.

      ?Consumers would be able to use the legal system to sue for damages in the event of a contaminated product.

      ?Distillers with a reputation for producing quality products would be rewarded by success in the marketplace.

  16. I am in favor of allowing people to make their own whiskey. I am not big on drinking, but once in a while, a fellow needs a shot.

  17. The problem with making hard liquor at home is that when you concentrate the ethanol, if you don’t do it exactly right, you may also concentrate other harmful chemicals that can posion you.

    1. Distilling liquor is kind of like rocket science. The secret technology of small distilleries used by scientifically advanced Pennsylvanian “farmers” in the 1790’s disappeared after what we now know as the “Whiskey Rebellion”. If only we had the technology, then we could distill spirits safely. Before this lost technology, blindness was prevalent throughout the states because one in every five batches would be pure methanol due to the inherent volatility in temperatures. Thankfully after Washington quashed the tax rebellion, our later government was able to ban the practice altogether and reserve this dangerous art for the large distillers.

  18. The Feds have a long history of excise taxing spirits. The Feds could de-Federalize the control of distilleries, turn it back to the States, but with a proviso. If you are selling distillation equipment across State lines, you have to have a reliable process, equipment, and training program such that the dangers of heads and tails are minimized. And if you are selling spirits and distillation equipment across State lines, well, you’ll have to pay that excise tax.

    Yeah, right. When pigs fly.

  19. God damn whiney drunks want everything legal. Watch gettin’ those delirium tremens in prison when they cut ya off yer hooch, you fuckin’ crybabies.

  20. I work in a homebrewing shop in North Carolina, frankly most people in the state who ask about about distilling are unaware it’s illegal.

    1. God forsaken drunks

  21. I’ve never understood the whole, “well, it’s legal to brew your own beer/wine, but it a big no-no to to take the alcohol out of said beer/wine and concentrate it.”

    It’s in the same vein as it being legal to grow poppies, but illegal to extract the opiates from the poppies; or the fact that it’s legal to grow morning glories, but illegal to extract the LSA from the seeds. Where do you draw the line? If I grew poppies and made tea from the leaves, would that be legal? What if I made some sort of pastry with morning glory seeds, would that be legal?

    The whole problem is that the government’s completely irrational ban on chemicals which are, for the most part, naturally occurring creates the sort of legal ambiguousness which leads to bad case law, and basically leaves people’s fate (people who may or may not have had any intent of breaking the law) in the hands of some overzealous prosecutor. The solution, of course, is to simply acknowledge that adults have the right to do what they wish with their own body chemistry; in a country which purports itself to be the land of the free, I find it sad and disturbing that so many are in favor of the war on drugs, which, in all honesty, is simply a war on personal freedom and choice no matter which way it is looked at.

  22. We need to find someone to re-introduce this 2001 bill to legalize home distilling!

  23. We need to find someone to re-introduce this 2001 bill to legalize home distilling!


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