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  #1  
Old 01-03-2009, 11:19 PM
firstname firstname is offline
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Why is it illegal to distill your own alcohol?

I live in Australia, and its perfectly legal (as far as i know) to brew your own beer and make your own wine, yet its illegal to distill alcohol. Whats the reasoning for this? When you can buy it from a shop but you can't make your own.

I have also heard it's illegal to grow your own tobacco, yet you can buy as many packs of cigarettes as you please.

Although I'm primarily interested in Australian laws here, Hearing about the American and/or British laws would also be good.
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  #2  
Old 01-03-2009, 11:30 PM
yabob yabob is online now
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Most likely because the government wishes to collect excise taxes on distilled spirits and tobacco.
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Old 01-03-2009, 11:35 PM
silenus silenus is offline
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This, and safety reasons. No known human pathogens can live in beer, but home-distilled booze can blind or kill very easily.


But it's mostly about the money. See "The Whiskey Rebellion" if you need proof.
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Old 01-03-2009, 11:37 PM
Queen Bruin Queen Bruin is offline
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Because stills explode.

Doesn't stop my uncle, though. The nut.
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Old 01-03-2009, 11:39 PM
silenus silenus is offline
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Stills only explode if you're careless. I've run enough of them to know!
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  #6  
Old 01-03-2009, 11:59 PM
Vox Imperatoris Vox Imperatoris is offline
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Yes, it's all about taxes, with your tobacco example as well.

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  #7  
Old 01-04-2009, 12:29 AM
Tapioca Dextrin Tapioca Dextrin is online now
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Originally Posted by silenus View Post
But it's mostly about the money.
Yep, money. It's also about a Government's ability to collect money.

Brewing beer is very easy and cheap to do. All you need is a few basic ingredients and a bucket. Transporting beer, OTOH, is difficult. Transporting beer in, say 1800, was next to impossible. In many places, beer was made on the premises, or at least in the same town. It's difficult for Mr. Nineteenth Century Taxman to collect money from a pub way out in the sticks.

Distilling whisky, is a not so easy to make. It's more expensive than beer. It's also easy to transport. It makes sound business sense to have a large distillery. Even way back when, it was an easy target for Mr. Taxman.

Two hundred years and a long winding path later, we have our modern laws.

Beer - lightly taxed, easily made - it's simply impractical to pass homebrew laws

Whisky - heavily taxed, trickier to make - the government can't afford not to crack down on moonshiners.
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  #8  
Old 01-04-2009, 04:53 AM
Busy Scissors Busy Scissors is offline
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It is illegal to distill alcohol in the UK for the reasons given. Interestingly, I believe that it is legal to distill in NZ for personal use and there is an active amateur distilling community there.

The safety issues already mentioned are very real. They are probably mitigated somewhat by the high activation barrier that you need to get over to start distilling (equipment, knowledge etc), which is probably enough to dissuade complete dickheads from giving it a go. Still, if you were caught distilling over here in the UK, particularly in an urban environment like a block of flats, you would be looking at a custodial sentance. Too great a risk of fire, even of you knew what you were doing, to responsibly attempt. I read one guy on a distilling website put it thusly: If you're watching a still and need to take a piss, you should be able to piss on the ground right then and there. If you can't, you're distilling in the wrong place and need to pack it up.

I'm a chemist and have distilled just about every solvent there is. It is interesting to note that stills have disappeared from chemistry research labs in the past ten years (in the west) on the grounds of safety and alternative methods of purificiation becoming available.

Home distilling is in the same bracket as home wine-making to me - it would be great to try the process, but the end product basically sucks. It is not in the same solar system as the large scale commercial product. I've brewed beer myself that was reasonable, and drank homebrew from better, more experienced brewers that was really outstanding. You could distill for a million years in your garden shed, though, and never even approach something of the quality of a single malt scotch.

I was actually drinking some poteen last week over in Ireland at Christmas. It was fucking terrible. From moonshiners that go back generations, as well. In fairness, we had given the Laphroaig a good seeing to earlier in the night so it was always going to be an uphill struggle for the poteen.
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Old 01-04-2009, 10:11 AM
Turble Turble is offline
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Many local brew shops worldwide sell distilling units imported from New Zealand. They sell them for purifying water and extracting essential oils.

Since it is illegal to distill alcohol without a permit, my local shop informs people they won't sell the distilling unit if you ask for a thermometer or other such equipment that would indicate you intend to use it for illegal alcohol production at the same time you buy the still. Apparently that covers their legal bases.
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  #10  
Old 01-04-2009, 11:04 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Originally Posted by Busy Scissors View Post
Home distilling is in the same bracket as home wine-making to me - it would be great to try the process, but the end product basically sucks. It is not in the same solar system as the large scale commercial product. I've brewed beer myself that was reasonable, and drank homebrew from better, more experienced brewers that was really outstanding. You could distill for a million years in your garden shed, though, and never even approach something of the quality of a single malt scotch.
Well, it really does depend on the skill of the winemaker or distiller. I've got a friend who is pretty serious about winemaking, and he makes wines here in Chicago I'd be perfectly happy to pay $10-$15 a bottle for. (We buy the grapes in October at the wine grape market, we stem them, let them sit in a plastic bin for a few days, juice them in one of those wooden barrel-looking fruit presses, etc.) In Eastern and Central Europe, homemade fruit brandies like palinka (Hungary) and rakija were common in the villages. My favorite slivovica (slivovitz) to this day comes from a Serbian family in Pakrac, Croatia. I don't know about making a great single malt scotch, but quality homemade alcohol is entirely possible--it's like anything else and takes skill and time to develop.

Last edited by pulykamell; 01-04-2009 at 11:07 AM..
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  #11  
Old 01-04-2009, 01:03 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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It wasn't legal to brew beer at home in the US until 1977. Even now if you go above a certain amount of gallons per year you have to get a permit. I think the amount OK with no permit is about 30 gallons per year.
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Old 01-04-2009, 01:36 PM
drastic_quench drastic_quench is offline
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Originally Posted by silenus View Post
This, and safety reasons. No known human pathogens can live in beer, but home-distilled booze can blind or kill very easily.


But it's mostly about the money. See "The Whiskey Rebellion" if you need proof.
That's not true. Homebrew beer batches often get infected due to improper sanitation. Different microbes other than your chosen yeast end up eating your wort, and the result would likely make you pretty damn ill if you could stomach it. It's not going to blind or kill you, but neither will whiskey:

Flammability aside, home-distilled booze is no more or less dangerous. It got the reputation as being able to blind/kill/etc from crooks who doped their weak whiskeys with everything from dung to embalming fluid. Working with proper ingredients and under very basic sanitation conditions, one can easily produce safe alcohol. You have to go out of your way to poison a batch of whiskey with some crazyass additive to blind or kill.
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  #13  
Old 01-04-2009, 01:40 PM
drastic_quench drastic_quench is offline
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Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
It wasn't legal to brew beer at home in the US until 1977. Even now if you go above a certain amount of gallons per year you have to get a permit. I think the amount OK with no permit is about 30 gallons per year.
It's way more, and if you're not stockpiling it, no one's going to know how many gallons of beer you and your friends imbibed.

"Up until February of 1979, homebrewing was illegal; it had been illegal since the beginning of Prohibition, back in January of 1920. Thanks to Congress and President Carter, however, a bill was passed that signed into law the repeal of the restrictions on brewing beer at home. Here are the guidelines: Adults 21 years of age and over may brew 100 gallons a year and up to 200 gallons a year for any household that has more than one adult. Homebrew is for personal use, and it is very much illegal to sell your homebrew or any other homemade alcohol; but this does not mean you can’t share it with your friends and family. Mysteriously losing track of how many batches you produce a year also helps. "

Source: http://beeradvocate.com/articles/317

C'mon guys, this is the motherluvin' Straight Dope, how about being a little more vigilant with regards to hard facts?

Last edited by drastic_quench; 01-04-2009 at 01:40 PM..
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  #14  
Old 01-04-2009, 02:02 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
It wasn't legal to brew beer at home in the US until 1977. Even now if you go above a certain amount of gallons per year you have to get a permit. I think the amount OK with no permit is about 30 gallons per year.
Wow. If it were only 30 gallons, I'd be in some serious trouble. It's 100 gallons if there's one adult living in the household, 200 if two or more.

edit: I swear I didn't see the post above mine. Must have walked away from the computer for awhile.

Last edited by pulykamell; 01-04-2009 at 02:02 PM..
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  #15  
Old 01-04-2009, 02:10 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Originally Posted by drastic_quench View Post
That's not true. Homebrew beer batches often get infected due to improper sanitation. Different microbes other than your chosen yeast end up eating your wort, and the result would likely make you pretty damn ill if you could stomach it. It's not going to blind or kill you, but neither will whiskey:

Flammability aside, home-distilled booze is no more or less dangerous. It got the reputation as being able to blind/kill/etc from crooks who doped their weak whiskeys with everything from dung to embalming fluid. Working with proper ingredients and under very basic sanitation conditions, one can easily produce safe alcohol. You have to go out of your way to poison a batch of whiskey with some crazyass additive to blind or kill.
Yeah, I think the dangers of methyl alcohol (which I assume is what silenus is talking about) are a bit overstated. As far as I understand it, methanol boils off before ethanol, and you want to dump the first bits (heads) of the distillation process to reduce the amount of methanol in your finished product. However, even if you don't dump the heads, the amount of poorly made moonshine you would have to consume to kill or blind yourself is pretty insane.

More info here.

You may, however, get a pretty bad hangover.

Last edited by pulykamell; 01-04-2009 at 02:12 PM..
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  #16  
Old 01-04-2009, 06:02 PM
UnwrittenNocturne UnwrittenNocturne is offline
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Interesting answers. I moved from NZ (home distilling done all the time) to Australia and then the US where it wasn't. The only thing about stilling in NZ is that while you can give away the product you're not allowed to sell it.
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  #17  
Old 01-04-2009, 06:08 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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Sorry, somebody told me 30 gallons, I guess he got it wrong. He also told me law changed right after Carter was elected so I guessed it was 77 and not 79. But I'm sure I am the first guy to get a fact wrong here right?

Last edited by Bijou Drains; 01-04-2009 at 06:12 PM..
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  #18  
Old 01-04-2009, 09:07 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Originally Posted by Busy Scissors View Post
I was actually drinking some poteen last week over in Ireland at Christmas. It was fucking terrible. From moonshiners that go back generations, as well. In fairness, we had given the Laphroaig a good seeing to earlier in the night so it was always going to be an uphill struggle for the poteen.
I'd take poitín over Laphroaig any day. That stuff is vile.
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  #19  
Old 01-04-2009, 09:10 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Slightly off topic, but the consumption of ether used to be common enough in the 19th century in what is now Northern Ireland.
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Old 01-05-2009, 03:07 AM
scm1001 scm1001 is offline
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Originally Posted by Busy Scissors View Post
I'm a chemist and have distilled just about every solvent there is. It is interesting to note that stills have disappeared from chemistry research labs in the past ten years (in the west) on the grounds of safety and alternative methods of purificiation becoming available.

.
Actually the main reason we dont distill our general lab solvents is that its easer to buy them at higher purity than waste a students day- I think research groups in general; have more money than 15 years ago relatively. For ultra dry solvents yes we do use columns now than sodium stills
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Old 01-05-2009, 08:28 AM
Busy Scissors Busy Scissors is offline
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Originally Posted by scm1001
Actually the main reason we dont distill our general lab solvents is that its easer to buy them at higher purity than waste a students day- I think research groups in general; have more money than 15 years ago relatively. For ultra dry solvents yes we do use columns now than sodium stills
I notice the biggest difference with petrol - when I was starting out running the petrol still could be time consuming just because you need so much for chromatography. HPLC grade hexane is cheap nowadays though, so I haven't heard of anyone distilling petrols for a long time. Saying that, have you seen the price of acetonitrile recently? Lord have mercy, absolutely off the scale! Hoping it's a temporary blip or the MeCN still might be making a comeback.

The reason I heard for the explosion in price is the ailing car industry. It either produces or consumes a lot of acetonitrile, and its current dire straits apparently has a large affect on the price.

Last edited by Busy Scissors; 01-05-2009 at 08:29 AM..
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  #22  
Old 01-05-2009, 10:23 AM
TheLoadedDog TheLoadedDog is offline
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Originally Posted by Tapioca Dextrin View Post
Beer - lightly taxed, easily made - it's simply impractical to pass homebrew laws

Whisky - heavily taxed, trickier to make - the government can't afford not to crack down on moonshiners.
I'm 99% sure the following is right, but file it under "anecdote", just in case:

Up until the early 1970s, it was illegal to brew full strength beer in Australia. You were allowed to make your own low alcohol beer though. Of course, nobody brewed their own low alcohol beer, and as the strong stuff was off limits, there was no homebrew industry selling the required ingredients. And little to no knowledge base either. So, homebrewers used to concoct vile stuff in their bathtubs using ingredients designed for baking rather than brewing. The bakers' yeast was especially bad. Suddenly, the first homebrew kit came on the market. Of course, it was for (the legal) light beer. The company cleverly added the following to the label:

Just add 250g of sugar
WARNING: DO NOT ADD OVER 250g OF SUGAR AS THIS WILL MAKE THE END PRODUCT TOO HIGH IN ALCOHOL


Ri-iight. Gotcha.

The government of the day realised it had been beaten, and promptly legalised all brewing.
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  #23  
Old 01-05-2009, 10:53 AM
paperbackwriter paperbackwriter is offline
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
Yeah, I think the dangers of methyl alcohol (which I assume is what silenus is talking about) are a bit overstated. ...However, even if you don't dump the heads, the amount of poorly made moonshine you would have to consume to kill or blind yourself is pretty insane.

You may, however, get a pretty bad hangover.
Moonshiners have been known to add drugstore rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) to their batches to "increase the kick". Isopropyl alcohol is about twice as toxic as ethanol or methanol, and relatively little can cause blindness or death. For example, in 1981, 7 people died from isopropyl alcohol-fortified moonshine in Georgia.
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Old 01-05-2009, 11:02 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Originally Posted by paperbackwriter View Post
Moonshiners have been known to add drugstore rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) to their batches to "increase the kick". Isopropyl alcohol is about twice as toxic as ethanol or methanol, and relatively little can cause blindness or death. For example, in 1981, 7 people died from isopropyl alcohol-fortified moonshine in Georgia.
Yeah, reading through the cite I posted above, I noticed they mention some of homedistilled alcohol's bad reputation and the exaggerated danger of methanol poisoning through bad distillation techniques has come precisely because of bootlegging moonshiners cutting their product with methylated spirits in order to increase their profit.
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  #25  
Old 01-05-2009, 11:38 AM
Eva Luna Eva Luna is offline
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
In Eastern and Central Europe, homemade fruit brandies like palinka (Hungary) and rakija were common in the villages.
Ah, but why the use of the past tense? A good friend of mine has been generous enough to share his personal stash of homebrew Croatian honey rakija - he doesn't make it himself, but he knows people who do. Tasty stuff, and I'm not much of a drinker, particularly of hard booze. And he isn't from a village, either.

Last edited by Eva Luna; 01-05-2009 at 11:38 AM.. Reason: fixed typo
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  #26  
Old 01-05-2009, 11:44 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Originally Posted by Eva Luna View Post
Ah, but why the use of the past tense?
I don't know. It should have been present tense. Perhaps because I was thinking of personal experience and was relaying my memories, my tense slipped into the past. I had only seen it done in the countryside, where there was plenty of room for the still, but I don't see why it can't be done in cities and towns. Interestingly enough, in Hungary, the major cities have their own distilleries where you can bring your own fermented mash to them, and they'll distill it for you. Home distillation is illegal in Hungary, but you will see it out in the more rural areas.

Last edited by pulykamell; 01-05-2009 at 11:47 AM..
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  #27  
Old 01-05-2009, 04:26 PM
DLuxN8R-13 DLuxN8R-13 is offline
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Originally Posted by An Gadaí View Post
Slightly off topic, but the consumption of ether used to be common enough in the 19th century in what is now Northern Ireland.
According to the Consumers Union Report On Licit And Illicit Drugs, ether was a pretty popular recreational drug all over the civilized world when it was first produced and marketed -- it was cheaper than booze, universally legal, and the aftereffects wore off a lot faster than a gin hangover.

There were, however, some serious disadvantages to ether as an intoxicant: you could easily die from an overdose or injure yourself severely while stumbling around loaded on the stuff; and, the flammability of ether being what it is, it was fairly common for ether topers who smoked to light themselves on fire, just like Richard Pryor.
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