Why is Moonshine Illegal?

why is moonshine illegal

In recent years, Moonshine has been enjoying a sort of come-back. The discovery channel so much hyped moonshines with the help of “Moonshiners,” the TV show, fans were forced to buy distilling gadgets to prepare their moonshines.

So, now the question is, why is moonshine illegal? Let’s get in-depth to understand it better.

Still, if you think of taking over moonshine-making as your hobby, you need to re-think it. 

What is moonshine?

Moonshine is very strong alcohol; the people produce it without any permission and authorization from the government. It is known as moonshine because it is illegally distilled during the night to avoid being discovered by law enforcement.

Moonshine has a very high alcohol content. It is being distilled in handmade ramshackle stills, usually found in the woods or mountains. During the prohibition era, moonshines became very popular and involved organized and unorganized criminals and are still prepared and consumed today.

What are moonshines made up of?

Moonshines comprise fruits and grains, but commonly it is made using corn. Since various people who distill their spirits are farmers or live in rural areas, they tend to use whatever crop they have in large quantities for distilling it into moonshines. Corn is often preferred because of its abundance and also because it is a good source of fermentable sugar.

History of moonshine

Moonshine is deeply rooted in American history. Often presented as a part of Southern cultural history and heritage, its true origin can get traced back to Pennsylvania. Moonshine had been so important to Americans that it nearly caused the first American Civil War.

Farms with grain mills often distill their excess grain into moonshines to avoid spoiling. In some places, this whisky is used in the form of currency.

In 1791, when the federal government passed the Distilled Spirits Tax, Whiskey Rebellion was sparked out and tax inspectors were held off by the farmers. 

By the 1900s, there were more illegal functions of moonshine in New York than in the South. However, in Brooklyn, Irish immigrants established hidden distilleries in order to prepare illegal alcohols and it became the breeding area of moonshining.

Many considered the golden age of moonshines to be the Prohibition years. 

Bootleggers and moonshiners were different from each other. Moonshiners were the one who produced illegal alcohols, whereas bootleggers used to smuggle them.

Why is moonshine illegal?

It is legal to own moonshine stills, and you can use them, provided you are not producing alcohol.

However, preparing moonshines for drinking purposes is different. Distilling alcohol at home is illegal and its banned by the federal laws.

Bootlegging for distilling alcohol and spirits at home can lead to imprisonment. According to federal law, operating home distilleries can hit offenders with several federal charges, including tax evasion, which leads to a maximum of 10 years in jail and the seizure and forfeiture of the property and land which has been used for the home distilling purposes.

In 1978, the federal government allowed homebrewing for the first time since prohibition, but this didn’t include spirits. You could now brew beer or wine for personal consumption, but spirits were still illegal.

Is moonshine unsafe?

The banning of distillation of alcohol at home is an obstacle at a time when craft spirits are booming, federal governments say that it is designed to protect the consumers.

The government says the home distillation process is unsafe because it can be tainted with harmful heavy metals. These risks also include contamination of the product with methanol, which is said to cause blindness. In addition, there is a risk of the distillation equipment exploding.

What are the moonshine laws in your area?

It is necessary to know which law governs moonshines, and also crucial to check the laws in your area.

Many states have specific laws regarding distillation, and unfortunately, federal law always trumps them. However, many states have laws that would theoretically make moonshines legal if it wasn’t a federal crime.

It is necessary to know what is legal in your area. In some states, possessing the distillate is valid, but distilling will result in a small fine.

In Missouri, you could theoretically make 100 gallons of liquor a year.

Other states that theoretically allow moonshines are Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

What is the penalty for making moonshines?

Under Title 26 of the United States Code, Section 5601 provides criminal penalties for various activities.

These activities include:

  • Possession of unregistered distillate.
  • Doing business as a non-certified distiller.
  • Production of spirits without a license.
  • Removal or concealment of spirits on which duty has not been paid.
  • Illegal liquor sales, defrauding the US government of “legitimate taxation.”

Offenses under this section are felonies (punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 or both for each offense).

How to legally distill spirits at home?

In the United States, there are ways by which spirits can get legally distilled at home. There are two options to ensure you can make your spirits at home without worrying about getting in trouble with the law.

Federal distilled permit

The first option is to obtain a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit, a license that says you like to start a spirits business.

Liquor permit

This option is free and easy to get. By obtaining this permit, you are telling the government that you plan to put the alcohol you have produced into your lawn mower and not in your body.

However, it is necessary to remember that this permit will not protect you if you are found to be distilling spirits for consumption or distribution. This permit will only safeguard you if you are producing ethanol to run your gas mower. If you are buying a still with no intention of making alcohol, you do not need a permit.

You can legally use your skill to make perfumes, essential oils, and distilled water. You only need to explore these options if you plan to use your still to make spirits.


So, before getting into moonshine, one needs to understand why is moonshine illegal and the state laws for moonshine. The moonshines you see on the shelf of your local liquor store are not that, in the traditional sense. A registered manufacturer with legal permission legally manufactures it.

If you intend to make your moonshine, check your local laws first, and remember that federal laws always supersede state laws.

The government may have highlighted the dangers of moonshine production and consumption to justify federal excise taxes. But for all unlicensed food and beverage operations, many safety considerations will need to be addressed.


What type of alcohol are moonshines?

Most experts agree that moonshines are domestic, unaged whisky, which may give a bright color, but the distillation process and ingredients used are clear signs that this is whiskey.

Can you buy moonshine?

Yes, there is commercial moonshine that can be purchased. According to people, who are perfect in moonshine making do not consider this drink to be “true” moonshine because the alcohol content is lower, and they are not distilled in the same way.

Is making moonshine illegal?

Yes, if you make moonshine without a proper permit, it is a crime. Just be sure you follow all the processes involved and get all the accurate documentation before starting the process.

Is making moonshine dangerous?

Moonshine can become contaminated with toxic liquids, especially methanol, a form of alcohol said to cause blindness and death. Making moonshine also poses an obvious risk of fire or explosion.

Is drinking moonshine Safe?

When making moonshine, you can often get returns above 50% (100 proof).
In addition to the risks associated with drinking high-proof alcohol, there are also risks associated with the potential for ingesting methanol.