Here’s the good news. You can own a whiskey still. There’s no law against that. There’s even a company, Clawhammer, that will sell you a beautiful copper still that’s designed specifically for producing booze. The bad news? You can’t actually make booze in that still. “It’s legal to own a still of any size,” says Kyle Brown, founder of Clawhammer. “You can have it for decoration, distilling water, distilling essential oils…but it’s illegal to distill alcohol without having either a distilled spirits permit or a federal fuel alcohol permit.”
Clawhammer was the first company to sell a 100% copper distiller kit, which includes all of the parts needed to build a functioning copper distiller. They’ll send it to you, and all you have to do is put it together with a little hammering, riveting and soldering. Once finished, the still can be used to distill spirits (like vodka, gin or whiskey), distilled water, essential oils, disinfectant and even fuel alcohol.
Let’s say you put your copper still together, “for decoration,” but decide you’d like to take it for a spin and produce some booze. Legally, you have two options. Option 1) You can obtain a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit, which is the same permit that industry giants like Jack Daniels and Makers Mark possess, which makes it legal for them to distill and distribute to the public. “As one might imagine, getting this permit is somewhat involved,” says Brown. “It’s expensive and requires a lot of paperwork.”
So, unless someone is interested in opening an actual distillery, with the intention of selling their product in liquor stores, the distilled spirits permit isn’t likely going to be a good option.
Which leaves you with option 2) A Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit, which is free and easy to get. “We’ve never heard of anyone being denied this permit and have never heard of anyone even being checked up on after obtaining the permit,” Brown says. The ingredients, the process, and even the final product is the same when making high proof distilled spirits and fuel alcohol. “With this permit, you can make distilled spirits,” Brown says, “but the product is supposed to be used for fuel alcohol purposes only.”
Legally, you’re not supposed to drink it. You’re supposed to put it in your lawnmower.
Brown himself is a hobbyist, a DIYer, and home brewer. So, naturally, Clawhammer Supply started as a hobby. He moved to North Carolina in 2006 and befriended a North Carolina native whose great grandfather was a “moonshiner.” Brown was fascinated by the stories about the process and became interested in doing some distilling himself.
Around 2009 he began the process of trying to either build or buy a still. Since he couldn’t find an affordable copper still available for sale on the internet, he built one himself. There was a lot of copper left over from that first still, so he built another one and sold it in order to pay for the still he built for himself. It turns out that there was a fairly large, yet undeveloped, market for home distillation equipment at that time and things snowballed from there.
Clawhammer sells three different sizes of copper DIY still kits; one gallon, five gallons, and 10 gallons, along with a proofing parrot, which is a device that makes it easy to measure the proof of the product coming out of the still. Additionally, they sell DIY whiskey spice kits and other items that allow people to flavor and customize spirits bought off the shelf.
“For example, our Apple Pie Moonshine spice kit is a product that allows one to make their own flavored ‘moonshine’ using store bought ‘legal moonshine’ or even just plain old vodka,” Brown says. The kits turn legal, cheap booze into flavored booze, like the aforementioned Apple Pie, Fire Bomb whiskey (similar to Fireball) and Peach Pie.
Brown says his client list is diverse, from doctors to CEOs, all of whom are hobbyists looking to produce their own, um, fuel grade alcohol. For their lawnmowers. The small, one-gallon stills start at $149. Imagine the savings you’d get from never having to buy gas for your lawnmower again.