Craft Distilling with a Home Distillery

Learn how to safely and legally distill your own spirits with this "home" distillery guide.

| June 2016

  • My little stillhouse, converted from a shed I originally built for, well, pigs.
    Photo courtesy New Society Publishers
  • The alcohol refractometer, a very handy tool for distilling.
    Photo courtesy New Society Publishers
  • I keep all my distilling grains in food-grade buckets with tight-fitting lids.
    Photo courtesy New Society Publishers
  • Now you know what I do when I’m waiting for the still to come to a boil.
    Photo courtesy New Society Publishers
  • From mashing and fermenting to building a small column still, "Craft Distilling" by Victoria Redhed Miller is a complete guide to creating high-quality whiskey, rum and more at home. Sure to appeal to hobbyists, homesteaders, self-sufficiency enthusiasts, and anyone who cares about fine food and drink, this book is the ideal offering for independent spirits.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

Many people have experienced great success making their own beer or wine at home. In recent years a number of hobbyists have become interested in making distilled spirits. However, distilled spirits are more complicated to produce, and the process presents unique safety issues. In addition, alcohol distillation without a license is illegal in most countries, including the United States and Canada. Craft Distilling (New Society Publishers, 2016) by Victoria Redhed Miller is a unique resource that will show you everything you need to know to get started crafting top-quality spirits on a small scale — and how to do it legally.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Craft Distilling.

Your "Home" Distillery

I must admit I have been a bit irritated by recently published books and even magazine articles advocating “home” distilling. I know I’m way too literal most of the time, but to me, “home distilling” is misleading. The fact is, United States federal law prohibits the use of a still for liquor production inside your home, even if you are a licensed distiller. These books and articles were encouraging readers to make small stills using a teakettle or even a pressure cooker, to be used on the kitchen stove.

As you’ve already learned, there are a few specific safety issues that are critically important to be aware of with distilling. You might be thinking that if you do this on a small scale in your kitchen, who will know? Yes, you might get away with it. You probably believe that you’re taking all precautions and nothing bad could possibly happen. Whatever else I think about most of the laws around distilling, I do totally agree with the idea of not running a still inside a home. It is simply not worth the risk, and you may also run into problems with insurance.

When I first applied for my distillery license, I was surprised to get a phone call a couple of weeks later from our local fire inspector. Evidently the Liquor Control Board had forwarded notice of my application to him. He was very nice and explained that he wanted to come inspect my “facility.” I explained to him that I didn’t have a “facility;” I didn’t even have a still yet. My plan (such as it was) was to build a small still and use it on a propane burner on my patio. This clearly stumped the poor man, who said he would need to check something and call me back.

When he phoned me the next day, he said apologetically that it would not work for me to set up my distillery the way I had described. It definitely needed to be in a separate building. (I was later told by the regional Liquor Board inspector that a lot of small distilleries were being set up in garages.) This news left me feeling even more discouraged. I had visions of county health inspectors giving me a long list of requirements like top-to-bottom stainless steel, tile floors and a lot more.


Fermentation Frenzy!

September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pa

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


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