Your politics is your business. However, if you homebrew this is something you
should consider signing. If it wasn't for people doing this in 1978 it
would be 5 Years, $5,000 for homebrewing. Petition the Obama Administration to Legalize small-scale home distillation http://t.co/xS8LjRUp
Not convinced it's a good idea? Read my post Free Spirits in America, and watch this video. Yes there is a small bit of intelligence required to distill, and yes, there is a risk of fire if done over an open flame by a fool. But remember that this is American were fools are allowed to:
Operate motor vehicles (yes I agree, stupid people should be banned from the road. Call your senator and get em' off the road).
Operate a chain saw.
Operate an acetylene torch.
Own semi-automatic firearms.
Use a lawn mower.
Walk on ice.
The list goes on.
But if someone stupid wants to walk on ice, a five year prison sentence is a little harsh. Also keep in mind that legalizing is not the same as complete deregulation. But it would open doors for craft distillers in the making.
Update: There is a decent conversation going on over on reddit.com/r/homebrewing about this. My response to the prohibition era fear mongering that goes on during these discussions is the following.
Distilling is legal for your tractor, just not for you. So all
the bit about fire, while it is a danger is a moot point. Its not the
reason its illegal.
Nothing comes out the still, that didn't go in. If your homebrew
was safe to drink going in, its safe coming out. Yes it is more
concentrated and if done poorly might give you a headache.
The reason it's illegal is the same reason we have a three tier
system in so many states, the same reason you can't legally homebrew in
MS. See my blog post link above.
This is an excellent video from reason.tv. I am not sure whats worse, that we waste taxpayer money trying to criminalize homedistillers, or that we take away freedom for no reason other than to placate the ignorance of big business. For my views on homedistilling checkout this post.
In the past I have always fired up Adobe Photoshop to create my labels. However I discovered a couple of cool sites that you can use if you are in a hurry and want to create some quick labels without the hassle. Pixlr is a is a sweet Photoshop/GIMP like editor, it works like a charm. Also beerlabelizer.com has a few out of the box labels to choose from that you can save as jpeg or just print. You can see them in the image on the right. Below are some of my originals. You might notice our friends over at Budweiser stole my Jack's Pumpkin Ale label. If you get a chance look at the first year they came out with theirs and compare it to mine. The only problem is that I came out with mine in 2002 and they came out with theirs in 2005. Nothing like stealing a little IP. But you can do that when you're big and evil. To their credit they have since changed their label, however I still hold IP on the name. Maybe I should just be happy that the biggest beer conglomerate in the world liked my name enough to use it. The guys on Reddit.com/r/Homebrewing have done some cool labels as well you might want to check out for inspiration.
This weekend I re-racked my merry mead and added some raspberries to one gallon, cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans to another gallon, and bottled a gallon. It's still young and cloudy but should clear up here soon. I bottled some cider, kegged some cider, and started oak aging some applejack.
I made cider again this year, although I did not press my own apples like last year. I did use fresh Michigan cider however. I made five gallons with Lalvin D-47 and another five with Lalvin K1-V1116. I have sampled the D-47 it was really good. I like to make it a little on the dry side because I don't really like to arrest the fermentation. I hope that I can put some on tap in December when I finally get the finances to finish my Kegerator. In the meantime I will bottle some up and throw it in the beer fridge.
I am come to the arts, and I shall begin from Distillation, an
invention of later times, a wonderful thing, to be praised beyond the
power of man, not that which the vulgar and unskillful man may use. For
they do but corrupt and destroy what is good. But that which is done by
skillful artists. This admirable art, teaches how to make spirits...
- Glambattista della (John Baptist) Porta, Natural Magick (1588), 233.
Mid-April, strawberries went on sale for a dollar a pound. So with six dollars burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to part with them in exchange for a dry wine with a perfectly
distinct strawberry character.
6 Pounds Strawberries
15 Cups Dextrose
2 ½ Gallons Water
Boil up just like strawberry jam. Cool it, pitch a little
Lalvin K1-V1116 and you are all set. 1.050 OG (Original Gravity). After ten days I re-racked. After two weeks I added a little gelatin, let is settle for a week and bottled.
And for all you New Zealanders out there it makes a great Eau De Vie.
I recently finished Max Watman's "Chasing the White
Dog". This book was right up my alley, a humorous yet informative look at
the history of moonshining. His narratives are interwoven with tales of making
his own moonshine and assembling Billy Gibbons, his affectionately named still.
He covers it all, from the history of whiskey in the U.S.
to modern day moonshiners and legitimate micro distilleries. He addresses the
long standing history of moonshine and NASCAR.
He visits Woody CreekColorado,
Hunter S. Thompson territory, and reveals the faces behind the little known artisan
distillery Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. Traipsing across the country with the
Illegal Whiskey Task Force, he finds himself following at least one bootlegging
trial from heads to tails. If there was ever a book written for sitting back and enjoying with some
homemade handiwork, this would be it.
Currently I am writing a book entitled "Don't Tell, Don't Sell - The Story of Free Spirits in America." The following is my summary of the topic in essay format.
Free Spirits in America
He stands in a little twelve by twelve barrel and
pipe filled room, leaning against his shiny 60 gallon pot still, with numerous
appendages making their way to the ceiling like a giant copper arachnid. Six foot
tall with a graying red beard and glasses, he is relaxed as he explains the art
of making his lucent product. Strong and transparent, the gleaming output of
his still would put any FranklinCounty moonshiner to shame.
But Dennis doesn't live in the hills of Appalachia, his still room is no barn, and his neatly trimmed beard states he is
no hillbilly. Sporting black tennis shoes, pressed Khaki slacks, and a maroon
dress shirt, he is standing in a newly remodeled part of the building. The
lettering on the doors of the glass encased room in which he stands state "Artisan
Spirits." Dennis is part of a growing number of Artisan Distillers in West Michigan. Artisan distillers, also known as craft distillers,
are growing in popularity. According to the American Distilling Institute, the
state of Michigan alone boasts at least nine craft distilleries.
I am touring New Holland Brewing Company in HollandMichigan. My arrival here was no accident. I am a home brewer
with over a decade's experience. I would like to see home distillation legalized
the same way home beer making was in the late 1970's.Currently, this benign hobby carries with it
a fine of $10,000.00 and five years in prison ("§ 5601", "§ 5602").
Distillation is illegal in all countries with the exception of New Zealand (NewZealand). According to the United States Dept. of Treasury,
prior to 1978 the same penalties applied to home brewing as well. I wanted to
learn a little bit more about distillation and the challenges that legalization
presented. It's for this reason that I called Dennis Downing. He is the only
distiller at New Holland Brewing Company. Working as a chemist for years,
Dennis is now pursuing his dream of making his own whiskey. He explains the
process of making whiskey, starting with the pub brewer boiling up a grain mash
in his ten barrel brew pot, and then fermenting it in the basement. This
unfiltered fermented liquid is referred to as 'wash'. Dennis can distill 270
gallons of wash in three days.
Dennis is no stranger to distillation, having
performed many distillations in a lab working for chemical companies. I asked
if he had tried distilling at home. He remarked that he would have needed a
still, and that he was too chicken to order one, afraid that "the TTB [Alcohol
and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] might be the ones delivering it to my door." The
only other alternative was to build his own. He quickly went on to explain more
aspects of the still sitting before me, leaving the answer to the rest of my question
relegated to the imagination.
Dennis' eyes illuminate as he explains the details of
the flavor profile and how it works, his hands moving to and fro as he explains
how the sulfur compounds in the wash react with the copper. Dennis though, is
not the only person that gets excited about the possibilities of small batch
distillation.No longer relegated
to the hills of Kentucky or Virginia, home distilling is a hobby that is gaining in
popularity. A quick visit to homedistiller.org, a website popular with do it
yourself distillers, reveals that the modern moonshiner can be found among
lawyers, engineers, and computer programmers. Camper English, a freelance
cocktail and spirits writer from San Francisco, states regarding home distillers "It's more
about culinary experimentation than it is about cheap hooch" (qtd. in Price). So
while it's true that in a few out of the way places time has stood still, the
modern home distiller is far from being a toothless gun toting hillbilly. Home
distillers are culinary artists - expanding on possibilities of an ancient art
- something not found in the mono-types of monopoly distillers.
Going down into the basement of the New Holland
Brewpub I am immediately hit with a cool, crisp, almost sweet, cidery smell. The
basement, a concrete floored room with a low ceiling and red painted brick pillars,
holds the grain mill, an elevator, and the hot liqueur tank, which holds hot
water for brewing.At the end of the
long room, fermentation tanks line the wall. To our right, lays an area
sequestered off by a locked grey metal fence; this is the spirits area. Inside
a small stainless bottling unit sits perched atop a small table. Each bottle is
hand filled on this small, two foot long shelf.We dip our head down through a brick doorway into a small cavern. Long and
skinny it's filled with white American oak barrels, some standard size, some
small five gallon barrels. As Dennis explains the process of barrel aging, he
fails to hide his excitement and fascination with this process of extraction. He
tells me that 70% of the flavor in whiskey comes from aging in oak barrels, and
then further explains the science behind it.
As we make our way back up stairs I ask him the
question I have been waiting all day to ask. "How do you feel about legalizing
the home distillation of spirits?" I ask. I want to know, what are the risks, the benefits,
the dangers?It's about "Freedom" he
states. We both agree that when something can affect other people then it needs
to be regulated to some degree. He goes on to talk about the seatbelt laws, and
speed limit laws. If someone wants to speed and kill themselves so be it. If
they hit you, well then this is a different story. He explains this is the one
reason he is not a fan of the seatbelt law, despite the fact that he believes
in their effectiveness and always wears one. He doesn't think it's the
government's job to regulate it. He explains that the line comes in where you
affect others. "Where is that line with spirits?" he asks. We talk about
reasonable alternatives to the current laws in place.
Later I would think about what Dennis stated about
freedom. Freedom, was, after all, what our country was founded on. Early
Americans such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln often made their own
homebrew and applejack, a spirit derived from apples (Prial). Making your own
cider, beer and spirits was central to life in Colonial America. Freedom is an
American tradition, and making your own spirits is part of that tradition.
I asked Dennis about the dangers associated with
distillation. He explained that alcohol produces flammable fumes. The greatest
danger posed by making spirits is a fire or explosion resulting from a poorly
built still. This of course explains why we can drive cars that burn ethanol.
Yet most of us operate gasoline powered lawn mowers without the government
regulating us due to the inherent danger of using a lawn tool that burns a
dangerous liquid which also produces flammable gasses. Chain saws, acetylene
torches, fire arms, even horses can be dangerous, if not used safely. Even so, it's
still legal to use them. Granted some things like owning a firearm, driving a
motor vehicle, or piloting an airplane, are regulated by some branch of the U.S. government. They are however, not illegal.
"What about the health dangers?" I asked. He cited
the example of someone making moonshine in old lead soldered car radiators and
people dying as a result. It seemed to me that a smidgen of common sense could
put the modern day moonshiner out of harms way. So I asked "How about if one is
not stupid? Is there any danger that using a well built still and a little common
sense that a person will make something that gets them sick?" "No more so than
what I make here" he states. So with a little knowledge, a well built still,
and some common sense, just about anyone could make spirits safely. After all
people in New Zealand do it every day.
So what is the
real issue? What is the giant mountain standing between home distillation and
the law? I asked Brett VanderKamp, founder of New Holland Brewing, and the
creator of its still. Currently running for state representative, he is also no
stranger to politics surrounding the matter of home distillation. "Taxes" he
states, "half of the price of every bottle we sell goes to taxes." Although a
libertarian and an advocate of legalizing home distilling himself, he doesn't
paint a rosy picture for the prospects of home distillation. He talks about how
simple it would be for people to make their own spirits at home, with no
revenue for the government or big distillers. He explains that one could simply
brew up some moonshine and invite the neighbors over for a few sips, leaving no
room for the revenuers.But I insist
that I can grow fresh ingredients in my backyard, cook them up, and invite all
my neighbors over for dinner, but I seldom do. Despite the complete lack of
restrictions on home cooking almost half of America doesn't even bother with it (United States Dept. of
Agriculture). So really, what is the likelihood that anyone is going to loose
money over legalizing home distillation? He counters that restaurant food is
not taxed at fifty percent. I have to concede, this is a valid point. I shake
hands with Dennis and Brett and head over to the bar.
It seems to me that home distilling does pose a real
threat, not to tax money, but to overgrown monopolies. Granted a few home
distillers will hardly affect the market for Jack Daniels whiskey or Bacardi
rum. However, just like the craft beer world, where home brewers grew up to be
craft brewers, so too, home distillers are bound to grow up to be Artisan distillers.
The craft brewing industry shared 5.9% of the market by volume and 10.1% of the
market by dollars in 2008. By 2009 these numbers had grown to 7.2% and 10.3%
respectively (Brewers Association). If craft brewing has cut in on the profits
of the big guys, it's very likely that craft distillers will do the same. The real
threat to Americans is experienced when we allow big business to lobby away our
Sitting down at the bar, a concrete half oval with a
wooden bar rail, I ask the bartender for shot of Zeppelin, the sweet smelling
dark caramel whiskey aged in the basement. Absorbing the sweet oaky aromas and flavor
I was, for the moment, sampling what freedom would taste like.
"§ 5601. Criminal penalties." Legal Information Institute. CornellUniversityLawSchool. n.d. Web.
8 April. 2010.
"§ 5602. Criminal penalties." Legal Information Institute. CornellUniversityLawSchool. n.d. Web.
8 April. 2010.