One question that gets asked a lot by new home brewers is about the legality of home brewing. This is a complex topic as it varies not only by the country you are in, but also the state and not all state laws are the same. Additionally, there are different laws for different types of alcohol in many states. So how do you know if what you are doing is legal? Let’s take a look at some of the most common laws, as well as the major exceptions from specific states.
The 21st amendment to the United States Constitution allows for the legalization of alcohol, but leaves all of the power to the states to determine when, where, how, and by whom this is allowed. The majority of states do allow for any person at home to make a home brewed beer, cider, wine, or other alcoholic beverage as long as it is for personal consumption. Even distribution to friends is largely considered alright as long as no sale is occurring, which would require a specific and very expensive license. As is to be expected, home brewers must be over the legal drinking age in all states in which it is allowed.
One thing that is almost universally not allowed is the distillation of alcohol. Distillation is a process by which water is removed from an alcoholic beverage, increasing the proof. This is usually done by using heat to boil off some of the water using a large, complex, and expensive machine. If caught, there are severe fines or even prison sentences in the United States. Beverages included in this context would be mostly hard alcohol like vodka, tequila, and rum.
In two states, Alabama and Utah, home brewing is not allowed at all. This covers all types of homemade alcohol, not just beer or wine. In Kentucky, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, home brewing is not specifically banned but it is also not protected by the state law, meaning laws could be implemented to ban the process, and that if someone was caught there could potentially be a punishment. Unfortunately, none of these states have had the laws tested in court, so it falls to the first unlucky chap to have the police at his door.
The law in New Hampshire, West Virginia, New Mexico, New York, Louisiana, South Carolina, Nevada, and Maine is also very unclear. No legal precedents have been set, and so no one is really sure on what the laws will mean for someone who is home brewing under persecution. This is good in that no one has been sent to court, but potentially very scary for any home brewers in the states.
Wherever you live, there are probably a number of home brewers around you that you may or not be aware of. Without condoning the breaking of any state or federal laws, home brewing is very common everywhere you look and the choice to follow those laws rests in each individual person’s hands.
The safest way to determine the legality of home brewing in your state is to contact a lawyer, but barring that, it is possible to find the exact specific laws for your state by doing a simple search for something like “California home brew laws”. This way you can be 100% sure that whatever you are doing is legal.
In general, making beer, wine, and cider is perfectly legal and 100% safe to do. Distillation, distribution, and sales are the three things which are likely to land you in legal trouble, so before doing anything check the resources which are available to you. Home brewing should be a fun community venture, so checking with the laws beforehand will ensure a fun time for everyone involved. Just remember, home brewing is a great hobby but no beer is worth going to jail for. So look up those laws, get legal, and have some fun.