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How To Legally Make Whiskey At Home: Explained (2022)

Last Updated on November 20, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Are you curious about how to make whiskey at home and whether it is legal? 

While making whiskey at home can be illegal and potentially dangerous, you can legally pull it off with a reliable recipe, hours of study, the right ingredients, and proper equipment. 

Here are the detailed steps in whiskey-making before you start your first batch. 

10 Steps To Legally Make Whiskey At Home 

1. Choose Your Base Grain

grains in a barrel

Whiskey, by definition, is a grain-based spirit, so you have to start by choosing your base grain. 

You can choose corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or a blend of multiple grains that will add complexity to your homemade whiskey recipe.  

Based on Allen Kaltz, Master Distiller of NY Distilling Co, “corn yields the most sugar, and it may make things easier.”

Whether you use kernel corn or other grains, it would be best to visit a brewer’s store and buy grown grains.  

2. Process The Raw Materials

Next, prepare the raw whiskey ingredients by boiling and mashing them (using a rolling pin is okay). 

You can use a large pot with boiling water to boil the sugar out of the ingredients. You can soak it in warm water before you put it in hot water. 

3. Add Yeast & Ferment It

Once you have a sweet mash, pour it into a primary fermenter and add the champagne yeast.

You can use a hydrometer as a measuring tool to check the sugar content that will turn into alcohol. 

The fermentation process in the tank may take a few days to a week, so make sure your fermentation tank has a steady cool temperature and is airlocked. 

4. Strain Your Mash Into A Still

Straining a mash

After fermentation, you need to strain your mash into a still, and this is where things can be a bit complicated.

You can use a funnel with a filter to strain the mash into the still. 

If you don’t strain it well, the spent grains might burn during distillation, making your homemade liquor bitter.

Ensure that the still you will use will not have leaks because once the alcoholic vapor is produced, it will be extremely explosive.

Some companies sell small-scale stills, which are safer than any homemade or DIY equipment.

5. Secure A License To Distill (A Must)

In the US, there is no way you can make homemade whiskey without getting a license.

Based on 27 CRF 19.51, home production of distilled spirits is prohibited [1].   

6. Distill It

small pot still

TTB requires a license to distill because it can be dangerous to distill. It is not legal to own a still for spirits, but it is allowed to make essential oils. 

As the strained mash boils at 80 degrees Celsius, the alcohol evaporates. The alcohol will travel through a condenser and return to its liquid form.

With the help of a condenser with the cold water running constantly, the mash will convert into vapor and then refined distillate.  

7. Start Cutting 

After distillation, in every standard 5-gallon batch, eliminate the first 100 milliliters because it contains pure methanol, which can be deadly to drink. 

Based on Katz, the first yield is primarily flavor-focused on a smaller scale, but you must cut it because you are flushing the still from the previous run. 

8. Age It In A Barrel

pouring whisky on a small barrel to aged

Whiskey needs to be aged in a cask first, and for smaller volume batches, the barrel size matters. There will be a decreased surface area on a smaller barrel. 

Aging inside oak barrels makes whiskey smoother and gives the most flavor aside from the grains.

The oak barrel will impart oak flavor as well as cedar and other components from the wood. 

Smaller barrels are required for small batches. Fill the container to the brim to avoid oxidation. As it ages, there will be natural evaporation or angel share. 

9. Consider Adding Flavors (Optional)

You can add flavors or oak chips to the spirit. Once the final product is bottled, the taste will no longer improve. 

While it is more preferred to age in casks, you can infuse distilled spirits with oak pegs. 

10. Bottle The Final Products

pouring homemade whisky on a shot glass

After aging the whiskey for at least six months or a bit longer, you can now bottle your final product. 

Disinfect and dry a nice glass bottle because you don’t want bacteria to ruin good stuff. 

It would be best to store whiskey bottles away from the heat source and direct sunlight.

Also, keep the cap tight because air may cause your whiskey to get bad. 

You can drink the alcohol after aging because the taste will not improve once it is out of the cask.

Is It Legal To Make Whiskey At Home? 

Yes, it is legal to make whiskey at home. However, you must secure the necessary permits and license to distill.

Also, all distilled spirits produced in the US are subject to taxes. 

Unless you make moonshine, there is no legal way to craft your single malt whiskey, corn whiskey, or bourbon without a license. 

But how do you make corn whiskey?

What’s The Punishment For Illegally Making Whiskey At Home? 

You will be charged with a felony if you illegally make distilled spirits at your own home.

You can be punished by up to five years in prison [2]. 

You will violate Section 5601(a)(1) if you don’t register the still, file application, distill on prohibited places, and more.

FAQs 

Can you sell the whiskey you made at home?

Yes, you can sell the whiskey you made home if you have secured a license. If not, do not risk doing so because you may face jail time. 

How long will it take to make whiskey at home?

To make whiskey, it may take four to six months. It is time-consuming, requires permits, and needs lots of patience. 

How do you make whiskey at home without a still?

You will need a kitchen freezer to make whiskey at home without a still. You can remove the chunks from the mash when the water reaches a certain freezing point. 

Final Thoughts

Homemade whiskey will give you a rewarding experience because it takes time and personal effort.

It is more challenging than it sounds, and please know that you will make mistakes.  

There will be terrible batches, but the journey will be worthwhile if you put your heart and soul into making whiskey.

However, make sure to secure a license to avoid jail time. 

References:

  1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/27/19.51 
  2. https://www.findlaw.com/legalblogs/criminal-defense/whats-the-punishment-for-distilling-alcohol-at-home

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