Our Modern Whiskey Rebellion

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Of
all the taxes we pay, one of the oldest and probably least thought
about are the taxes on our liquor. Beers, wines, and all hard alcohol
is taxed on the proof gallon. This tax started in 1790 as a way
for the federal government to raise money to pay for the states
debts incurred during the revolutionary war. The tax was biased
in favor of larger commercial alcohol producers, and this caused
many communities along the early western frontier to rise up in
protest. Western Pennsylvania is generally credited with being the
center of the emerging rebellion but states all the way down to
Kentucky, in every town and hollow were up in arms over it. The
conflict escalated and troops were dispatched to quell the uprisings,
some rebels were arrested, but the government repealed the tax some
months later, a victory at least in part for the citizenry. Taxes
on alcohol were again imposed to pay for the war of 1812, and repealed
after the war. Then during the civil war the liquor tax was in effect
again, and has been to this day.

Taxes, we all agree bind us to the government, and make us producers
of revenue for the government whether local or national, so it can
do it's will. There are a few of us, probably not more than a few
hundred across the country that have thrown off a link or two of
the chain of taxes. We make our own alcohol. We are distillers.

First
off, we aren't a bunch half toothed hillbillies in Appalachia. It
is a stereotype started during prohibition, and remains to this
day. Yes, the southern states area has a long and tremendous history
with distilling and illegal alcohol production, but we have moved
well past that. An electrician in California, and engineer in Utah,
a doctor in Florida, and a retiree in Vermont, a nice diverse cross
section of America. We are distillers.

Another
misconception relentlessly pushed by the authorities during prohibition
that homemade alcohol will make you blind. Badly made liquor will
give you a headache and a stomach ache, but unless contaminants
are purposely added, like methanol (wood alcohol) or solvents like
toluene or acetone, home made ethyl alcohol (ethanol) has minimal
by-products.

In
this country, making your own beer and wine is perfectly legal.
In fact one can make several hundred gallons per year. We take that
natural process of fermentation, expand it to maximize the alcohol
that is made, and use a device, a still to extract and purify it.
The principle of distillation is the same one used to make gasoline
from oil and make purified water. Fermentation to make beer or wine
is legal, distilling is not.

After
prohibition the possession of a still without a permit or bond,
(a property tax as well) remained illegal. Moonshining in the classic
sense declined till only a couple of still confiscations were being
reported by the BATF in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Georgia, in
the last few years.

Of
the millions of gallons of alcohol that are consumed in America,
less than 5 % is home made, it takes some skill and patience to
make beer and wine that tastes good. There is even more skill involved
in distilling, because there is machinery involved. Distilling is
both an art and a science. An art and a science, but the principles
and technique are not too complex for the average person to learn.
Contrary to the stereotype, the stills that we use are carefully
designed, efficient machines that are capable of producing 95% alcohol
that rivals large scale industrial stills in purity. There are no
rusty old pots with a copper pipe hooked up to a car radiator. They
are made of food grade stainless steel and copper. We use principles
of heat transfer and thermodynamics to design them.

The
cost savings of making your own beer, wine or whiskey is considerable,
it costs on average only 25% of retail to make your own. It is inexpensive
because the raw materials, grain, sugar and yeast, cost practically
nothing, a 50 lb bag of corn for $5, 25lb of sugar for $10 and a
package of distillers yeast for $5 (the expensive stuff). A five
gallon batch of mash (the cooked grain/sugar mix that is fermented)
costs a maximum of $10 for absolutely everything included the energy
required to heat the still. Five gallons of mash will make about
1 gallon or so of drinkable liquor. Many distillers are so good
at it, they can copycat the taste of most whiskeys, gin, vodka,
and liqueurs.

For
most all of us this is a hobby, much like fishing, or photography.
We spend a lot of time perfecting our craft, tinkering with our
stills to get that last half percentage of alcohol out, and comparing
notes with others in the groups. We take great care to make our
alcohol is the cleanest and purest possible. We just have to keep
quiet about it, we don't want the BATF visiting us. Although these
days, most federal agents wouldn't recognize a still from a tree
stump. It is unfortunate that in America, distilling is illegal,
but we accept the risks. I personally like the fact that I have
seen through the government disinformation about the so called dangers
of distilling my own alcohol, and I can make something the government
has no control over. I feel a little freer for it.

As
a secondary benefit I have the capability to make my own motor fuel.
Ethanol at 95% pure is an excellent power source for a vehicle,
it burns cleanly and will produce close to the power of a gasoline
engine. In an emergency situation, gas shortages, or just extremely
high prices it is a very good backup fuel. I cannot use it directly
in my car without some changes to the air/fuel mixture, but in a
car with a carburetor this isn't too difficult. To our benefit amazingly,
legislation passed by congress mandates flexible fuel vehicles.
Ford's 2003 Taurus and Daimler-Chrysler's minivan models are capable
of using an 85/15 ethanol/gasoline blend without modification at
all. Residents of the mid-west have probably seen E85 pumps at filling
stations.

As
I have said, distilling is illegal. we do it regardless, I would
not openly encourage others to take up the hobby, but the information
is readily available on the internet. In some countries around the
world distillation is legal, New Zealand leads the way, with legislation
passed some 10 years ago, Australia also, and Sweden allows it as
well. Other European countries allow it with permits, Germany comes
to mind, but the European Union has generally made distillation
illegal completely. They want to make sure they can collect every
last Euro in tax.

Every
few years a bill is brought to congress, to make small scale home
distillation legal, but have all been tabled or thrown out. The
arguments always being that uneducated people will be mixing up
concoctions that will be lethal and bathtub gin makers will run
rampant. This is all nonsense. With the law is it is today, nothing
will really stop a malicious person from making poison. Allowing
legal home distillation takes us, a small group outside the margins
of legality, to be able to enjoy our hobby and craft openly. When
distillation became legal in New Zealand and Australia, critics
predicted many deaths from toxic alcohol, none of which happened.
Nor did revenues from taxes collected on commercial alcohol production
drop. What was gained was a small freedom for the individual.

So
here we are, doing something we shouldn't do and loving every minute
of it. Quietly slipped under the radar of the government, we make
our stuff, and enjoy it in the privacy of our own homes. Why shouldn't
it be legal? Does this argument sound familiar? I thought so.

And
yes we still call it moonshine, we still proudly hold to the traditions
of our fathers and grandfathers; and beware the revenuer that comes
around our mountain, yer' in for a pack of trouble.

February
7, 2003

Deardon
Steven [send him mail],
an engineer in the Pacific Northwest, has been distilling since
high school.


     

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts