COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — To some bootleggers, legal moonshine might sound like an oxymoron.
But one lawmaker has proposed legislation that would allow Ohioans to distill liquor without a permit from their homes — or their basements, or their garages.
Bill would eliminate permits for at-home liquor manufacturing
Senate Bill 13, introduced by Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) on Jan. 11, would remove permitting requirements for people seeking to manufacture liquor.
The bill places a limit on distillation: no more than 200 gallons per household per year, or half of that, if only one household member is older than 21. While it does not allow recreational distillers to profit off their product by selling it, shipping is allowed under SB13, as long as the liquor does not leave Ohio.
Hoagland said some of the intent behind the bill is to let people who might want to eventually turn a distilling hobby into a business to do so, without fear of legal troubles — at least at a state level.
“If you can make beer or wine, why can’t you make whiskey? Why is one OK and not the other?” Hoagland wrote in a comment via email.
Ohio is not the first state to pursue legalization of at-home liquor. A similar bill in West Virginia stalled in its state senate last January after clearing its lower house. Missouri, among a small number of other states, doesn’t require people to obtain permits to produce liquor.
Still, federally, the law harkens back to the Prohibition era: At-home distilling is “strictly” illegal, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and could come with felony charges.
If Ohio legislators were to ratify SB13, it would technically conflict with federal law.
Illegal, and legal, distilling has roots in Appalachian Ohio
“Moonshine is not a category. Whiskey is a category, bourbon is a category, gin is a category,” Hocking Hills Moonshine owner Brian St. Clair said.
Corn whiskey is usually referred to as white whiskey and was historically made by the light of the moon. The term “moonshine” is also sometimes rooted in its status of legal or not.
When a change to Ohio law a little less than a decade ago legalized micro distilleries, St. Clair and his little brother Eric opened Hocking Hills Moonshine.
“When they changed that legislation, I literally about fell off my chair. I told my brother, I said, ‘Man, we can put our hillbilly skills to work here, and make this happen,’” St. Clair, 51, said.
The St. Clair’s legal moonshine spirits started flowing in 2015, and as tourism has boomed in the rural Appalachian area, so too has the business, he said. For St. Clair, interactions with customers are also a chance to chat history.
The brothers are among the third generation of St. Clairs living in New Straitsville, a village of about 700 in Perry County known for its annual Moonshine Festival. During the Great Depression, with most coal mines shuttered, it became a hotbed for bootleg liquor distilling.
And although St. Clair — who has also worked in local law enforcement for more than 30 years — did not directly descend from illegal distillers, he did learn from the “actual moonshiners” while at the festival year after year, before many of them died.
“Those people knew how to make liquor, it was part of their history — it wasn’t until prohibition came around that created the black market,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair said if at-home distillation does become legal in the state, he would not worry about it cutting into his business. With recreational beer- and wine-making legal, he said, “You might as well make your own liquor.”
Safety risks with at-home manufacturing
Then and now, manufacturing liquor comes with risks, St. Clair said. Nationwide Children’s recommends taking the same poison prevention precautions “as with other potentially harmful products,” according to spokesperson Rebecca Cybulski.
“Following all labels and directions, labeling final product, and storing products up, away, and out of sight of children or in locked cabinets,” Cybulski wrote in an email.
SB13 has yet to see public debate. It was referred to the senate agriculture and natural resources committee last Tuesday.