/ Legalities of a still

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subtle 17 May 2019

Have made homebrew wines and beers but now thinking of making a still  - what are the legalities of this?

Obviously wont be making a lot, and all for home consumption.

Anyone advise on legalities of this?

(and feel free to offer constructive advice on making and using a still if you have experience in this matter)

Rob Parsons 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

Without a licence, it's illegal.

Deadeye 17 May 2019
In reply to Rob Parsons:

> Without a licence, it's illegal.

And can be dangerous if you don't know how to separate methanol

2
Ron Rees Davies 17 May 2019
subtle 17 May 2019
In reply to Ron Rees Davies:

Lots of scary stuff in there, including:

Redistilled or mixed spirits

If you redistil spirits or compound spirits by using a still, you must have a rectifier’s licence.

If you mix spirits with anything apart from water, but don’t use a still to do so, you must have a compounder’s licence.

Compounder’s licence

If you distinctly alter the character or flavour of a spirit with another substance, other than water, but don’t use a still to do so, you need a compounder’s licence.

This doesn’t include mixed drinks solely for consumption on the premises, for example, cocktails.

Now, previously I have made, amongst other things, sloe gin and sloe vodka etc., all altering the character and flavour of the base spirit, and whilst most of this will have been consumed on the premises some of it may have been given as gifts to friends, or taken to parties and drunk there - seems you need a "compounders licence" for this - how many other will have been breaking the law on this then 

Oh dear.

Offwidth 17 May 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

It can be dangerous even if you do know how to separate methanol. Strong alcohol and flames don't mix in a friendly manner.

If people are serious in an interest in distilling lots of the new gin distillers run workshops on how to do things legally and maximise success.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/spirits-duty (much more here than just tax rules).

dread-i 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

>...some of it may have been given as gifts to friends, or taken to parties and drunk there - seems you need a "compounders licence" for this

I'd guess, that as tax has been paid on the base gin, you're not selling it and it will be a small amount they probably can't be arsed with chasing you. More cost in the time and paper work, then banging you up for a minor infraction of the law.

If pedantry is important to you in your quest, to stay 100% legal, I suggest you'll fail many times per day, in ways you may not even realize. E.g. Although you drive a 30mph, your speedo may not be calibrated. If you've have had cause to spit in the street. Picking blackberries may be considered theft etc etc .

The very worst thing you could do is draw attention to your blatant disregard of the law, on an internet forum, for the world to see ;-)

4
subtle 17 May 2019
In reply to dread-i:

> The very worst thing you could do is draw attention to your blatant disregard of the law, on an internet forum, for the world to see ;-)

Yes, but I am building the still in lawless Sheffield, cough, so that will be ok, won't it? 

balmybaldwin 17 May 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

> It can be dangerous even if you do know how to separate methanol. Strong alcohol and flames don't mix in a friendly manner.

I thought they got on like a house on fire

wintertree 17 May 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

>  Strong alcohol and flames don't mix in a friendly manner

I have sometimes wondered if a thermoelectric still using Peltier devices would be intrinsically much safer, as well as not looking anything like a still...

wintertree 17 May 2019
In reply to dread-i:

>Picking blackberries may be considered theft etc etc 

If they are hedgerow or otherwise wild blackberries, the theft act 1968 disagrees with you.

nniff 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

It may be that a couple of parishioners may once upon a time have had experience in this regard.  The question was what to do with the dregs left in beer barrels after a beer festival.  We may have come up with a sound answer, but we were very young then and although the output may have been of surprisingly good quality, it was very much a cooker-top affair.  An interesting experiment, but not much more.  Understanding the relationship between the ingredients and the output is important if your health is important to you.  If not, the soldiers of the former Soviet Union were regularly severely impaired by distilling boot polish and anti-freeze - each to their own.  There can be some surprising results - mild (as opposed to bitter), for example, has colouring in it, which allegedly distills out blue......

Philip 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

You don't need a compounding licence if you make sloe gin for your own use. Section 14.1 below

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/excise-notice-39-spirits-production-in-the-uk/excise-notice-39-spirits-production-in-the-uk

As to your idea of setting up a still, you'd be better rectifying using good quality ethanol (buy vodka) than trying to make your own spirit from a low ethanol source. You can control the flavour without the risk of toxic impurities (mainly methanol).

Rob Parsons 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

You can buy stills in the UK btw - see e.g. https://brew2bottle.co.uk/collections/still-spirits-t500-still/products/still-spirits-t500-still-with-copper-condensor

It's not illegal to sell them; just to use them ...

The New NickB 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

I had this discussion recently, with my American father-in-law and a friend of mine.

Father-in-law has experience of a home still,  more or less legally in rural Ohio and very definitely not legally in Saudi Arabia. He recently moved to a house opposite the above friend of mine and we had a bit of a chat about the feasibility of setting up a still in the latter’s garage.

We concluded that with two young children in the house, it was a bit risky. A secondary consideration was legality and my father-in-law, who is living in the in the UK on a visa, getting deported.

Offwidth 17 May 2019
In reply to Rob Parsons:

It's patently not illegal to use them within legal constraints!

Toccata 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

Yes be careful. More than methanol can cause you harm. I bought a bottle of an artisan spirit (deliberately vague for obvious reasons) from a reputable online retailer and found I had a raging headache after even the smallest of nips. I sent a sample for congener analysis and found that in several toxic compounds it far exceeded legal guidelines. A polite (and anonymous) email was sent to the distiller.

Rob Parsons 17 May 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

> It's patently not illegal to use them within legal constraints!

I was obviously discussing the issue in the context of this thread. Feel free to continue distilling water, for example, if that's your requirement.

Rob Parsons 17 May 2019
In reply to Toccata:

> Yes be careful. More than methanol can cause you harm. I bought a bottle of an artisan spirit (deliberately vague for obvious reasons) from a reputable online retailer ...

Which one? No reason to be vague about it.

1
Tim Sparrow 17 May 2019
In reply to nniff:

It caused us no harm whatsoever. The random twitch we all have could be hereditary. 

Tim Sparrow 17 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

On a trip to the Georgian Caucasus some years back, we were told that the “vodka” distilled fresh for a celebration was safe to drink once the distillate ran clear. Despite 2 of us being chemistry teachers we thought that was accurate enough! The cloudy stuff did us alright later in the evening though ...

1
Rob Parsons 17 May 2019
In reply to Tim Sparrow:

'Home distilling' - using apparently primitive equipment - is commonplace in Eastern Europe. And in fact I also had Italian neighbours once who regularly distilled their own grappa (we could always smell the process first, before we were invited round to sample the excellent product). So, like anything, it's possible, quite safe, and very satisfying - once you know how!

Post edited at 23:00
Billhook 18 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

Who cares if its illegal?  The only reason its illegal is so they can tax it.

2
Timmd 18 May 2019
In reply to Billhook:

It might be so people don't poison themselves too, but I had similar thoughts.

1
Helen R 18 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

It's legal in New Zealand for personal consumption. I've known a few people who do this and they're all super careful over methanol etc.  But the results can often be a bit of an aquired taste (e.g. rotgut). Saying that, there are more and more good NZ craft spirits available here, and it could be because people can experiment before going commercial.

Lusk 18 May 2019
In reply to Timmd:

> It might be so people don't poison themselves too, ...


Don't be silly now, Tim!
Look at tobacco, there's money to be made, who cares about people's health?

fred99 18 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

You could always freeze-distil wine that you've made - much easier to do and the products can be lovely.

Eric9Points 18 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

Is there a way that an amateur can test for methanol?

mick taylor 18 May 2019
In reply to fred99:

Agreed.  I have tonnes of homemade wine and cider and researched distilling ( fancy an Air Still  but I’m skint and don’t think they would be much good for wines).  So, started ice distilling (fractional freezing) and results are excellent (turning cider into apple jack).  My guinea pig testers were very impressed.  Got some apple wine and some pumpkin wine ready to try today.  Plenty on YouTube about methanol and fussels being concentrated rather than ‘burnt off’, but Brew Dog use this method for their stupid strong beer, so must be ok in moderation.

With wine, reckon two blasts at fractional freezing, then a quick simmer at required temp to evaporate the methanol, would be the way to go.

mick taylor 18 May 2019
In reply to Toccata:

See my post above - reckon you may have been sold booze that was ‘freeze distilled’.  Proper distilling shud evaporate off the methanol, unless they collected all the distillate rather than chucking away the initial spirit ( the ‘heads’ ?).

mick taylor 18 May 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

I’ve not heard of one.

Timmd 18 May 2019
In reply to Lusk:

> Don't be silly now, Tim!

> Look at tobacco, there's money to be made, who cares about people's health?

Thanks for hitting me around the head with the stick of reality.   

Post edited at 16:02
Mike-W-99 18 May 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> Is there a way that an amateur can test for methanol?

If you drink it and go blind then its methanol.

Your always welcome to try the 12% imperial stout I've legally brewed though.

Pyreneenemec 19 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

Going off subject slightly :

My other half's  grandfather, ( she is French )  like all peasant farmers could distill  some of their wine to produce Armagnac, 10 litres of pure alcohol or 20 litres of 50° alcohol each year. This was done by a travelling distiller (  le bouilleur ambulant )  the Armagnac would then be aged in oak barrels. Sadly this right was abolished in 1959 and could no longer be passed on to the next generation and so disappeared. However, we still have litres of the stuff, now over 40 years old and around 65° and very drinkable it is, too ! I remember her grandparents always finished their meal at lunchtime with a 'canard', a lump of sugar on a tea-spoon generously covered with Armagnac.

Timmd 19 May 2019
In reply to Pyreneenemec:

I like how many different ways humans have found to create alcoholic drinks, the subtle (or sometimes not so) variations to be found. I don't drink so much, but it can only come from a love of it. 

Eric9Points 19 May 2019
In reply to mick taylor:

I note that the boiling point of ethanal is 78 deg C and the methanol is 64 deg C so presumably if you heat your brew to say 70 deg C the methanol will boil off while the ethanol stays where it is.

Ffat Boi 19 May 2019
In reply to Rob Parsons:

That is not a still but a water steriliser...hint hint

Billhook 19 May 2019
In reply to Timmd:

Maybe!!  But in Ireland its been legal to brew it for yourself (ho, ho) since 1997.  In the ten years I lived there I never heard of anyone getting ill through drinking badly brewed stuff though.  

I've had many a bottle of Piotín specially bought via the 'underground' network mostly from the same source which is generally a well kept secret.  Supplied in a variety of glass and/or plastic bottles it was of a consistently good quality and never cost more than ten or fifteen euro a litre.  The farmer who brewed the stuff apparently  had the still hidden inside a spare stainless steel bulk milk storage tank. 

We also have Croatian and Serbian friends, whose parents distill spirits from their home grown damsons.  Lovely stuff too, and I've had regular bottles posted and/or hand delivered when they've visited us.  (Plastic ex cooking oil survives quite well in the post!).

When the stuff in Ireland was first taxed in 1661 it was for tax collection - I'm not sure they cared about the health of the local population then.

elsewhere 19 May 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> I note that the boiling point of ethanal is 78 deg C and the methanol is 64 deg C so presumably if you heat your brew to say 70 deg C the methanol will boil off while the ethanol stays where it is.

The first distillates richer in methanol and discarded?

Fozzy 19 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

This’ll tell you what you need to know 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvaEJzoaYZk

mick taylor 20 May 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

That's what I reckon, and will be trying later this week.  I now have nearly 2 litres of 'stuff' that's gone through the freezer treatment, made from 4 litres cider, one bottle apple wine and 1 bottle pumpkin wine.  Its not 40% yet, cant be bothered doing the freezing bit again (as the water gets drawn off it gets harder to freeze - like a slush puppy at the last go).  It tastes great: apple-ey with quite a kick of alcohol.  This will be simmered at that temperature, after I have guestimated the volume of methanol I need to get rid of (thinking 5 - 10%).

This method is quite 'eco' as it uses no water and I have solar panels to power my freezer etc, so its heading towards carbon neutral.  

Rigid Raider 20 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

There are places in Britain where illicit hooch is being distilled. I know of a village on the Pennine Way that's doing it on a large scale. A few years ago four east Europeans died when thy blew themselves up in a distillery they hadn't flameproofed, somewhere in Kent or Essex if I recall.

Timmd 26 May 2019
In reply to mick taylor:

Reading about the alcohol content in my bike degreaser, I'm suddenly wondering about the economics of using a still to make my own degreaser. 

FactorXXX 26 May 2019
In reply to Timmd:

> Reading about the alcohol content in my bike degreaser, I'm suddenly wondering about the economics of using a still to make my own degreaser. 

I think you might need to look at your own alcohol content if you think that is an idea worth considering... 

Timmd 26 May 2019
In reply to FactorXXX: I barely drink, less than once a week, I'm 'a Yorkshireman' when it comes to saving money. ;-)

Post edited at 13:11
jkarran 26 May 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> Is there a way that an amateur can test for methanol?

I've never quite understood the methanol issue, the still doesn't create it, it just separates it. Beer contains methanol which in combination with the ethanol we mostly consider acceptably harmful. Most of what you'd feed a still is a similar mix. As far as I can tell the problem occurs when the product is bottled serially rather than recombined, mixed and bottled (ideally minus the end fractions) but that's a simple process so there must be something else people get wrong. Can't say I'd worry about the legality for personal use, who knows what I get up to in my own kitchen/garage if I don't advertise it.

Jk

Timmd 26 May 2019
In reply to jkarran:

>  Can't say I'd worry about the legality for personal use, who knows what I get up to in my own kitchen/garage if I don't advertise it.

> Jk

That's what I think, so long as there's no smell or anything else as a give away, and no trades people see anything. Knowing how to get away with things is a life skill.

Post edited at 16:31
Rob Parsons 26 May 2019
In reply to jkarran:

> I've never quite understood the methanol issue, the still doesn't create it, it just separates it. Beer contains methanol which in combination with the ethanol we mostly consider acceptably harmful.

It's to do with the concentration of methanol in what you're drinking, and the fact that methanol is concentrated at the start of the distillation run on account of its lower boiling point.

You couldn't drink enough beer for the low amount of methanol therein in to kill you, but 30ml of pure methanol - i.e. a shot glass full - would do it. And lower amounts will send you blind.

jkarran 26 May 2019
In reply to Rob Parsons:

Which is my point, if you bottle from the batch, even without the end fractions removed all you end up with is the same mixture you had minus some water, the problem is surely if you don't mix the product (or better remove the methanol), with it mixed it's no more or less harmful than the fermented liquid you start with (but more flammable!).

Jk

Rob Parsons 26 May 2019
In reply to jkarran:

> ... with it mixed it's no more or less harmful than the fermented liquid you start with ...

That's not true, since the concentration of methanol in the final liquid is higher than in the fermented liquid you started with.

Ron Rees Davies 26 May 2019
In reply to Rob Parsons:

The concentration might be higher, but assuming you drink the same number of units of alcohol you will consume the same amount of methanol + ethanol as if you drank the original beer/wine, and so will achieve the same blood methanol level. The concentration within the drink isn't important unless the reduced volume leads to you drinking more alcohol overall. 

As jk suggests, there is only a problem if you bottle the early (methanol) fraction separately rather than combining the full batch. 

Post edited at 18:29
Rob Parsons 26 May 2019
In reply to Ron Rees Davies:

> The concentration might be higher, but assuming you drink the same number of units of alcohol you will consume the same amount of methanol + ethanol as if you drank the original beer/wine, and so will achieve the same blood methanol level.

I'm going to disagree on that. Your statement is correct if all the distillation products are later completely remixed - but nobody would do that, would they? If the original liquor is distilled correctly, then a large proportion of the methanol would be drawn off (and discarded) first, leaving a lower proportion of methanol in the final product than was in the original mixture.

1
jkarran 26 May 2019
In reply to Rob Parsons:

> That's not true, since the concentration of methanol in the final liquid is higher than in the fermented liquid you started with.

But the amount isn't which is what matters. If its mixed then the methanol dose per unit of drunkenness is as it was for the un-distilled liquor.

The problem arises when the distillate is separated as a function of distillation temperature which is sort of the point of distillation but also an easy issue to avoid.

Jk

Post edited at 19:03
Rob Parsons 26 May 2019
In reply to jkarran:

> But the amount isn't which is what matters. If its mixed then the methanol dose per unit of drunkenness is as it was for the un-distilled liquor.

As per my previous reply: I don't think it will be mixed.

That's to say: the distillation process isn't simply about removing water; rather, it's about isolating the ethanol, so far as that's possible.

Ron Rees Davies 27 May 2019
In reply to Rob Parsons:

Agreed, the ideal is to fractionally distill so you just have the ethanol. 

But if you don't achieve that, the methanol in a remixed batch is no more dangerous than it was in the fermented brew before distillation. 

For example  :

I brew 2 bottles of elderflower wine. One I leave as it is, the other I distill, crudely (not taking care to remove the methanol). Drinking the whole distilled batch is no more dangerous than drinking the full undistilled bottle. 

Deadeye 27 May 2019
In reply to Ron Rees Davies:

Well, that's true provided that you drink them at the same rate. If you drink the spirit in a way that has a higher peak concentration in your blood (and most do), then you may get problems.

Inhambane 27 May 2019
In reply to subtle:

I was in Lebanon a while back and they had a still outside the church in the town square.  A battered old looking thing powered by burning logs in a bathtub. You'd ask for a drink and a kid would take a jug of the output and mix it by eye with water for you in your glass. 


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