While the law is a bit cloudy on whether it is legal to own a whiskey still as a display or object d'art – they can also be used to distill water, aromatic oils and alcohol for fuel, which makes things even more murky — the law on actually getting down to making some sippin' whiskey is perfectly clear: Don't even think about it.
Though a distillery license is available through the state of Arkansas if one wants to wade through copious amounts of paperwork and red tape, the would-be home distiller faces a raft of charges if caught brewing up the hooch. Under sections 3-3-402 and 403 of the Arkansas criminal code, owning, possessing or knowingly transporting any part of a still designed for the unlawful manufacture of liquor is a Class D felony, as is manufacturing or transporting distilled spirits. Any vehicle used to transport the still or liquor is subject to seizure and forfeiture to the state.
Yeah, you're saying: Those laws probably haven't been dusted off in most Arkansas counties since Al Capone was taking the waters in Hot Springs. But don't kid yourself. They're still very much in effect, said Michael Langley, director of Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control. Though there are laws on the books that allow you to make a small amount of beer, wine or brandy for personal use, distilled spirits are a no-no. “You can't make whiskey,” Langley said. “There's a relatively difficult permitting process for a wet county where you could probably do it in a commercial sense. But unlike beer, you cannot brew your own whiskey. That goes all the way back to the moonshine days.”
Art Resnick, spokesperson for the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which oversees the production of distilled spirits, said that there is no provision in the federal code for the production of whiskey for personal use, and that the penalties involved for doing so are “stiff.” One can become licensed to produce whiskey, he said, but the hurdles are a bit high for someone looking to make a gallon or two for the holidays.
“There are numerous requirements that must be met that really make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use,” Resnick said. “That includes paying the taxes, filing a bond, providing adequate equipment to measure the spirits, providing tanks, pipelines, separate buildings, filing reports, all kinds of things. … There are provisions for becoming an alcohol fuel producer, which requires a still and is done on a small basis. A lot of farmers do it. But that requires a registration with us, and it requires that something be added to the distilled spirits to make them non-potable.”