Jimmy Carter struck a blow for personal freedom — no, seriously, stop laughing — in 1978, when he made home brewing of beer legal in the US. As Reason TV says, this led to an explosion of experimentation and interest in beer and ale, and led to the development of the diverse microbrewery industry. However, home distillation of spirits remains a federal crime, and the onerous tax regime stifles innovation and discourages start-ups. The result is that only a few bottlers control the spirits industry instead of seeing another explosion of creativity and interest. When will we free the people to make their own moonshine?
Federal agents still raid distilleries much like they did during Prohibition, and making any amount of moonshine at home is not only illegal, it’s a felony that can carry up to five years in prison. The result is a market dominated by a few big names, where would-be craftsmen are forced to hide their work.
And yet, despite the danger, America is in the midst of “moonshine renaissance,” in which a new wave of hipster hobbyists has joined with old-time ‘shiners to flout the law and do what they love to do.
I’m not sure this is at the top of my political priorities, but it’s certainly a good question. The biggest issue for legalization could be the loss of tax revenue, or at least that seems to be the federal government’s biggest concern. But that’s a result of static analysis, assuming that existing consumption would remain the same but then split between those who buy retail and those who make their own. The experience in microbrewing should demonstrate that people will still buy their alcoholic beverages — but they may take more interest as new products and innovation hit the marketplace.
Even if it didn’t, should the federal government be in the business of prohibiting adults from whipping up their own distilled beverages for their own consumption? Maybe we should be following Carter’s example and getting the federal government out of the choices of adults in this instance.