Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Moonshiners' Lament

In early July of 2019, I was subpoenaed for a Senate subcommittee hearing on S.2025, the Home Distillery Reform Act. Here is a partial transcript of the proceedings.

Sen. Jabroney (D-WI): Mr. Wilson, thank you for joining us today. I understand you are a, uh, expert on the, uh, economics of home alcohol production. Is that correct, sir?

SLW: Yes, your honor.

Jabroney: It's "Senator," thanks. Now, isn't it true that you're here today to argue that... let me see here... that moonshine, that is to say, distilling operations performed in the home... that this should be legal in the 50 states? Is that correct, Mr. Wilson?

SLW: Yes, that's correct. Um, Mr. Senator. Correct.

Sen. Rumplebottom (R-MS): Mr. Wilson, you are aware, aren't you, that illegal moonshine can be a poisonous substance and that in 2018 alone, over 250 Americans died from ingesting so-called "home-distilled spirits?" You did know this, Mr. Wilson, did you not? Or how about the fact that this unregulated black market alcohol often ends up in the hands of children, and that they don't know just how potent this stuff can be? You are aware of the negative effects of alcohol consumption on children, Mr. Wilson?

SLW: Yes, Senator. Those are all excellent reasons to legalize home distilling.

Rumplebottom: Excuse me? Did I hear you correctly? Did you just say that those are reasons IN FAVOR [emphasis in original] of passing this bill?

Sen Terdenhare (R-TX): Mr. Chairman, if I might, we did see that legalizing homebrewing of beer did not produce general lawlessness in America or that it led to the moral decay of the youth. If anything, the statistics have shown a decrease in underage drinking since the ban was lifted [2011 CDC findings], and that drunk driving fatalities have dropped from over 15,000 in 1991 to just over 10,000 in 2012, and that's with more young drivers on the road. Isn't that true, Mr. Wilson?

SLW: It is true, but it could be spurious to link the two. Other factors could have contributed to the decline in underage drinking and drunken driving. The best reason to legalize home distilling is to improve product quality.

Rumplebottom: Hold on a minute. Did you just say "product quality?" Mr. Wilson, this governing body has no interest in this product being available at all. Professional distilleries have the tools and expertise needed to produce safe spirits at reasonable prices. Can you sit there and guarantee me that the... the... the hooch coming out of a still in someone's garage won't be poisonous? Can you sit there and tell me that a home distiller wouldn't put bleach, or... or arsenic or some other adulterant into the mash to give it some extra kick? These aren't new practices, Mr. Wilson.

SLW: That's correct, Senator. When the homebrewing of beer was illegal, vendors were prohibited from selling the airlocks, carboys, and brewers' yeast needed to safely prepare beer in the home. As a result, the quality of homebrewed beer suffered. Now that homebrewing supply is a fairly large industry, hobbyists can easily and cheaply obtain high-quality equipment and ingredients to produce beer safely. The same logic applies to distilling.

Rumplebottom: Correct me if I'm wrong here, Mr. Wilson, but the brewing of beer is far less complicated than the distilling of alcohol, is that not so? If the temperature inside the still is just a little too high, impurities from the mash will carry over into distillate. Furthermore, if there's pesticides in the corn, those can be... [leans over to whisper to neighbor] ...volatile and end up in the final product. Is that not correct, Mr. Wilson? I can't tell you how many of my constituents have ended up in the hospital from drinking moonshine that either hasn't been distilled properly or has been made on the fly by some... some yokel trying to evade taxes. Is that not what you're trying to encourage with your support, Mr. Wilson?

SLW: It's true that distilling spirits is more technically demanding than brewing beer. Just as it's more technically demanding to build a dining room set than it is to build a bird feeder. The science and technology behind distilling is not all that complicated. Electric heating systems can maintain constant mash temperature in the required range much more reliably than the campfire methods commonly used by today's moonshiners. If this bill is passed, never again will anyone have to pull an old radiator out of a junked car in an ad hoc still. Kits, complete with instructions, as well as mash base, will be sold freely by vendors with tax id numbers who can be tracked down in the event that they sell defective or dangerous products. In an above-board, legal market, consumers have legal recourse.

Terdenhare: Thank you for your testimony, Mr. Wilson. This committee appreciates your cooperation.

Chair: This hearing is now in recess.

Three weeks after this hearing, the AP ran a story about how Senator Rumplebottom had received a sizable campaign donation from DISCUS, aka the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a lobby organization representing the commercial interests of the distillery industry. No charges were filed.

[This post and all the events depicted herein are fictitious. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental] Euvoluntary Exchange, 2014.


  1. You could have somebody pointing to the NZ evidence, where we have fully legal home distillation, and I've never heard a case of bad 'shine causing problems.

    1. Sadly, the inhabitants of New Zealand formed a very successful space colony in Q3 of 2017 and the entire population left to help construct picturesque villages on New Shire. I hear they are doing extremely well.

      But yes, the international evidence, particularly in other Anglophone nations take a lot of the wind out of the Baptists' sails. All that's left is the bootlegger story, and US brewers and distillers are a powerful, powerful lobby.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?