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New Law Helps Small, At-Home Distillers

SACRAMENTO-

Moonshine was the citizen revolt to Prohibition.

Call it whatever you want: moonshine, white lightning, mountain dew, hooch, Tennessee white whiskey, all are terms used to describe high-proof distilled spirits produced illegally. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in the United States, but it wasn’t a free for all.

If you wanted to make spirits you had to get a permit to do it from ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control). Although some still continued to make “Moonshine” and avoid the permit process, it became much less popular because you could buy from licensed sellers.

“It’s illegal to make it without a license. If it’s too close to a church or school or something like that, the license can be denied. It is a felony without one and you could be looking at prison time,” John Carr, with Alcohol Beverage Control, told FOX40

moonshineThe wine and beer industry took off because tasting rooms opened and customers could come in and taste what was produced and in turn, ask for it by name. Along the way popular “brands” emerged and the market became competitive.

Until now, it was illegal for distillers of hard alcohol to have tasting rooms and that made it difficult to sell the product to wholesalers because there was no guaranteed market for it.

On January 1, 2014,  AB933 became law, making it legal for hard alcohol distillers to open tasting rooms. Since then new distillers are popping up all over California, looking for the opportunity to break it a market that until now, had been reserved only for the big guys. This has left a lot of people asking whether or not tasting liquor is the new wine tasting.

“You go to a wholesaler and they ask, ‘what kind of a following do you have?’ You had nothing to point to because you could not let people taste it,” local distiller Chris Stellar said.

Now all that has changed thanks to AB933. Chris Stellar is the owner and operator of Dry Diggins Distillery in El Dorado Hills. He took us through the process of making spirits and admits there’s a lot of work and a lot of cost. Crushing, fermenting, distilling, barrel aging and finally selling to wholesalers it’s a process than can take years to complete, but once you’ve created a market for independently made, high end, high alcohol spirits the sky is the limit.

There is also another element sparking interest, the reality TV show “Moonshiners.” The show follows a group of distillers who don’t go about making alcohol the legal way, instead they use techniques developed during the Prohibition Era. Those techniques have proven to be dangerous for some very obvious reasons.

“On the really bad side there can be explosions, there have been those in the past. Pressure it built, you’re introducing high heat and you have volatile fluid that is the high proof alcohol. There is a lot of difference in the way that we do it,” said Stellar.

Even though it’s perfectly legal to distill with a license, there are still some who try to get away with doing it illegally. In January a home distill operation was busted by the Davis Police Department.

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