There is a lot of confusion about what alcohol products can and cannot be made at home. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ("TTB") issued a reminder in a recent newsletter to help bring clarity on the matter.
While individuals of legal drinking age may produce wine and beer at home in small amounts for family or personal use (subject to state and local laws), distilled spirits cannot be produced in any amount without federal approval.
Despite the growing popularity in "home-distilling", it is still illegal to produce any amount of distilled spirits at home without authorization from the TTB, as outlined under 26 U.S.C. § 5601. While producing distilled spirits without a federal permit or registration is illegal, owning a small still and using it for other purposes may still be legal under federal law.
A "still" is defined under federal law as an apparatus capable of being used to separate ethyl alcohol from a mixture that contains alcohol. Often small stills can be used for many reasons such as stilling water, laboratory purposes, or extracting essential oils. These uses of stills are generally not subject to the TTB registration requirement.
When using a small still to extract essential oils, or for allowable laboratory purposes, it is important to know the possibility of producing alcohol as a by-product of the process for this is still considered distilling, and therefore requires federal approval.
The takeaway is that "home-distilling" is still illegal under federal law; unlike beer and wine, there is currently no federal carve-out for personal use.