Legal: Moonshiners in US are still being arrested and prosecuted

Site Distiller's picture

It's the stuff of yore, or is it? Unlicensed distilling in the United States is still a crime and there are still police willing to enforce these laws.

Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, of Cocke County Tennessee, recently pled guilty to 'Knowingly Distilling" alcohol and on August 4th will be sentenced to up to five years and $250,000USD for his activities. He was found with three stills with over 1000 gallons of total distilling capacity and 850 gallons of distillate. Not exactly quiet about his activities, Sutton had written a book about his life of moon shining and was on parole for another distilling charge when he was arrested. While the state of Tennessee has some of the most severe alcohol laws in the US, Sutton was actually arrested by Federal Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, 'Revenuers' of yesterday still out doing their job. He might be higher profile than most, but Sutton is only one of several illegal distillers in the justice system there.

Alabama has their Alcoholic Beverage Control Board which has, since 2003, seized and or destroyed no fewer than 57 stills and 9,382 liters of moonshine whiskey. They have prosecuted thousands of alcohol related cases and several are specifically for distilling. As late as March 27th of this year, Alabama lawmen seized a still capable of "producing $100,000-a-year in un-taxed whiskey." Anyone who thinks these laws are not being enforce is simply not informed.

Most of these cases that have gone to trial are large enough to be commercial scale operations that represent a significant tax loss which is perhaps some of the motivation for enforcing the laws aggressively against larger operations. Sutton was arrested for selling 300 gallons to one undercover agent in one transaction. Even though these are for the most part not small time operators that should not come as any consolation for home distilling in the US. Small scale does not mean smaller fines or jail time, it's the same crime. And it doesn't mean enforcement overlooks very small operations. In October of 2005, Maryland Comptroller officers arrested a minor teenager for garbage pail distilling in the woods behind his parents house.
In Arkansas a 'microwave' sized still that produced about a gallon a year of spirits was seized in Madison County in 1999. So when it comes to legalities, size really doesn't matter.

What's hard to understand is why anyone would get involved in a commercial scale endeavor without getting proper licensing. While the paperwork burden is significant, it is very possible to own, operate and profit from distillation in all 50 states (not all counties and cities though) and comply with the law and pay the taxes. Of course, it's next to impossible to get licensed after you have a distilling conviction on your record. Although in 2006, 40 years after the alleged crimes took place, president Bush pardoned a convicted moonshiner. Small consolation.


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These guys should just get

mikese's picture

These guys should just get an employment contract with some brewery and work for them as a consultant. It sucks getting arrested for making beer and liquor we aren't in prohibition last i checked.