Author: Alvira, Marco

The State of the Still, 2013 ed.

This last year has been roller coaster of highs and lows for our nation. Mass shootings. The job market slowly creeping upwards. Choking droughts and crushing ice storms. Troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. High ranking generals embroiled in scandal. In the turmoil of the las year, there is one thing that has remained constant: methanol boils at 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit. That gives us some cause for cheer and to raise cheer! For those uninitiated into the art and science of distilling, 173.1 degrees is the temperature at which the happy juices begin to flow from a big kettle, through copper tubing, and eventually into a mason jar...or into a bottle bearing the appropriate federal excise tax stamp.

Before venturing any further into the State of the Still in 2013, we must first submit our most disclaimer proffering that the author nor the CBA condone or encourage the illegal production of distilled spirits. There is always confusion about what is allowed or not by our earnest Federal government. The regulations that determine who can or cannot distill are simple:

-Anyone with a still for must apply to the The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). If one plans on distilling for consumption, youíre put a pretty good bond, as well.
-The distillerís going to pay $13.50 for a 100 proof gallon of liquor (thatís a gallon with 50% alcohol) as well.
-And if one thinks that he heíll just produce some olí ethanol for fuel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), think again. Thereís a also a TTB application for that.

The Feds have been imposing sin taxes on distilled spirits since Alexander Hamiltonís Whisky Tax passed in March 1791 (resulting in the Whiskey Rebellion). Over time, the pressure of temperance movements and the federal need for revenue surges and waned, creating periods of relaxation of from enforcement of laws or periods of enormous persecution of illicit distillers. Itís these periods that have given birth to popular icons and institutions such as NASCAR, The Untouchables, Lilí Abner, and even recent movies and shows such as the recent Lawless, and Moonshiners. It appears that the lore of moonshining --that is, illegal production of distilled spirits is alive and well in our popular conscience and not relegated the dusty bins of old cultural memories.

Several years ago, when I developed a purely academic curiosity about role of moonshining and distilling in our culture, I encountered relatively few people who had ever tasted moonshine, and knew little about the subject beyond the common myths and misconceptions (For example-- ďDoesnít that stuff make you blind?Ē ďCanít you produce so much a year for private consumption?Ē) Increasingly, Iím meeting folks with a more than a passing familiarity of distilling. With a cursory search on the Web, one can find remarkable quality kits for building home stills. The kits vary greatly in type and aesthetics. One company markets beautiful copper pot stills of traditional varying styles, while others offer new, unique innovations of the more complex reflux and column varieties.

This seemingly sudden rise of interest in home distillation has left me scratching my head in ponder. Those who seem most apt to to try their hand at the ancient art are incongruous with the old stereotype of the moonshiner and a bib-overalled, shot gun toting, bakker spitiní hillbilly. My experience has been that they're more inclined to be educated young folk in their twenties or thirties. Is their curiosity born of a desire to connect with traditional rural practices and culture? I hypothesis that the current trend toward finer distilled beverages is driving the home distillation buzz, just as the refinement in popular tastes in beers resulted in a home brewing boom. It may also be possible that the interest has always existed, but the vast amount of information on the Internet has congealed interest and curiosity into a viable market place for ideas, knowledge and product.

For the year to come, I see the state of the still in America as viable and healthy. It is interesting to watch moonshining emerge from the shadows of backwood hallows into garages across our great nation. Look for a micro-distiller coming to your city and borough soon and may your life be filled with good spirit.

Posted:  2/3/2013

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