Despite having a colorful history in the state, moonshine is illegal in the state of Arkansas, and the law is strict regarding the production and sale of spirits outside of mainstream commercial channels. People living in the state can make their own wine or beer for personal consumption and can also distill ethanol for fuel with the proper permits. However, a person caught making moonshine without a distiller's permit can face severe penalties under state liquor laws, including fines and prison time.
What Is Moonshine?
While it sometimes describes spirits made by commercial distillers, "moonshine" is a slang term that refers to strong, illegally made alcohol. The name derives from a tradition of making alcohol at night to avoid detection by law enforcement. Moonshine manufacturing has an association with Prohibition in the United States, but the term dates back to 18th-century England.
Illegally distilled spirits also go by other names, including mash liquor, hooch and white lightning. While different cultures produce moonshine using a variety of ingredients, in the U.S. and Europe it is typically a clear, un-aged whiskey.
Moonshine is illegal because making it can be dangerous, as homemade moonshine stills are not regulated. Improperly made moonshine can cause lead poisoning or turn into methanol, which can cause blindness or death. Also, the federal government's taxes on distilled spirits are higher than on any other alcohol – a person making moonshine at home avoids paying these taxes altogether.
Arkansas Laws Regarding Moonshine
In Arkansas, any person, business or legal entity who owns, possesses or knowingly transports an illicit still, still worm, or any significant part of a still to make moonshine faces Class D felony charges and is subject to a $10,000 fine and up to six years in prison. The state will destroy the offender's still and any additional apparatus used to make the illegal spirit and may order the parts sold.
Offenders also face the possibility of having their property seized by the state – this includes vehicles or vessels used to transport and store the still, its parts and the illegal spirit. After this seizure, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division director may sell the offender's property in a public auction or place it with state agencies.
A person convicted of making moonshine who doesn't possess a commercial distiller or a fuel alcohol permit also faces a Class D felony. The maximum fine is $10,000, and the offender can spend up to six years in prison. A person making moonshine without a permit also faces the possibility of having the still destroyed and its parts sold off as well as their property seized and sold at auction.
Felony Penalties for Making Moonshine
The U.S. government prohibits the production of moonshine whiskey without a permit. A person wishing to make distilled spirits for legal sale and distribution needs a federal distilled spirits permit, but they are hard to get in that they are expensive and generally meant for large manufacturers. A distiller can obtain a federal fuel alcohol permit for free, but it will not allow a distiller to create alcohol for human consumption.
Maintaining a home still without a permit is against federal law. It is a felony that carries stiff penalties, including a fine of up to $5,000 and three years in prison. According to 26 U.S.C. Section 5602, an illegal distiller who defrauds or attempts to defraud the federal government of taxes on illegal spirits faces a felony that carries five years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines.
Getting a Commercial Distillery Permit
Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) allows individuals or business entities to apply for a permit to distill, import, manufacture, transport, store and sell their product. They must put their application in writing, outline what they intend to do with their product and include any applicable fees in cash, certified check or postal money order.
A spirit distiller seeking a permit will pay an annual fee of $1,000 for each distilling or manufacturing plant. A person making vinous liquors (except wines) will pay a yearly state permit fee of $500 for each distilling or manufacturing plant. Those who distill brandy or other alcoholic beverages for use in native wines made from the juices of berries, grapes, and other fruits or vegetables grown in Arkansas will pay a $250 annual permit fee for each distilling or manufacturing plant.
Home-Brewed Beer and Microbreweries in Arkansas
In 2019, Arkansas changed the way it defines home-brewed beer. The old definition limited alcohol-by-volume to 5 percent. Act 861 lifted the limit and expanded the definition to include ale, beer, porter, stout and other fermented beverages with 0.5 percent or greater alcohol content by volume, produced or brewed by malt or from malt substitute. Arkansas home brewers can now legally bring their beer to places outside of their homes, including other people's homes, organized tastings (where they can share it, but not sell it), competitions and exhibitions.
Arkansas state law also allows for the operation of microbreweries in the state's dry counties, but they must operate as private clubs and include a restaurant. A microbrewery in a dry county can brew a maximum of 45,000 barrels of beer annually and distribute their product to retailers, but they cannot distribute it themselves, unlike breweries in wet counties. Instead, they must use a wholesaler to sell their product in the retail market. Microbreweries in dry counties also cannot sell beer to patrons for off-premises consumption.
- Cornell Law: 26 U.S. Code Section 5602 - Penalty for Tax Fraud by Distiller
- Wide Open Eats: If Commercial Distillers Can Make Moonshine, Why Can't I?
- American Home Distillers: Home Distilling Laws: Is It Legal to Make Moonshine in Arkansas?
- Legal Match: Moonshine Laws
- FindLaw: What's the Punishment for Distilling Alcohol at Home?
- Justia Law: 2010 Arkansas Code Chapter 4 - Particular Permits Section 3-4-602 - Distillers or Manufacturers
- Fayetteville Flyer: Arkansas Beer-Friendly Laws Passed in Recent Legislative Session
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.