Alcohol still laws in the UK

Written by jack hugo
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Alcohol still laws in the UK
The UK government prohibits operation of privately owned alcohol stills. (Getty Thinkstock)

Laws regarding alcohol stills have understandable existed for a long time in the UK, given our love affair with booze and the amount of money alcohol sales generate per year. Small kettle like stills are available to purchase in the UK but the law surrounding them is a little complex so pay attention! Depending on the quantity and strength of alcohol you produce, stock, distribute, sell or use, you may need to be authorised or licensed by HMRC and pay tax on your produce. Another purpose a still serves is to produce biofuel which is also regulated by HMRC. The penalties for breaking alcohol laws are stiff, but neither fines nor jail time have prevented thousands of illegal distilleries--often run by "moonshiners"-- from building and operating illicit stills.

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Type of alcohol

Registration with HM Revenue and Customs depends on the type and strength of the alcohol you are producing. If you produce beer for commercial reasons and its strength exceeds 1.2% ABV, you must register as a brewer with HMRC and pay Beer Duty. According to the HMRC guidance, "if you produce beer for scientific reasons - eg for research - you don’t need to register with HMRC or pay Beer Duty, but you must notify HMRC of your activities."

Legal ownership

If you have a still then you will be most likely be producing spirits. Spirits Duty is payable on any spirits, or any mixture or combination of spirits with anything else, at a strength of more than 1.2% ABV. And in accordance with HMRC guidance, you must have:

A distiller’s licence; Approval for your plant and process; Account for and pay Spirits Duty to HMRC.

It is legal to own a small alcohol still, as long as you don't make alcohol with it and do not intend to drink alcohol produced from it. You can also use a small still to extract essential oils from organic matter, but only if the extraction process does not utilise a solvent that results in an alcohol by-product.

Building alcohol stills

It is legal to both build and sell an alcohol still, and the seller is not responsible if the buyer uses it for illegal purposes. An individual cannot build an alcohol still with the goal of personal consumption, but he can build an alcohol still if he uses it for some other purpose.


The penalties for making alcohol in an unregistered still begin at not more than £6,500, 5 years in jail, or both for a first offence. The government sometimes confiscates the property where the still is located.

Legal alcohol stills

Alcohol stills may be owned and operated if you fill out the proper forms with HMRC, keep copious records, pay high certification fees, provide a bond and comply with all tax requirements. If you are licensed by HMRC as a distiller, you must:

Secure your premises and the spirits you produce; Keep accurate records and accounts, and make accurate returns on time; Take appropriate measures to prevent any losses; Promptly examine any losses and identify the causes; Investigate any irregularities.

Alcohol stills are also legal for those who wish to distil ethanol as a fuel, but permits, applications and extensive record keeping are mandatory. Only registered distilleries are permitted to legally make alcohol.

New Zealand and Peru are the only two countries outside the United Kingdom where home distillation is legal.

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