As a person who has recently begun the process of moving to New Hampshire, I was incredibly excited to see that the House has recently had introduced a bill to allow for the hobby distillation of liquor, a hobby that I have recently become very interested in taking on. Hobby Brewing and Winemaking have been legal in New Hampshire for years (1998 for Beer, 2013 for Wine). There is no time like now to restore to New Hampshire residents a right that has been enjoyed by Americans for the first century and a half of our history, and also stand to reap the economic benefits of the Hobbyist to Professional pipeline.
For instance, in 1998, New Hampshire had 8 Active licensees for Beverage Manufacturing from the Liquor Commission according to the State License Verification search. By 2021, that number is 55. While not all of those are local hobbyists who chose to go pro, the path from Hobbyist to Craft Brewer is well documented in the beer world. Some Craft Distillers are being open about their illicit hobbyist pasts. It stands to reason that at least some of the 17 Licensed Distillers active today in New Hampshire also learned their craft as hobbyists in technical violation of State law. Isn't it better for New Hampshire to provide potential entrepreneurs to freedom to learn a craft that may lead to a new business, more employment, and increased tax revenue for the state?
Distillation is also a distinctly American Craft. George Washington was known to have been operating a Distillery producing nearly 11,000 gallons of Whiskey in 1799. Buffalo Trace's current Distillery has been in continuous operation in Kentucky for over two centuries. The Backwoods Moonshiners made notorious during Prohibition were people simply continuing the traditions of their communities since Distillation was introduced to this Continent by the settlers, caught by the winds of social change that did not last, but who's impacts have continued to criminalize activities that Americans had engaged in for hundreds of years.
There are, of course, common arguments against legalizing this hobby.
There remains the fact that hobby distillation remains illegal Federally. However, efforts have been starting since 2015 to legalize this at the federal level, which has had strong bipartisan support, and that support is likely to continue to grow. Plus, the growing legalization of Cannabis driven by the States nationwide has not only shown that the States can lead on these issues, and the House is currently considering de-scheduling Cannabis federally.
Many will point to risks and dangers of the hobby, such as the risk of fire from alcohol fumes or the risk of permanent physical damage from the methanol produced. I do not seek to minimize the existence of these risks, but they are easily mitigated, and if clubs and hobbyists can freely share their information without fear of reprisals from the State, than it becomes far more likely that people looking to start the hobby will be taught what they need to know to avoid these risks. We already allow so many hobbies to exist that carry significant risks. A woodworking lathe operating normally is far more dangerous than a properly functioning still, yet no reasonable person would suggest that woodworking hobbyists should be legally prevented from pursuing their hobby.
Finally, some will suggest that home distillation could undermine the growing Craft Distillation industry in New Hampshire. While I have already spoken to the Hobbyist to Professional pipeline previously, and also how New Hampshire has seen significant growth in Breweries in the decades since legalizing Home Brewing, there are other figures that are worth considering to this point.
New Zealand is one of the only Western nations that has legalized Home Distillation on a broad scale. As a result, it's cultural similarity to the US makes it a reasonable comparison for considering how this may impact the growth of the Liquor industry in the US. Per numbers from the World Health Organization's data book on Annual Revenues from Alcohol Excise Tax for both the US and New Zealand, and cross referencing it with the Population Numbers from the WHO from those same years, we can see the following data:
|New Zealand||United States|
|Year||Excise Tax (Total)||Population||Tax per Capita||Excise Tax (Total)||Population||Tax per Capita|
So in the time since New Zealand legalized home distillation, it's seen it's tax revenues per resident increase by nearly 20%, while the US has only seen about a ~10% increase. Hobbyists love whatever it is they are crafting. In the Craft Beer space we've seen that Hobbyists tend to buy more, and more expensive, Beers, as they explore the hobby. It stands to reason that we would see the same pattern with Home Distillers. Just as with Home Brewing, it stands to reason that Home Distillation is not something that people will engage in expecting it to save money, but because they want to explore the world of liquor.
I sincerely hope that New Hampshire will choose to lead the United States on this issue, and that my legislators will co-sponsor this bill and bring a hobby already enjoyed by a great many Americans out of the dark.