- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) - Homebrew clubs and people who grow their own pot make no secret of their efforts - and almost always share it with others - but the possibility of being found out has kept home distillers alone in the basement.

Distilling liquor for personal consumption is still illegal in Colorado and the other 49 states, even though it’s only considered a petty offense.

“Most people who distill at home don’t even tell their friends,” said Mike Lurbe, a member of Treehouse Brewing Club, a homebrewing club in Greeley.

Heather Bean, who owns Syntax Spirits, even has a hard time finding employees.

“With distilling, you can virtually find nobody,” she said. “Honestly, most of the people that kind of do the clandestine home distilling, they’re like retired engineers. They’re not going to be the young person who comes on and is going to do the heavy lifting and do distilling. And that’s because of the laws.”

However, home distilling is growing in popularity. It’s almost as popular as homebrewed beer, Bean said, and she knows this because of the number of people who strike up a conversation with her at Syntax.

“It’s actually incredibly popular,” Bean said, “and lots of people come in here and start talking about their home rigs.”

Bean said there’s also a reason the rise in the popularity of home distilling has paralleled the growth in homebrewing.

“People frequently actually make beer and then distill it,” she said. “Some people decide they should distill because they had a bad batch of beer. Other people get more pointed about it and just make things specifically for distilling.”

Making spirits for personal consumption has few monetary benefits if any, Bean said, because it takes a large amount of initial ingredients just to get a small amount of liquor.

“The people who tend to be into it are people who have been into homebrewing and into home vinification, and they’re just kind of interested in fermenting things and want to round out their profile,” she said. “Most of the people are just sort of the more professional who is kind of into this as a hobby, and they think, ‘Seriously, how big of a deal could it be? Who is going to show up in my basement on Friday night?’ Well probably nobody, unless you actually tell them that you want to sell a bunch of booze.”

It’s hard to understate just how the state of Colorado treats distilling in relation to other crimes. In the past three years, the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Liquor Enforcement Division has had only one home distilling case, in which the department confiscated about 10 bottles and three keg stills, said Daria Serna, the department’s communications director. The three stills enabled the distiller, who lived in southern Colorado, to make about 3 quarts of liquor at a time, or a little less than 3 liters. Serna said the person was attempting to sell the distilled liquor.

“I’ve never known anybody who has been caught for home distilling,” Bean said. “The only people I’ve heard of just through word of mouth type stuff are people who then try to sell their wares, which is just a dumb idea.”

With the advent of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado and the ability to grow plants for personal use at home, Bean said it seems almost silly to keep home distilling laws on the books. The reason they remain, she guessed, has to do almost entirely with tax revenue.

“As far as I can tell, the real reason behind home distillation being illegal is it’s very lucrative,” Bean said. “Even in the excise tax rates, we pay roughly 10 times more tax than beer and wine on each amount of spirit. So you can also imagine why no one wants to sort of let that slide.”

Bean said those taxes and the cost of distilling licenses can put a damper on businesses like hers, in more ways than one.

“I built our whole production line having absolutely no idea if it would actually work,” she said. “I’m a chemical engineer, and I fervently hoped that it would work. And it does work, it did work. But believe me, that was a lot of high blood pressure and heartburn before the first turn-on.”

Nevertheless, Bean said the law is the law, and she doesn’t condone anyone distilling anything other than water, vinegar or essential oils without a license. Bean pays more than $1,000 a year for her distilling license.

“This is why distillers have gotten that bad reputation, because we’re kind of thumbing our nose at the law more than we should be,” she said. “It is the responsibility of the distiller to abide by all applicable laws or accept the consequences.”


Information from: The Tribune of Greeley, Co, https://greeleytribune.com

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