Distilling Contractor

Is Home Distilling Legal in the UK?

Blending

If you have ever enjoyed making a home beer brew or perhaps a batch of wine from garden produce, you may have wondered whether you can extend this popular hobby to distilling your own alcohol at home, too. Next, you might then have asked yourself is home distilling legal in the UK? Distilling is the process of producing spirits, such as vodka, rum or gin by fermentation, before heating a still to extract the right form of alcohol, and then collecting the spirit, ready for further processing or ageing. Home distilling appeals to hobbyists who enjoy experimenting with different ingredients and flavours and like to apply an artisanal approach to crafting their own spirits.

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Is Home Distilling Legal in the UK?

Here in the UK, it is illegal to distil alcohol at home without the appropriate licenses and permits. This applies whether you are distilling for home consumption or commercial use. The reason that distilling is more strictly regulated than home brewing and wine making is due to the distillation process involving concentrated alcohol levels.

What permits do I need to distil alcohol in the UK?

Depending on the scale and purpose of your distillation projects, there are various licenses:

Rectifier’s Licence: This is a specific type of licence issued by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that allows the holder to engage in the rectification of spirits. Rectification is the process of blending, refining, or treating already distilled spirits to achieve a desired flavour, quality, or strength.

Compounder’s Licence: A type of licence issued by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that permits the holder to compound or mix alcoholic beverages without the need for distillation. The purpose of a compounder’s license is to regulate and control the production of alcoholic beverages that do not involve the process of distillation. A compounding licence does allow you to mix or blend alcoholic beverages, flavour and fortify them, and dilute them.

Why is distilling alcohol at home illegal?

3 main (and very good!) reasons!

  • Firstly, it’s a matter of public health and safety – for you, and for those consuming what you produce. Poorly distilled spirits can contain harmful impurities or have extremely high alcohol content, which can lead to severe health problems or even death if not regulated and handled properly. It’s crucial to work to safety protocols at every stage, and then communicate the contents via clear labelling.
  • Alcohol is a taxable commodity, so licencing and regulating alcohol production allows the government to monitor and collect tax on the sale and production of alcoholic beverages accordingly.
  • A quick google of food and drink production throughout history is sure to convince you that we do not want to go back to the days of unregulated and illicit trading of spirits! Illegally produced and smuggled alcohol is unsafe for consumers, pushes up related crime – in much the same way as the illegal drug trade – and is detrimental to legitimate businesses, who invest a lot of time and effort into doing things safely and legally.

The answer to the question is home distilling legal in the UK is yes it most certainly is!

Ouch. Fair enough! How to get a distiller’s licence?

We would always recommend you contact HMRC directly to ensure you obtain the right permits for your purposes, but we have outlined some tips on what to expect right here:

  1. Identify the type of distiller’s licence that best suits your needs: This could be a Rectifier’s Licence if you intend to further refine already distilled spirits, or a Compounder’s Licence if you plan to mix alcoholic beverages, without the need for distillation.
  2. There will be requirements you need to put in place. These may include having suitable premises, meeting safety standards, providing financial information, and demonstrating your ability to comply with relevant laws and regulations.
  3. Obtain the application form for the distiller’s licence from HMRC online. Complete the form accurately and thoroughly, providing all requested information.
  4. Submit any required supporting documents, such as floor plans of the premises, details of equipment used, proof of financial stability, and any other relevant information. Depending on the scale of your operation, this will often need to be provided in the form of a business plan.
  5. HMRC will conduct inspections of the premises to ensure they meet the necessary standards for alcohol production.
  6. After submitting your application and undergoing any necessary inspections, you will need to await HMRC’s decision on whether to grant the distiller’s licence before you can start production. This process may take some time, so hang fire! They will provide you with a rough timeframe of when a decision can be expected.
  7. If your application is approved and you receive the distiller’s licence, ensure that you comply with any conditions or requirements specified by HMRC. These conditions will be outlined on your licence. Failure to comply will hold heavy penalties.
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What’s the penalty of illegally distilling alcohol in the UK?

Now we have gone through the reasons for needing the right permits in place to distil alcohol, you’ll understand that the penalties for endangering the public and not paying appropriate tax can be severe! Those caught distilling alcohol without appropriate licencing can face substantial fines, confiscation of equipment, criminal charges and even imprisonment, in some cases.

It’s crucial that anyone venturing into home or small-scale commercial distilling understands the consequences of not having the right facilities and licencing in place and enforcement agencies take breaches seriously. If you are looking to produce your own spirits and want complete control over the recipe, flavourings, strength and profile of your drink then it’s always best to work with a distilling partner who can advise on how to produce a successful and compliant spirit, and also save you money on set up costs and equipment. If you have an idea for a product and want to tap into our expertise and experience, don’t hesitate to get in touch here.

Disclaimer: All information is correct at the time of writing. Kettlesing Distilling Company Ltd does not accept liability for any errors or omissions.