This chapter is written specifically for those readers who live in countries where it is currently illegal for amateurs to make their own homemade spirits. This means almost all of us. It is also written for government officials, politicians, law enforcement agencies, the news media and any advocacy groups with an influence on public policy.
The conflict between governments and moonshiners has been going on for centuries and the reasons are not hard to find. From the government point of view alcohol in one form or another is in such demand that it can be heavily taxed without fear of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. From the moonshiner's or smuggler's point of view the spread between the cost of manufacture of alcohol and cost to the consumer after tax is so great that the incentive to circumvent the law is considerable. This incentive grows greater and greater with each tax hike until a point is reached where people are driven by taxation policy to smuggle liquor or make their own, the net result being that tax revenues actually decrease while crime is encouraged.
The dollar figures involved are informative. When alcohol is made on a large scale, as it is for the fuel-alcohol industry (gasohol) its cost of manufacture is about 25 cents per litre. This is for 100% alcohol. If diluted to the 40% commonly used for vodka, gin and other distilled spirits a litre would contain about 10 cents (U.S.) worth of alcohol. The retail price of a litre of vodka will lie somewhere between $10 and $20 depending on the country and level of taxation. The mark-up is enormous. To be fair, some of the difference is due to the scale of manufacture, the purity of the product, transportation, the profit margin, etc., but even allowing for these factors the tax burden on the consumer is extremely high. In an attempt to justify their actions and to persuade consumers to accept them, governments promote the idea that drinking is not only sinful but harmful to your health, so (they say) the tax is made deliberately high in order to protect you! As Scrooge would say, "Bah, humbug"
In light of the above, is it any wonder that an unscrupulous operator will attempt to sell his alcohol direct to the consumer, perhaps at half the nor mal retail price which would still give him a very handsome profit? Or is it any wonder that the authorities crack down hard on anyone attempting to interfere with their huge source of revenue, their milch cow?
This battle between the law enforcement agencies (the good guys) and the smugglers and bootleggers (the bad guys) has been a perfect subject for stories and movies, and one which turned into real life drama during Prohibition in the United States in the 1920's. Police and gangsters fought it out with bullets, bombs and bloody mayhem, one gang slaughtering another to gain control of the market, and while all this was going on the law-abiding citizens of the world sat on the sidelines, took it all to heart and shivered in their shoes. The average person is now convinced that the production of spirits is inherently evil, something to be tightly controlled by the authorities or blood will run in the streets.
Beer and wine do not suffer from such a bad press. Being of a philosophical turn of mind the author has speculated on the underlying reasons for this. One reason may be that beer and wine-making are traditional activities and therefore hallowed by tradition. It is an activity which poets and shepherds and decent country folk might engage in as they play their flutes and dance around the Maypole. Distilling, by contrast, invokes an image of unholy forces at work — alchemists and necromancers. Or the satanic mills of industry and the callous face of science.
A more prosaic reason based on dollars and cents is that it would be uneconomical for smugglers and bootleggers to transport a lot of water. So they concentrate the alcohol by distilling it and thereby reduce the weight and volume 8-fold. In this way much more can be loaded into a ship or truck.
Unfortunately, the "wickedness" of home distilling is now so ingrained in the social psyche that this alone is enough deterrent to make many law-abiding citizens not only refuse to engage in it but even to discuss it. Thus, it has become self-policing.
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