This week I’m attending the annual Regional Leadership Conference put on by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The conference this year – as with prior years – is full of great speakers, thoughtful panel discussions and excellent opportunities to network with the leaders of our local business community. All very good things.
But since the conference is held in something approaching central Washington state (specifically it is held at Suncadia Resort – about 80 miles east of Seattle), it is also very close to the city commonly known (and marketed) as the “Apple Capital of the World” – Wenatchee, Washington. And since the conference is held in the fall – and seeing as how I’m fortunate enough to have a cider press at home – I’ve been known to take a slight detour after leaving the conference to head up to Wenatchee and buy as many cider apples (and potentially pears) as can be shoehorned into the back of my vehicle. This year will be no exception – and I anticipate spending much of the weekend with family and friends pressing the apples into cider – a good deal of which will then go into carboys to ferment.
As I’ve discussed previously, home distillation is still illegal under federal law (and the laws of most states). But making cider, on the other hand, is perfectly legal so long as you’re making it for personal consumption (not sale) and you don’t exceed certain limits. Under federal law (27 CFR 24.75), I can make 200 gallons of the stuff per year without needing a permit.
So why can I make cider but not apple brandy without the feds knocking on my door? Setting aside the policy considerations, let me answer the technical legal question in simple terms. Under the Standards of Identity relevant for purposes of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, cider (or “perry” if we’re talking about the stuff made from pears) is technically a fruit wine – and wine production for personal consumption is entirely legal under federal law. Home brewing of beer for personal consumption is also legal under federal law (and has been since 1978) – with the same 200 gallon limit.
But once you’ve made that cider – federal law (and the laws of my home state of Washington) make it illegal to distill the cider without a permit. Note that the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (currently languishing in Congress) would create a safe harbor for home distillation for personal consumption. If that’s something you’re interested in – contact your senators and representatives and see what you can do to help push the bill along. With luck, you could enjoy applejack of your own making next fall.