Slate’s Explainer column plumbed still waters last week, pondering why moonshine continues to be against the law in the United States. Plenty of people make their own beer at home, a hobby that was finally given the post-Prohibition green light with the passage of a 1978 bill allowing 100 gallons of home-brew per adult per household a year—enough to tip over the hardiest tippler (although some states, including Alabama, still outlaw making beer or wine at home). So what’s the difference when it comes to spirits?
The explanation, as one might expect, is a mixture of money, politics, and health concerns. The federal government collects a tidy sum in excise taxes on liquor. States want to control distribution and regulate the quality of the stuff (moonshine is often high in lead, which leaches from the equipment used to make it).