Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Make a sustaining gift to support independent journalism in the Granite State.
A food blog from NHPR news, digital, & programming staff, exploring food & food culture around the state & the New England region. On-air features air Thursdays on All Things Considered and Saturdays during Weekend Edition.

Foodstuffs: In Manchester, Distillery Gear Maker Has High Hopes For Homemade Liquor Bill

Peter Biello
Jon Zajac (left) watches Bobby Jones at the Distillery Network work on a still.

Making your own liquor at home is illegal under federal law. A bill in the New Hampshire House right now would legalize the distilling of a limited amount of alcohol in the same way the state regulates in-home production of wine and beer. One local entrepreneur who sells stills is hoping the bill will provide a boost to his business.
In a workshop off Depot Street in Manchester, foreman Jeremy Burrows rolls a beautifully-shined sheet of copper through a machine to emboss it.

"I just pretty much made the design for the pots. We do it also for the thumper and the worm. Kind of make it looks better."

Thumper, worm, kettle and all the other parts of this hobby distillation unit will come together here. The finished product looks elegant, like those shiny copper pots you might see at Williams Sonoma. Unlike those pots, these stills can cook up essential oils, purified water, perfumes, and yes, moonshine.

"Over the past ten years, there's been a huge renaissance with brewing beer at home. And now the same thing's happening with hard alcohol. And we're here to help."

Thirty-year-old Jon Zajac is the owner of The Distillery Network. Here in the workshop it's cold, warmed in part by the flames of blow torches, and Zajac wears a winter coat as he supervises about a half-dozen workers as they fit together the copper still pieces.

"These moonshine stills are the bongs of alcohol," Zajac says.

Like bongs, which are legal if they're used with tobacco, these stills are legal in New Hampshire, depending of course on and how you use them.

"We've had grandmothers making marinades with these. Essential oils, fragrances. It's not just for moonshine," Zajac says.

But Moonshine is a huge draw for Zajac's would-be customers, if you believe comments on the Distillery Network's Facebook page. Self-described "survivalists" also want stills to purify water or create fuel alcohol, which is legal under federal law. Zajac says his stills would have been handy in Houston, Texas, after the recent flooding.

"Water was $100/gallon. If you had one of these, you could put swamp water in it and get fresh water," Zajac says.

For that reason, Zajac says, everyone in the world needs one of these. The business is kind of a Zajac family tradition. His father in Nashua makes big stills for commercial purposes.

The Distillery Network grosses somewhere between half a million and a million dollars a year. Zajac won't say exactly how much. But he says if New Hampshire passes a law legalizing hobby home distilling, he thinks his business would grow tremendously, even if the feds frown upon it.

"I just think they understand the market's overwhelming," he says.

Zajac says he believes demand is out there. Forty-five year old Christopher Biello (no relation) of Belmont, New Hampshire says he'd probably try making bourbon if the state legalized it.

"I tend to reach for the top shelf when I go to the liquor store for a bottle of bourbon anyway and I think it would be fun to make my own," Biello says.

Biello says he's not bothered by the fact that it would still be illegal under federal law. He says he doubts the feds would waste time on his small home operation.

It's unclear how much support the effort to legalize home liquor distilling in New Hampshire has in the State House, but Zajac has started a New Hampshire Hobby Distillation Association page on Facebook to rally other would-be home distillers to the cause.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.