Distilling home brandy may soon be decriminalized

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For centuries, Czechs have been fermenting and distilling their own fruit brandies. They have been doing so despite the fact that it’s illegal and that they could face up to twelve months in prison for tax evasion. However, this may be about to change. The lower chamber has started debating an amendment to the penal code that could decriminalize home distilling.

Home distilling of fruit, mainly plums, apples and apricots, has a long-lasting tradition here in the Czech Republic. Every second household in Moravia in the eastern part of the country is said to own an undercover distillery, which is usually hidden in the cellar. Producing home-made brandy is evidently a matter of pride among the locals. A shot of home-made brandy a day is believed to have miraculous healing powers able to cure virtually any kind of ailment.

A proposal to decriminalize home distilleries was debated a few years ago, but it failed to win approval. Now it has turned up again. According to Supreme Court judge Pavel Šámal who worked on the proposed amendment the ban is a relic of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when the state had a monopoly on distilling.

In practice, however, no one has been sentenced in years for making brandy for their own consumption. In most cases, the police have turned a blind eye on illegal producers. Moreover, the ban has led to the establishment of a network of local distilleries, where people can have their fruit distilled officially, and the number of home producers has dropped.

Under the new proposal home-making of brandy would not be regarded as a crime but only a minor offence, punishable by a fine. Those who produce alcohol in greater volumes in order to sell it illegally would however face more severe punishment.

Whether the amendment is passed or not in the end, one thing is clear: when the autumn comes around, Czechs will be ready to harvest their fruit and make their traditional brandy.