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October 14, 2007

Beer Issues:

Homebrew For Humanity

Celebrate the anniversary of the law that helped spark the craft beer revolution.
by Jug Dunningan

Jug Dunningan is just here for the beer.
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Twenty nine years ago today, October 14th, 1978, House Resolution 1377 (Senate Amendment 3534) was signed and put into effect by President Jimmy Carter. The great thing about this wasn't that the House of Representatives and the President could actually agree on something, but that this repealed a somewhat shady law prohibiting home brewing.

This law legalized the tax exempt home brewing of beer by persons 21 and older in amounts of 100 gallons per year (200 per household). This came 45 years after the repeal of Prohibition. In 1933 Congress had actually wanted to legalize home brewing, but a typo left a legal “loophole” when the drafter forgot to include “and/or beer” to a phrase that legalized winemaking at home. There was some immediate support for rectifying this, but lobby from commercial brewers and the ATF (so they could prosecute moonshiners before they actually started distilling) killed the movement.

In the 1970s independent-thinking Americans were tired of the crappy light beers offered by the commercial breweries and began a home brewing underground movement to obtain quality beer. Los Angeles’ “Maltose Falcons” began America’s first home brew club in 1974. Support for this new subculture grew and a push to make home brewing legal gained momentum. Led in no small part by Charlie Papazian (author of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing), the movement gained the support of Senator Cranston of California who argued, “Home brewers brew home beer because domestic beer lacks the rich malty taste they like. Home brewers share a creative desire to concoct beer to their own personal taste. They also share a consumer’s need to cook a tasty brew for the equivalent of 15 to 25 cents a quart.” After gaining the support of Senator Schmitt of New Mexico, Senator Bumpers of Arkansas, and Senator Gravel of Alaska, the famous resolution was proposed.

It is worth noting that although Jimmy Carter made it legal to home brew federally, he reserved the right for states to deny it. Despite having several home brewing stores across the state, it is illegal by state code (28-1-1) to home brew in Alabama. In Georgia home brewing is legal, but only in the reduced amount of 50 gallons per household per year.

The sudden impact of quality craft beers being available greatly changed the tastes and styles of beer in America. In 1983, America could only claim 81 breweries (large or small). By 1995 the craft beer revolution was running at full speed and America could boast over 500 breweries.

Whether you home brew or not, the result of Jimmy Carter’s wisdom in signing House Resolution 1377 directly affects what is in your mug today. This October 14th make sure to fill your glass with your favorite home brew or craft beer and drink to Jimmy, Charlie and the USA for their work in getting us where we are today.

Prosit!