It was an important day for 'craft' beer, thirty seven years ago today, 14 October 1978. Back then 'craft' beer wasn't known as 'craft' beer. In fact, it only barely existed. And, that it does today, and thriving, you should first thank President Jimmy Carter for what he did on that day.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, lawmakers decided to again permit citizens to produce small amounts of wine and beer at home. However, due to a stenographer's error, the 1933 law failed to include beer, and, for the next forty-four years, the insalubrious omission stood as law. No congressperson believed it politically expedient to demand the right of his or her constituents to brew beer at home. As late as the 1970s, the federal penalty for home brewing was as much as five years in prison or a $10,000 fine.
That is, until January 1977, when Barber Conable, a House of Representatives Republican from New York, would introduce bill HR 2028. Alan Cranston, a Democrat from California, introduced a similar bill in the Senate, along with Senate co-sponsors former NASA astronaut Senator Harrison Schmitt (R) of New Mexico (R), Senator Dale Bumpers (D) of Arkansas, and Senator Mike Gravel (D) of Alaska.
The next year, 1978, these bills would become House Resolution 1337 and Senate Amendment 3534. And, on 14 October 1978, President Jimmy Carter would sign the combined bill into law, putting beer-making at home on the same legal footing as wine-making at home.
The law took effect a few months later, on 1 February 1979, but even so, it did not actually legalize homebrewing. Rather, it revoked the federal excise tax on homebrew, for up to one-hundred gallons per adult per year and a total of two-hundred gallons per household per year. (Two-hundred gallons is the approximate equivalent of eighty-nine cases of beer.) Actual legalization —the right to brew at home without fear of the police knocking at your door— would require state-by-state approval, as provided under the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.
Several states acted quickly; several did not. It would take until May 2013, for homebrewing to be legal in all fifty states, when Alabama (and Mississippi just preceding it) approved.
In the 1970s and 80s, there was a strong correlation between homebrewing and 'craft' brewing, with former homebrewers (some possibly benignly illicit, others, later and legal) going on to become brewers and owners at the few, new, microbreweries —what 'craft' breweries were then called. 1. In fact, in 1978, when Carter lifted the homebrewing restrictions, there was only one microbrewery in the U.S., New Albion Brewing, in California. (Or two. 2) There, Jack McAuliffe would brew an ale with a hop that had been released only five years earlier, Cascades, whose 'grapefruity' flavor quickly became the hallmark of the American Pale Ale style. In 1981, two homebrewers, Paul Camusi and Ken Grossman, opened their microbrewery, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and the microbrewery movement had begun in earnest.
Nearly four decades later, homebrewing and 'craft' beer again seem to be dancing partners. As the number of breweries in the U.S has surpassed 4,000, homebrewers are the driving force behind many of those small and very-small breweries opening at the rate of almost two per day.
Here's the late, great 'Beer Hunter', beer writer Michael Jackson, as recorded in 2004, reminiscing, with wry wit, on that important legal change, and the significance of homebrewing in America.
Enjoying that 'craft' beer you're drinking today? Thank a homebrewer; and thank President Jimmy Carter.
- 1 When did the phrases "craft beer" and "craft brewery first become used, and who coined them? Here's a suggestion from beer writer Stan Hieronymous:
Perhaps Vince Cottone was not the first to use the words “craft” and “beer” together, but in his 1986 “Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest” he put definitions of “craft brewery” and “true beer” into words when nobody else did. “I can’t swear I was the ‘first’ to use the term," said Cottone, "but I also don’t remember any source I borrowed it from. Possibly CAMRA used it in the UK before me, and in fact I traveled there in 1984 and ’85. If they did use it their usage was probably very casual and I don’t think they made any attempt to define it or promote it as an something like an appellation. I know of no brewing company who used it prior to my book.”
- 2 One could say that there were two 'craft' breweries in 1978. Over a decade earlier, in August 1965, fifty years ago this year, Fritz Maytag, an heir to the Maytag washing machine company, bought a majority stake in the failing Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco, which had opened under that name in 1896. Maytag would move and modernize the brewery, resuscitate the moribund 'steam' beer style, and brew the nation's first post-Prohibition barleywine and the first 'craft' IPA.
- Now 91 years old, former President Jimmy Carter was recently diagnosed with brain cancer.
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