October 14 is the anniversary of the day that homebrewing beer without federal taxation was made possible in the United States, thanks to President Jimmy Carter, in 1978. The law officially became effective in 1979. Homebrewing had been banned when Prohibition began in 1920, but—shockingly—homebrewing surged past its pre-Prohibition popularity. The ingredients were easy to come by, and it wasn’t as dangerous to produce as liquor. However, many states, counties, and even cities have passed their own laws.
The beer industry is full of brewers who got their start in a basement or garage, experimenting with extract kits, all-grain systems, and other cool gadgets. Homebrewers are vital to the craft-beer industry, but many found that they were unable to participate in their pastime (or at least had to brew on the DL) because of legal obstacles. With the huge surge in homebrewers over the past decade or so, however, many laws that were outdated (and some that were pretty absurd) were called to task and changed to fit our current culture.
But some states still have some pretty prohibitive laws concerning homebrewers. While laws in some states are actively enforced and prosecuted, many times they’re overlooked (which probably depends a lot on how much of a problem they become in the community, complaints by other citizens, and other factors). One issue lawmakers say gets in the way of changing laws is that there are just so many people wanting to get new laws on the books, and they have to prioritize—homebrewers getting to brew might not be at the top of that list of laws to change, but they’re also not at the top of the list of laws to enforce, either.
In honor of this important date in history, we wanted to revisit some of the more…interesting laws that have plagued (er, been on the books for) homebrewers and craft-beer lovers, past and present.
- Some states allow brewers to do their thing, but have restrictions on the alcohol by volume (ABV) or alcohol by weight (ABW). Now, I’m pretty sure there isn’t an ABV/ABW inspector running from house to house with a hydrometer to make sure brewers are in compliance. However, you probably don’t want to go Live on Facebook to show off your super-boozy 19 percent ABV Imperial IPA if you’re in a state with ABV restrictions! In Tennessee and Mississippi, it’s illegal to brew anything more than 10 percent ABV, in West Virginia 12 percent, in Washington, D.C. 14 percent, in North Carolina 15 percent, in South Carolina 17.5 percent ABV, and in Oklahoma 3.2 percent ABW (with the proper state-issued permit).
- Utah didn’t legalize homebrewing until 2009, Oklahoma until 2010, and Alabama and Mississippi until 2013. However, Mississippi still has cities and counties that are considered “dry” where no alcoholic beverages are allowed.
- In many states, you can brew up to 200 gallons of homebrew a year if two adults live on the premises, and only 100 if you’re single. Connecticut allows for 100 gallons for two-person households, and 50 gallons for one-person households. Delaware doesn’t have a requirement for the number of adults who live in a household, but limits the brew capacity to 200 gallons.
- Brewers in Idaho are restricted to using “native-grown” products to brew with. They, too, are restricted to 100 gallons for a single-person household, and 200 gallons for a double-person household.
- Iowa has two classifications to consider: “beer” is 5% ABW or lower, and “high alcoholic content beer” is higher than 5% ABW. If you’re looking to get creative with your flavors, you’ll want to check out the statute itself for restricted ingredients—they get pretty specific! And forget having a homebrew bottle share—you can’t exchange bottles at all, nor can you transport more than 5 gallons at a time.
- Colorado lawmakers finally introduced House Bill 1084 that allowed those who are not “head of household” to brew beer. The family that brews together, stays together.
- Up until a few years ago, New Jersey homebrewers had to apply for and pay for a license from the state to brew beer at home—the homebrew community rallied against that, and it was repealed.
- It’s against the law in all states to use the U.S. Postal Service to send beer. UPS and FedEx allow you to send it as long as you have a special permit to do so, which is limiting to homebrewers who want to enter competitions or to those who just want to send a bottle or two to a friend. In fact, many states have restrictive transport laws—in Tennessee, you can’t brew more than 5 gallons at a friend’s house and drive it home, for example, because any more than that is for “purposes of distribution.”
I’m sure you’ve heard of some interesting laws, too! We’d love to hear them.
From ingredients to equipment, process, and recipes—extract, partial-mash, and all-grain—The Illustrated Guide to Homebrewing is a vital resource for those new to homebrewing or those who simply want to brew better beer. Order your copy today.