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Alabama, Mississippi enter an era of craft beer enlightenment

At the beginning of this month, brewing beer in your kitchen was as illegal as producing bathtub gin if you happened to live in Alabama. In early March, the same could be said for your neighbors next door in Mississippi.

But in March, a bill to legalize home brewing passed in Mississippi, and Alabama followed suit last week, making home brew legal in all 50 states.

You may be surprised to learn that brewing your own beer was previously illegal anywhere in the country. It's a fairly innocuous hobby; soaking grains in hot water to make them sugary, boiling the resulting liquid in some water with flowers, then adding yeast to the solution hardly seems like felony material. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and — of course — Samuel Adams were all home brewers, as were many Americans in Colonial times.

Blame Prohibition. The ban on brewing beer at home was one of the longest lasting relics from that ill-conceived attempt at making Americans stop having fun. Most states started allowing folks to whip up their own beer back in the late '70s, when home brewing became legal again under federal law, but it took a while for everyone to catch on. Utah and Oklahoma have only come on board within the past four years, and now, Alabama and Mississippi residents are free to fire up their brew kettles at will.

Well, almost. Federal law already restricts the amount of beer that one can brew at home — 100 gallons per year for individual adults, or 200 gallons per household. It sounds like a lot, but with friends constantly refilling pints of your house pale ale, it can go quickly. In Alabama, the situation is severe; brewers are limited to 15 gallons every three months, putting a cap on output at 60 gallons per year. For most home brewers who produce 5-gallon batches, that's only one brew a month.

Considering that state employees in Alabama were actively raiding shops that sold home-brewing equipment as recently as last year, 60 gallons is still a major victory. Even with heavy restrictions in place in Alabama, the fact that residents of all 50 states can finally brew legally is a big deal, and it indirectly shows that beer's reputation is cleaning up nicely.

It's not unreasonable to point to craft beer's continued rise in popularity as the reason for this evolution. Beer is shedding its image as a lowbrow, crude product, desirable solely for its drunkenness-inducing properties, and it's most certainly due to the fact that the average citizen is developing a taste for double IPAs and barrel-aged saisons. The legalization of home brewing in Mississippi and Alabama is as much a PR victory for beer in general as it is a boon to the estimated 7,000 home brewers in those states.

Craft-beer advocacy groups also played a big role in this. The Right To Brew organization was instrumental in getting Alabama's recent bill passed, and Mississippi's Raise Your Pints organization even employed lobbyists to help gain traction in the state capital.

Of course, not everyone's celebrating. In Alabama, one of the most vocal opponents of the bill to legalize home brewing in the state was the nebulously named Citizens' Action Program, whose executive director, Joe Godfrey, insists that alcohol is "bad for our culture and our society." The group is concerned that beer's "mind-bending" properties will contribute to a sharp rise in alcoholism.

But alcohol is already legal to purchase in most parts of Alabama, as well as Mississippi. Forbidding home brewing as a hobby out of fear of rampant alcoholism when people can much more easily buy a $7 bottle of vodka at the liquor store is absurd at best, and disingenuous at worst.

The real effect of the legalization of home brewing will not be streets filled with drunken zombies, brains twisted from excessive home-brew consumption; it'll be people enjoying the fun, time-honored pastime that the rest of the country has been partaking in for years.

Cheers to the states of Mississippi and Alabama for making it happen.

— jg@saintbeat.com

Alabama, Mississippi enter an era of craft beer enlightenment 05/16/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 12:40am]
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