Homebrewing Laws Tapped for Change

How do you brew? For brewing enthusiasts in two states, not at all when it comes to making your own beer and wine.

Many state alcohol laws have not been updated since the end of prohibition in the 1930s, well before home brewing clubs, festivals and competitions for some 1 million homebrewers even existed, says Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder, Colorado.

Alabama and Mississippi are the only states where homebrewing is still illegal. That may change. Pending in the Alabama House is legislation that would legalize homebrewing. Oklahoma legalized homebrewing in 2010 and Utah the previous year.

An effort in Mississippi has failed so far this year, although the state last week did update its alcohol limit laws by allowing beer to have an alcohol content of up to 8 percent by weight, up from 5 percent, which had been the lowest in the country.

Even the laws on the books, however, are dated and homebrewers are lobbying statehouses to change them. In Wisconsin, Glass's American Homebrewers Association and the Wisconsin Homebrewers Alliance pushed for legislation that Governor Scott Walker signed earlier this month that lifted current restrictions prohibiting homebrew from leaving the home where it was made.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue had determined that under state law, homebrew could not be consumed outside the home where it was produced. A similar law had existed in Oregon, until last year when it was changed like Wisconsin's. While no one was charged, homebrewers didn't want to take a chance.

Also this year, New Jersey eliminated the requirement that homebrewers buy a $15 license to make any beer or wine for home consumption, a permit that many people didn't know about or bothered to get.

Glass says it makes good economic for states to have a robust homebrewing community. Many, if not most, up-start breweries are founded by homebrewers, he says, including the top three craft breweries in the United States, Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., and New Belgium Brewing Co.  

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