Last Word on Carter as King of Beers and Roi Soleil

By James Fallows

soleil.jpgPreviously here and here. Reminder of the state of play: one person (Erik Kain), on the Balloon Juice site, wrote to praise Jimmy Carter for having brought on today's American craftbrew golden age, through various deregulatory measures. Then another person, Tom Hilton, wrote back to say: Jimmy Carter was a good man and all, but he didn't have anything to do with the likes of Three Floyds Alpha King. Summary of argument: Carter deregulated home brewing, but the real change was the state-by-state deregulation of brew pubs in the early 1980s. Then Kain wrote back and said: Yes, it was too Carter! And I said: Well, let's all get along. At least Carter [my one-time employer] put up those solar panels on the White House roof.

As the for-real final installment in this space on the topic, two items. First from Alexander D. Mitchell IV, of the Beer in Baltimore site, saying: No, it wasn't Carter. After the jump, from David Biello on the Scientific American site, the answer on what happened to those Carter-era solar panels. (Hint: think a big country near Japan that has just become the world's second-largest economy.)

That is all. Now, I give you Alexander D. Mitchell IV:

As the Baltimore beer blogger who himself took up the mission of debunking the seemingly popular"urban legend" promoted by Carlson and Kain, allow me a chance to rebut Kain's "it's all semantics" reply.

The term "deregulation" when applied to governmental affairs denotes, or at the very least implies, a relaxation of governmental regulation of an industry, trade, act, substance, or whatever. And that is the way Kain's post was subsequently misread by almost every subsequent commenter and blogger who grabbed at an excuse to make Carter look good--they read it as "Carter deregulated commercial brewing."

Kain replied to my blogpost, "If you remove a barrier to entry in any market that counts as deregulation." But Carter's signature only assisted those who wished to sell malt, hops, and yeast to homebrewers, and did nothing to "entry to the marketplace" for brewers. There was and is no commercial market for homebrew; in fact, homebrewers are expressly prohibited from commercially marketing their products. Furthermore, there was nothing on the Federal level prohibiting a brewer from starting a small brewery before Carter's signature. Kain tries to claim that the craft beer industry would not have flourished without homebrewers. While that may be a debatable point, to claim that stimulating an increased demand for quality beer is "deregulating the brewing industry" is a grotesque exaggeration. I suppose if Obama lifted certain Federal regulations on homebuilt electric vehicles, the same rationale would credit him with deregulating the auto industry, as long as some one person didn't buy a car and built an EV instead.
To apply the term "deregulated the beer industry" to the bill legalizing homebrewing is a supreme insult to the many hard-working zealots in the craft brewing avocation and industry--many of whom I'm proud to call friends, some of whom I'm on a first-name basis with--who personally lobbied for and shepherded the passage of numerous state laws actually permitting both homebrewing and the establishment of the microbreweries and brewpubs that give us reason to drink good beer. It's an insult to those who still have to jump through local and state hurdles, reasonable and no, to set up and operate a brewpub or microbrewery, or even to brew beer at home.

And it is a gross insult to those who still continue to labor to produce and serve craft beer for our enjoyment while bedeviled by a multitude of arcane, archaic, and sometimes asinine local, state, and federal regulations all hovering over their every move, brew, and keg. Ask the brewpub that has to legally sell every drop it makes to the county before it turns around and sells it back to its own customers. Ask the beer importers whose imports are banned in certain states because said states have no provision for recognizing anything but certain bottle sizes. Ask the bars in Philadelphia that were raided, and had legally-acquired beers confiscated, because the state liquor control board couldn't keep accurate track of the way they themselves listed the beers it regulated. Ask anyone who lives in Pennsylvania, where you can only buy prepackaged beer by the case except by paying tavern prices and mark-up. (Boy, you'd better love that Belgian import before you spend $120-150 on a case!) Ask folks in Maryland, where you can't have beer (or wine or other hooch) shipped to you across state lines. Ask those in Mississippi, where they had to wait an additional 20 years for state permission to open a microbrewery. Ask those in numerous states where the strength of beer permitted to be sold was restricted to only 6% alcohol by volume until recently (or still). Ask any brewer who wants to put the ingredients or nutritional information on a beer bottle label or can--still prohibited by Federal law. Ask any brewer that is prohibited from listing the level of alcohol in his beer on the bottle label by state law.

I truly appreciate The Atlantic being willing to admit its mistake in reporting. [Hey, I am not admitting any "mistake in reporting"! I am giving partisans of various interpretations their say. But you might want to be in touch with the Atlantic Wire...] I simply wish the whole "Carter deregulated brewing" meme hadn't taken on a life of its own thanks in no small part to the Atlantic blurb; the fallacy now threatens to replace "Benjamin Franklin said 'Beer is proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy'" as the most widespread untrue urban legend regarding beer.

Now, on the White House solar panels -- which have made their way to China, David Biello says:

He may not be the king of beers but he's still the king of alternative energy.

His linked story on the Carter solar saga is very much worth reading. Now, back to work. I may be absent from this space for several days, for dreaded "work" reasons.

Note to pedants: Yes, roi soleil is a little joke. I know it doesn't actually have anything to do with solar panels.
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Update bonus: further on the politics of beer, from a reader familiar with that history in New Jersey.

First the home brew then the brew pub seems about right to me. But political leadership was important.

Here in New Jersey brew pubs had been illegal since prohibition. An entrepreneur in Princeton wanted to open one and contacted his legislators about amending the law.

Senator Jack Ewing (R, Somerset County) responded, and his leadership has been commemorated by a small brass plaque attached to the back of one of the bar stools at Triumph Brewery on Nassau Street, just across from the campus. I've always regarded that little plaque as a monument an elected official can be proud of.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/08/last-word-on-carter-as-king-of-beers-and-roi-soleil/61811/