Which Came First, the Brewpub or Deregulation?



Don't miss the thread James Fallows has been hosting, about whether or not Jimmy Carter was the true "king of beers," as he first noted a few weeks ago, when he linked to a Balloon Juice post by one E.D. Kain. In honor of International Beer Day, Kain said we shouldn't neglect the fact that Carter signed a law freeing home brewers to buy and use beer-making supplies that had been restricted since the end of Prohibition. As is often the case, only large commercial brewers were able to make and, of course, sell beer. That started to change, Kain wrote, in 1977, when Carter in effect deregulated the industry.

Not so, many readers cried—enough that Fallows posted an update in which he quoted a reader named Tom Hilton, who wrote that Carter's real achievement was not to deregulate the industry but to legalize home brewing:

What Carter did sign was HR 1337, which legalized homebrewing "for personal or family use, and not for sale"--'deregulating' individual, not commercial, behavior. The legalization of homebrewing did contribute to the growth of the craft beer industry (according to Charlie Papazian, 90% of the pioneer craft brewers started out making homebrew), so President Carter certainly deserves credit for that...but it just as certainly isn't "beer industry" deregulation.

Kain later strongly defended himself, saying that in legalizing home brewing Carter effectively let a thousand beer-making labs bloom:

In the pre-Carter days there was little or no access to home brewing supplies, very little knowledge base for do-it-yourselfers to draw from, and far less experimentation with home brewing, making it effectively impossible to gain entry to the beer market for non-corporate brewers. Carter's deregulation essentially stripped away all these barriers to entry, making it possible for a number of people who would otherwise not have entered the market to do so. Did deregulation of brewpubs also help lead to the craft beer explosion? Certainly. But as your reader notes, 90% of craft beers began as home brews. Without Carter's deregulation, the brewpubs themselves would never have taken off. 90% of the craft brews we now have would never have existed.

And the debate went on! In what Fallows said will be his last word on the subject, he quoted another dissent, from Alexander D. Mitchell IV:

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'm left simply grateful that there are so many more craft brewers now than there were before and wanting to read William Least Heat Moon's wonderful "A Glass of Handmade," published in The Atlantic in November of 1987 (and not available online)—and looking forward to the exciting debut of the Food Channel's own craft-brewer in the next few months.