Homebrewing Is Illegal

by | industry

After prohibition home winemaking was legalized by federal law.  The lawmakers in 1933 forgot to add “and/or beer” when writing the new law.  There are two reasons no one corrected this flaw.  The first is because large breweries lobbied against it.  The other reason was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) wanted to keep the law in place so they could prosecute home distillers before they distilled their liquor.  That “anti-loophole” remained in place for 44 years.

Finally everyone got tired of drinking crappy beer and pushed to get the law changed.  This is the history every homebrewer knows.  What you might not know is the changed law provided the right for states to ultimately decide if it should be legal.  Hard to believe, but some states have different laws than other states.  Sure it is weird that you can’t turn right at a red light in Texas, but are the “important laws” really different?

supreme court

Even though Jimmy Carter made homebrewing legal, it's still not legal in all states

Not legal in Utah or Alabama

Then someone mentions Utah and their theocracy .  Oh yeah, you think, but you can’t really count Utah.   That state is just weird.  In 2008, the Utah representatives passed a resolution to legalize homebrewing, but the bill is currently held up in the Utah senate.  Some see this as a stalling tactic in hopes that the bill will die.  Either way, homebrewing in Utah is currently illegal.  Hopefully the law will change within the next few weeks.  So you can’t make beer in Utah, but you can elsewhere right?  No.

Alabama is fighting a similar battle.  In Alabama, not only can you not brew beer at home, you can’t even buy a beer that is higher than 6% ABV unless you are on a military base.  Military bases are subject to federal law, not state law.  As in Utah, religion is fighting the battle against the homebrewers.  What is the Alabama Southern Baptists argument against homebrewing?  “Beer corrupts the mind, body and soul”.  And of course, they pulled the “think of the children” card.    It is scary that religion in America could influence on laws that restrict personal behavior in 2008.

The list does not stop at Utah and Alabama.  Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma all do not have laws that protect the right to brew beer at home.  Kentucky and Oklahoma even have stiff penalties for producing alcohol.  In most cases, the state just does not specify the legality either way.  While the laws in these states were written to prevent distillation, the laws can be interpreted to prosecute homebrewing.

Homebrew laws are not clear in other states

Several other states the law is very unclear.  In Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and New York no one is really sure if it is legal or not.  These states have laws that could be interpreted either way and the laws have not been tested in court.  Louisiana law comes close to being tested with State v. Jordan, 20 So.2d 543.   In 1944 Dennis Jordan was arrested for making homebrew; however the State Supreme Court ruled making four bottles of homebrew did not equal manufacturing beer.  If a police officer decides to arrest you for homebrew in the other states, the ruling can go either way.  Do you feel lucky?

In South Carolina and West Virgina, the laws are even weirder.  In South Carolina, you can make beer as long as it is not over 5% ABV.  No tripels for South Carolina!  West Virginia law it is unclear how the law applies to beer.  You can possibly make “non-intoxicating beer”, but the law is fuzzy if homebrewers need a license.  “Non-intoxicating beer” is beer that is 6% ABV or lower.  Again you’re at the mercy of the court is someone decides to arrest you.

There are groups, like the American Homebrewers Association, that are trying to reverse or clarify the laws in many states.  You can always check the current status of your state on their site.

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!