Monday, July 5, 2010

Respect My Authoritah!

This country has some pretty wacky attitudes about alcohol. The legacy of Prohibition ensues in much of our culture, as do the effects of monster lobbying efforts by our major beer, wine, and liquor producers. The combination of those two makes for some interesting legislation. Here's a run-down of a few items that have caught my attention in the past few months.
  1. Abita Brewing in Louisiana created Save our Shores (SOS) "weizen pils" from which 75 cents of every $5 bomber sale goes to oil-spill reparation. It's a slightly strong beer, clocking in at about 7% ABV. And yet - beer over 5% ABV is illegal to sell in Mississippi, and beer sold in bombers are illegal in Alabama... So it can't be sold in 2 of the 6 states with shores affected by the spill. D'oh. I'm sure this fact didn't escape Abita, and I wonder if the SOS has a double meaning. A great article on explains the whole story. 
  2. Homebrew competitions in Oregon have been canceled for the rest of the year! State law clearly dictates that "No person shall brew, ferment, distill, blend or rectify any alcoholic liquor unless licensed so to do by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. However, the Liquor Control Act does not apply to the making or keeping of naturally fermented wines and fruit juices or beer in the home, for home consumption and not for sale." Since homebrew competitions are not held in a person's home for home consumption, they clearly violate state law. Bummer. KATU out of Portland has more information on this story.
  3. Iowa recently changed state law to re-classify beer over 5% ABV. Previously, beer over 5% was classified as "liquor" and therefore subject to higher taxes. And, perhaps more importantly, it barred Iowa breweries from making and selling beer over 5% ABV because of the classification. While ABV doesn't necessarily mean the beer is better (hello Berliner Weiss), it significantly restricted Iowa breweries from exercising creativity and from brewing the majority of beer styles that exist. Thank goodness for activism and common sense.
  4. Home brewing beer in Oklahoma is illegal. But not for long! Oklahomans can brew wine and cider legally, but beer brewing is illegal - until November 1 of this year. It's because of the efforts of home brewers contacting their state representatives that made this happen, and grass roots organization is likely what will change other restrictive laws in the future. Congratulations, Oklahoma, and your law-breaking, beer-brewing delinquents.
It's worth noting that home brewing is still illegal in Alabama and Mississippi. Clearly, our states still have a bit of catching up to do. I don't mind dealing with varying laws in different states, but it's clearly ridiculous to have laws such as those above that apply restrictions based on arbitrary definitions. Thankfully, both the public and legislators in these areas have some common sense. 

However, Big Alcohol has quite the influence on state laws yet, and even more control over things like shelf space and taxation. If you're interested in the influences large brewing conglomerates have on our society, and how craft beer organizations are working toward changing both our culture and our laws, check out Beer Wars. It opened my eyes to the amount of influence large brewing organizations have on this part of our culture. I definitely enjoy a Budweiser or Coors (not the light versions), but the amount of power they have on such a wonderful part of American culture turned me off to their products.

I leave you with this on your Independence Day weekend. Celebrate American ingenuity, creativity, and old-fashioned hard work. And keep your thumbs on your state legislators. It's a shame to see outdated perspectives on craft beer and homebrew. Celebrate the removal of creative restrictions, and prost those who step over the boundaries of lobbying and outdated values. Cheers!


  1. Great post. Liquor laws are still absurd...and they were even more ridiculous 20 years ago (yep, I'm a Kansan). Prohibition ended 75+ years ago, people!

  2. I don't know what the hell is worse...

    These laws OR the people who come up with them. Why is it that they fail to see that a serious amount of the problems that stem from alcohol in THIS country are a direct result of the laws and more importantly the drinking and alcohol culture that it creates.

    I couldn't even finish reading them all, I just got started getting more and more upset.

    Speaking of Oklahoma booze laws. Did you know that you can't bring in out of state alcohol? Their stuff up there is rated differently or has different ABV's up there or something if I remember clearly. You have any idea how hard it can be to find craft beer up there when you're up there camping and riding?!?!!?

  3. Stupid laws in Texas, too:

    1. As I've been covering both on my blog and my newspaper, wineries can sell their product on the premises, but breweries can't. And the influence of "Big Alcohol" keeps it that way: the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas lobbying group has twice blocked bills that would change that.

    2. Texas law arbitrarily classifies anything under 5% as "beer" and anything over 5% must be labeled as "ale." When the publicity guy for one of the breweries brought over their new doppelbock, he was apologetic about the labeling: "Yes, I KNOW bock is a lager, we're required to label it this way …"

    3. As for Alabama and Mississippi, I used to have a history professor who said Mississippi's state motto should be "Last in Everything." And a running political joke in Texas is that our state motto should be "Thank God for Mississippi" because it helps Texas to not look not quite so backward. The brewer at the new brewpub in my neighborhood left Alabama in large part because of those homebrewing laws.


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