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On the Subject of Craft Beer

Posted by Anthony on September 7, 2015

Quite possibly the best way to start your day

The absolute best way to start your day

The word legacy is often tossed about with impunity since those opining on any particular legacy are usually in a position to observe without being observed on their marking; what we mean here is that the people who decide on an individual’s legacy are often doing it from afar both spatially and chronologically. So it is with President Jimmy Carter, of late, sadly, admitting to being afflicted by that most odious of maladies: cancer.

Those looking over President Carter’s legacy as a political leader tend to render their verdict based upon the subsequent eight years of President Ronald Reagan. They point to the malaise that existed during the Carter years, the long gas lines due to shortages, indeed even the Iran hostage crisis falls clumsily at his feet. Compared to the “feel good” 1980s, with Reagan staring down the Soviet Union, bombing Libya, and creating a general attitude of positive Americanism, what lasting contribution could Carter have to offer this esteemed country?

The answer lies in H.R. 1337, a bill signed into law in 1978 by President Carter which essentially allowed for home-brewing beer with an alcohol content higher than 0.5%. In other words, President Carter opened the taps (if you will) to what would become a flourishing industry in the United States and one that would have a positive impact culturally and economically up to the present day. Before the home-brew revolution, American beer had never really recovered from the post-Prohibition days of bland, macro beers using inexpensive adjuncts and selling because there was quite literally nothing else with which to compete.

What the home-brew bill did was enable innovative entrepreneurs to experiment and learn brewing from the ground up. Companies like Sierra Nevada which began in 1979 by two home-brewers now produce almost a million barrels of beer a year and employs around 450 people. Even bigger is the Boston Beer Company whose founder, Jim Koch, famously brewed his first batch of beer in his own kitchen in 1984. His company now produces over 2.5 million barrels of beer a year and employs 1,300 people. The numbers are astounding: in 1979, there were 89 breweries in the United States; in 2013, there were 2413. In an almost unbelievable side note, and just to show you how much the macro-breweries are pumping out, these breweries which produce 480,000,000 (four-hundred and eighty million) gallons of beer per year represents 7.8% of the total market by volume. Do the math.

Today one can find a craft-brewery in almost every major town (or right outside of it) in the United States. These places often have strong local ties and, because they are producing maybe a few hundred gallons at a time (or less), can be much more experimental with their beers than those companies that need to produce 100x that amount every day. Unlike Germany, with its Reinheitsgebot , American brewers are free to dabble with various grains, fruits, and more exotic additions (cinnamon, peanut-butter, chocolate) in an attempt to create a beer that really speaks about the ambitions of the brewer and his/ her craft.

In conclusion, while he may be pilloried for his political accomplishments, President Carter should always be remembered as the man who made this brewing revolution possible. So the next time you travel down to Dover, Delaware, and visit our friends at Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company, or Athens, Georgia, and taste the offerings at the Terrapin Beer Company, or even find yourself in Northern Alabama (Madison to be exact) and partake of what’s on tap at the Blue Pants Brewery raise your first glass to President Carter; if you enjoy craft beer, you owe him at least that.

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