You can make your own beer, wine, and hard cider at home without a license. However, there are regulations and permits that must be followed and precautions that should be taken to produce safe and enjoyable libations for friends and family – or for commercial sale if you so desire says, William D King. Regulations vary by state – some states allow unlicensed production of low alcohol content beverages ALL the way up to 30% abv (60 proof) – others do not permit ANY home brewing at all.
Initially, the federal government treated homemade alcohol as a health risk – it wasn’t until 1978 that Congress legitimized home brewing activities by legalizing small-scale possession and production of malt beverages for personal use and forbidding states from imposing taxes or licensing requirements on producers. Thus home brewers have had their own federally-mandated sign – a red and white diamond with “Homebrew” on one side and the letter B, circled by a wreath of hops, on the other.
As far as craft beers go – it’s not so much the “homebrew” label that matters, but the fact that beer is made with certain kinds of yeast and hops. The equipment used to ferment and brew craft beers has been federally certified as safe by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Breweries producing more than 60,000 barrels a year are required to get a TTB license – anything less than 60,000 barrels doesn’t require this federal license. However, there are state regulations about licensing breweries of ALL sizes. Thus we have Cottage Law Breweries – or what some call “Nano breweries.”
Cottage Law brewers produce batches often less than 10 gallons at a time – local focused production for on-site sales (or barely enough for a few growlers). Cottage brewers are allowed to sell their own beer on-site – but most do not have a restaurant or bar. This regulation essentially rules out the possibility of a brewery being both a production facility and retail/dining establishment.
In recent years, small craft breweries have been able to produce up to 100,000 barrels of beer per year. From locations other than the actual brewery site if they contract with another licensed brewer. To make their suds for them – something that is now possible with smaller craft breweries because of new federal TTB limits announced in September 2012 governing “Brew On Premise” facilities.
Rural America Voted To Legalize Breweries in Their Communities
For many rural areas outside of metropolitan areas, the last five years have seen a revolution of sorts as communities pass local laws. To enable microbreweries and brewpubs to set up shop says, William D King. In 2010 alone, more than 200 bills legalizing various small brewery operations passed. At least one house of the state legislature – three-quarters of them were successful in both houses of state legislatures and signed into law by governors.
But according to craft brewers, there is still work to be done. Biggest obstacles include:
1) Prohibition-era rules requiring breweries producing on-site to sell food. Which makes it hard for most startups – new production rules allow beer sales. Even if no food is available – but many breweries are waiting for state lawmakers to give them a green light
2) Government licensing remains a challenge for small breweries because state-mandate systems are not up for microbreweries. Which often want to produce batches of fewer than 30 gallons at a time.
3) Many states do not recognize the value to rural communities of attracting visitors, expanding the tax base. And supporting local restaurants through brewery tourism.
Brewery Legislation – A Big Roadblock to Taproom Sales by State Legislators
Despite the good news that’s been reported. By craft brewers about the passage of pro-small brewer bills in several states this year. There is still work to be explains William D King. For instance, Wisconsin passed a bill allowing on-site sales at production breweries. But did not eliminate state limits on taproom sales or lower barrel limits for brewpubs. Governor Walker has not made it clear whether he would sign the bill into law.
It also appears that lawmakers in two states, Ohio and Wisconsin, are trying to scale back new rules. Allowing production breweries to sell pints on-site – but neither state has yet succeeded.
Other states have taken steps backward with bills. That limit or repeal small brewer benefits passed by their predecessors says, William D King. South Carolina essentially repealed its 2009 law legalizing brewpubs. While Ohio is considering a bill that reduces limits for taprooms at production breweries. Illinois is considering an unhelpful proposal that would eliminate self-distribution privileges. For craft brewers larger than 30,000 barrels per year (i.e., Anheuser Busch).