It’s widely known that homebrewing can be incredibly rewarding, entertaining, and a creative outlet for self-expression. The same goes for sharing that home brewed beer with friends. But did you know that it’s actually not technically legal to do this? Homebrewing laws allow for individuals to create beer, wines, and meads for personal consumption only. The law dictates that you can create 100 gallons for personal consumption and 200 gallons per household annually. The key phrase here is “personal consumption.” There are some exceptions made for homebrew competitions that judge beers, but the word of the law is pretty strict. There’s a great synopsis of the law on the American Homebrewers Association website.
The American Homebrewers Association does a great job of fighting for our rights as homebrewers. Because of this and other organizations like homebrew clubs that actively promote the positive sides to home brewing, we now have the ability to brew in all 50 states, which is a recent occurrence–the last two states being Alabama and Mississippi. Laws will likely continue to change as time goes on, and–who knows?–maybe we’ll be able to legally give our beer to friends and family without fear of the Gestapo raining judgement down upon us. This is obviously an exaggeration. People share homebrew with each other all the time. And just like people that don’t own medical marijuana cards smoke Mary Jane on their back patios undisturbed, nobody is going to come knocking on your door, but technically, they could. You are generally not under the eye of the law until you want to take your hobby to the next level. That all being said, we as homebrewers have to the responsibility to play by the rules until the rules change.
Shadow Beer Sampling
Kickstarter is an incredible tool for start-ups looking to raise money. Having run one myself, I can tell you that it’s not an easy task. It requires constant attention, in-person campaigning as well as electronic, and diligence as well as follow through. For breweries, Kickstarter is a great way to raise money, but there is one draw back. Your main product, beer, cannot be sold, given away, or rewarded to those who back your project. This is the exact opposite of most Kickstarter projects, which offer the product they are trying to Kickstart at some mid-level reward tier. Alcohol Kickstarters need to be more creative with their reward tiers and inspire backers to contribute without the promise of free alcohol. But what about offering free tastings of my homebrew? Unfortunately this is not a legal option.
When John and I first started taking about going pro we set up tasting events where we gave our homebrew away for free. One of those events was at the annual USC Bosco’s BBQ. Great times were had, people loved our beer, we snagged business cards, acquired emails, and generally felt like we were on to something. It wasn’t until we applied for our Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) license that we learned about background checks and how deep the ABC goes into your personal history. When they came across the “tasting” events we held, we were faced with a possible misdemeanor charge, a serious fine, and an extended refusal of our ABC license. What does that mean? It means we couldn’t sell beer. Luckily for us, we were able to explain our situation well enough and our glowing resumes saved us from the axe.
Flash forward to the Kickstarter campaign. We strategically timed our Kickstarter to coincide with our very real and very legal contract brewing beer launch. This allowed us to legally sell beer and legally have people taste our beer without the worry of breaking the law. Not everyone has this option, and not everyone has access to an amazing contract brewery, so sometimes you need to be patient.
If you are going pro, if you are utilizing Kickstarter to raise funds, or if you are or will be in any ABC application process, be careful how you conduct yourself. The ABC has been charged with keeping the alcohol peace and enforcing the blue laws that they probably don’t even agree with. Until those laws change, they have to do their job. The minute you publicize that you’re having a free tasting event for your future brewery on your facebook, twitter, blog instagram, pinterest, tumblr, reddit, etc., you incriminate yourself with lasting evidence that will be scrutinized during your application process. You, as an unlicensed brewer cannot give your alcohol away to charity; you cannot sell your alcohol to raise funds; you cannot serve your beer at a beer festival; you can’t even legally give it away to friends. You create a virtual domino effect when people share your posts: media outlets pick it up, and before you know it, the biggest newspaper in the city is publicizing that your illegal beer’s on tap. Don’t do this.
The fact of the matter is that everyone–you, me, friends, beer drinkers alike–wants you, the brewer, to succeed. Anything that prevents you from getting that license, slows you down. It will not only hurt you, but the people you intend to serve your brews to. In the event you serve illegally at a bar, you could even unknowingly jeopardize their ABC license.
The world, not just the United States, not just California, and not just Los Angeles, is seeing record growth in craft beer and homebrewing. More breweries will open, more beer Kickstarters will launch, and more thirsty customers will show up to openings. It’s exciting times, and big changes are definitely on the horizon. Whether it’s the revision of blue laws, the commercial brewery bubble popping, or a neighborhood bar converting to craft, beer is coming. Prepare yourself. Let’s all work to facilitate that growth collectively.