The Beer Barons
2/11/2013 9:46:00 AM
Giving Republicans a reason to like Jimmy Carter.
If you walk down Lincoln Avenue on Chicago’s north side on Saturday morning, you come across a strange sight. People are lined up outside the Half Acre Brewery at Lincoln and Cullom. They hold cups of coffee in one hand, and a Growler in another (a Growler is a glass jug that carries about a half gallon of draft beer).
They are in line for the latest concoction from the Half Acre Brewing tanks; beers that are not available in their gift shop or at the local liquor store.
Half Acre recently opened a tasting room, which is a sophisticated name for “a bar that serves only beer.” I’ve been there twice, and chances are I will be there again before too long. But the tasting room is not the same as the bars you find up and down Lincoln Avenue. There are no TV’s, no menus (the only snacks available are pretzel rods), and no juke box. But the place is often packed with people who are into the art of brewing beer.
When I first went, my friend and I sat across from a couple who brewed their own beer. They had a beer making kit in their apartment, and after several years of practicing they were ready to serve their beer to other people. Turns out the place was filled with like-minded people. The scene was the same at the Atlas Brewing Company at Lincoln and Diversey.
Beer people are kind of like music fans. If you like to see new bands, you check out their show. If you like new beers, you go to their brewery.
The scenes on Lincoln Avenue are repeated all over the country. You can find it at the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, or the Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland, or the New Holland Brewery in Holland, Michigan. Small breweries that reflect the tastes of the beer experts who decided to turn a hobby into a business.
This is the legacy of former California Senator Alan Cranston and President Jimmy Carter. In 1979, Carter signed Cranston’s bill that legalized home brewing. Hobbyists could brew dozens of gallons of beer without having to pay a thousand dollars for the right to do so.
Laws governing the production and sale of alcoholic beverages after the repeal of Prohibition were a strange set of compromises designed to appeal to teetotallers and drinkers alike. They also managed to limit the production of beer to a few large breweries. Prohibition wiped out a lot of breweries – they could not make money selling “near beer” to people who wanted the real thing. As a result, only a few large breweries remained when the act was repealed in 1933.
That number remained fairly stagnant until the late 1970’s. But the big breweries produced beer that tasted the same. There wasn’t much difference between Budweiser, Miller High Life, and Schlitz. Beer fans wanted more. They were looking for the beers that were available in Europe.
The deregulation of home brewing allowed hobbyists to tinker around with different recipes (Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams, brewed his first batch of beer in his kitchen).
The next turning point came in the 1980’s, when California and Washington changed their laws to allow brew pubs. People could brew beer – as long as they only served their suds in a restaurant.
After that, the craft beer scene exploded. Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery started in the mid 80’s. Samuel Adams tapped its first keg in 1984.
There are now 2,100 breweries in the US, compared to 89 in 1979.
So the next time you walk past a line of beer freaks outside of a brewery, or if you get lost in the beer aisle at a good liquor store….thank Jimmy Carter.
…and Alan Cranston.
…and the people who fought for the brewpub laws in California and Washington.
Success has many fathers.