Jimmy Carter and Homebrewing

Insights from rural Georgia

Most homebrewers have heard that Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, signed legislation in 1979 that exempted homebrewing from alcohol taxation. This action helped to legitimize homebrewing as a hobby. Relatively little is known, however, about Jimmy Carter’s personal views regarding homebrewing and the craft beer movement. Here are some small stories from rural Georgia that provide insight.   

picture of ex-President Jimmy Carter with several homebrewers at a coffee roasters
From left, Chuck Huffman, Keith Welch, Jimmy Carter, and Gary Fisk. The photo was taken in December of 2010 at Cafe Campesino in Americus, Georgia. Photo by Dave Campbell

In December 2010, several local homebrewers from Americus, Georgia, (about 12 miles/20 km from Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains) attended a holiday open house event sponsored by a local coffee roasting company. The party atmosphere became electric when former President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalynn unexpectedly arrived to show their support for a local business. A homebrewer friend who once lived in Plains approached Mr. Carter. He told him that we appreciated his presidential action that legalized homebrewing. Carter was delighted! He enthusiastically posed for a picture with several local homebrewers. The takeaway for current homebrewers is that Jimmy Carter was glad to be recognized for his presidential action that supported homebrewing. 

The second story involves a coworker who had a tradition of giving the Carters small exotic food presents each year around the holidays. She was impressed with my honey lager and thought it would be a perfect gift for them, so I gave her a 750-mL bottle to gift them. Several months later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a thank-you letter from Jimmy Carter. His handwritten note states: “Thanks very much. The honey lager has a great taste. It should be on the market. Jimmy C.” The Carters could appreciate a good homebrewed beer. They may have liked it for being lightly colored, low in bitterness, and flavorful. The encouragement part also shows how Mr. Carter, a former small businessman, never tired in his efforts to grow local business. 

The honey lager gift also included a specific question: How did the legalization of homebrewed beer influence the hobby of homebrewing and, more indirectly, the craft beer movement in this country? Carter’s written note pointed to the craft beer part of the sentence and stated: “It has been surprisingly helpful.” This clearly shows that the legislation he signed was probably viewed as being a trivial matter. And the “helpful” part in regard to craft brewing is also consistent with Carter’s pro-business attitudes. He was likely proud that his presidential action helped to promote small businesses, now seen worldwide. 

The implication is that this local homebrewer may have single-handedly contributed to the legalization of homebrewing by sharing his beers with Jimmy Carter.

The third story is from a local homebrewer during the beer dark ages of the 1960s and 1970s. He likes to tell people about sending homebrewed beer to Jimmy Carter when Carter was the governor of Georgia (early 1970s). He claimed that tasting these homebrewed beers had a favorable impression upon the soon-to-be President. This positive attitude later contributed to Carter’s willingness to legalize homebrewing. The implication is that this local homebrewer may have single-handedly contributed to the legalization of homebrewing by sharing his beers with Jimmy Carter. While his story cannot be verified, it’s a good one!

Jimmy Carter likely had reservations about alcohol consumption, like most prominent families in the rural South. However, he also seemed glad that his presidency had a positive impact on both homebrewing and craft brewing. The next time you enjoy a homebrew, please take a moment to thank Jimmy Carter and his small, yet powerful contribution to the hobby.