A small but significant blow for freedom was struck earlier this week, when Alabama became the last state in the Union to legalize the art of Homebrewing, after several years of pressure from the American Homebrewers Association and other beer fans. The bill passed and was signed by the governor in May, but brewers in the state had to wait until July 1 to be able to pursue their passion legally. Mississippi became the 49th state to legalize homebrew earlier this year.

Homebrewing was a bit of a stepchild for decades after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The drafters of the law that put the 21st Amendment into effect neglected to provide for the home production of beer, so it remained effectively banned until 1979, when Congress and President Carter finally legalized homebrew nationally. The actual regulation of alcohol production is up to states, however, so it has taken more than three decades for all the states to come around on the popular hobby. The AHA estimates that at least a million Americans make beer or wine at home at least once every year.

Under California’s current regulations, a homebrewer can produce beer only for home or family use and can produce up to 100 gallons per year per adult in the household, up to 200 gallons (that’s about 40 batches per year, assuming the standard 5-gallon batches that most homebrewers cook up). The homebrew can’t be sold, but it can be entered in competitions.

Anyone with a passion for beer should try brewing it at least once: it will revolutionize the way you understand and appreciate beer. It will also make you realize that there is something sort of magical about the stuff in your glass. Perversely, it may also heighten your appreciation of the work of the brewers at Budweiser and Coors – to produce that product with the volume, efficiency, and consistency they do is a breathtaking achievement. Talk to professional craft brewers and they will tell you that they greatly admire the technical work of the mass market brewers, even if they don’t drink a lot of the resulting beer.

There are plenty of places to learn to brew, including classes, online sources and books. One of the best ways, however, is to march down to your local homebrewing shop and start chatting up the staff. They are always happy to hold your hand through the first batches and share tips and wisdom as you advance. The Beverage People on Piner Road in Santa Rosa is a great example.

– Sean Scully