Lagunitas Brewing‘s Twitter feed recently declared that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a “very important person” in the Petaluma, Calif.-based brewery’s effort to expand into the hometown of founder Tony Magee. (Indeed, Lagunitas plans to have its Chicago brewery in operation by September, also according to Twitter, and its taproom even sooner.) Not only is Hizzoner very important to Lagunitas’ efforts, but, by different accounts, he’s a fan of craft beer in general (perhaps he picked it up from friend Barack Obama, the first president to homebrew in the White House?). This got me to thinking about craft beer’s other political friends over the decades.
The biggest name that jumps to mind is the 39th occupant of the biggest office in the land: Jimmy Carter. The president in October 1978 famously signed into law HR 1337, a reconciled congressional bill pushed by California Senator Alan Cranston that legalized homebrewing at the federal level. Crucially, the reconciled bill included amendment No. 3534, which did away with a previous version’s cap of 30 gallons at a time per household. (Interestingly, though he was oft-portrayed as a Baptist teetotaler during his successful ’76 run for the White House, Carter took up winemaking post-office in Georgia.)
It was Carter’s predecessor, Gerald Ford, who added his imprimatur to perhaps a much more important piece of federal largesse: a tax break for smaller breweries. The break, championed by the redoubtable Henry King, reduced the federal excise tax on beer from $9 to $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels—so long as a brewery produced no more than 2 million barrels annually. Ford was nudged by fellow Michigander Peter Stroh to sign the break.
There have been other friends in high places for American craft beer. Bill and Hillary Clinton were fans of Sam Adams in the early 1990s, when craft beer was still a novel, even precarious thing. Big-city mayors like Ed Rendell in Philadelphia in the 1990s and Michael Bloomberg in New York today have championed craft breweries as machines of urban revitalization and gentrification. Beverley Perdue, the former governor of my home state of North Carolina, stood in 2012 with both Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada and Kim Jordan of New Belgium to smilingly endorse their plans for breweries in the Appalachians. But no one, for now, comes close to Ford and Carter.
· Henry King: Another King of Beers [Appellation Beer]