Homebrewing Laws Worldwide

 [I]l est l’heure de s’enivrer! Pour n’être pas les esclaves martyrisés du temps, enivrez-vous sans cesse! – Charles Baudelaire

[T]his is a case about beer and a case of beer is a serious matter.San Miguel Brewing International Limited v. Molson Canada 2005, 2013 FC 156, Phelan J, February 14, 2013.

People are really serious about their beer. In ancient days, you were flogged in the public square if you sold bad-tasting beer. Bad beer was considered to be “a fraud and a hazard to health”. In Germany in the 15th & 16th centuries, those who made or sold bad beer were punished by beatings, banishment, or death (Foods & Nutrition Encyclopedia). Brewing in Britain was done primarily by women in the 600s. Laws provided that women who brewed inferior beer would receive a public dunking (Mark Podvia, “Beer and the Law” (AALL, 2008)). Other punishments for making bad ale include being placed on a “cucking-stool” or fined (Ale, Beer and Brewsters in England). Nowadays, people just make their own beer. You need four basic ingredients: barley (or wheat), water, hops, yeast. You can buy homebrewing kits, blogs, and books. Homebrewing is a popular hobby around the globe.

Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek, Leverage, Eureka, and Big Bang Theory fame) chronicled his adventures in homebrewing for a whole year on his WWdN: In Exile blog, and recently posted his recipe for Bronze Dragon Brown Ale here. Even U.S. President Barack Obama brews his own beer. He bought a home brewing kit for the White House kitchen a couple of years ago. His recipes for White House Honey Ale and White House Honey Porter are here. Homebrewing beer is popular, but is it legal? Until recently, it wasn’t in some states.

The homebrewing beer movement started in the United States in the 1970s (Charlie Papazian, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing). People wanted “really good beer.” Similarly, “[t]he micro-brewery trend started in the mid-1970s in response to the ‘homogenization’ of the American beer market by the big brewers. Beer produced by micro-brewers has cultivated a following among certain consumers, who support them for offering variety as well as a distinct taste. Some of the major beer companies are now also offering specialty beer products, such as low-carbohydrate and organic beer.” (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada).

Homebrewing is now legal in all 50 U.S. states with the passage of legalization bills in Alabama and Mississippi in 2013 (American Homebrewers Association). The Brewers Association lists U.S. “state self-distribution laws” (with citations).

According to the Alcohol Rehab website, most countries allow “homemade alcohol” or homebrewing for personal use, but distilling alcohol without a license is illegal. There are a few exceptions. “[T]he Czech Republic allows citizens to distil a limited quantity for personal use at a local distillery, while New Zealand allows for the legal distilling and homebrewing of liquor, wine and beer for personal use…Homebrewing is illegal in Malaysia and Iran.”

In Canada, provincial boards regulate home beer-making. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s FAQ states: “You may make beer or wine at home as long as it is only for your personal consumption or to be given away free of charge. Homemade (or ‘u-brew’) beer or wine may not be sold or used commercially. Homemade spirits and the use of a still in a person’s home are illegal under the Excise Act of Canada.”

Canada imposes obstacles to buying beer that make brewing your own appealing. Canada bans interprovincial transport of beer (but the federal government is considering amending the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act to change that), corner stores can’t sell beer, and according to a recent study, Beer Stores uses “monopoly pricing,” so Ontarians pay more for beer than Quebeckers (the convenience store association which supported the study is also behind a “Free Our Beer” campaign (Ottawa Citizen)).

Other countries also have exclusive arrangements for sale of beer. A colleague tells me that Germany has the Bierlieferungsvertrag, a 20-year max contract whereby a brewery lends a landlord money to buy or rent his pub and he has to pay it back by selling their beer mostly.

The homebrewing movement reached Mexico in the mid-1990s where it is called “cerveza casera” (or “artesanal”)(Salomón García, El arte del homebrewing, El Norte, 3 June 2012). England legalized homebrewing in 1963, according to Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia includes articles on homebrewing specifically, and beer generally, in several countries (like South Korea) and has specialized articles such as on Germany’s Rheinheitsgebot (beer purity law).

Even in countries that have legalized homebrewing, homebrewers could face other obstacles. For example, in Korea, malt, one of the ingredients for making “really good beer,” is quite expensive and subject to a high import tax. Also, in order to legally sell your beer to others, you have to brew at least 100,000 kilolitres per month (Greg Boone, “Chaebol vs. The Microbrewer,” International Underground, June 2, 2010). The Korean name for beer is 맥주 = maekju. Daum is one of the key homebrewer sites (Korean Homebrewers Society).

If you plan to make your own beer, how do you find out about the related laws and regulations? You can check with other homebrewers, homebrewers associations, national or sub-national regulatory bodies, beer blogs, and look for journal articles and books. For example, if you are brewing in Germany, Zipfel/Rathke’s Lebensmittelrecht includes a chapter on beer law. The Food News blog links to beer laws in German. Selected laws and regulations are at the Gesetze im Internet website, including one on beer taxes. The Kampagne für Gutes Bier (campaign for good beer) blog links to beer laws. A German homebrewers association is the Vereinigung der Haus- und Hobbybrauer in Deutschland e.V.

You can also go directly to the sources of primary law for the country in which you plan to make beer. Brewers have to look for import and export laws, licenses to brew and sell beer, beer ingredient specifications, pricing restrictions, advertising and marketing, packaging and labeling, duties and taxes, intellectual property laws. Antitrust law and environmental regulations might be relevant as well. One multi-country source for beer laws and regulations is FAOLEX, but it’s difficult to easily identify homebrewing provisions because the laws are mostly in the vernacular.

Homebrewing information is sometimes listed as “noncommercial” (International Center for Alcohol Policies) or “unrecorded” alcohol (World Health Organization) or as “home production” in multinational sources. When searching for legal information for individual countries’ homebrewing law, it helps to use the words for homebrewing or craft brewing in that country’s language. In France, homebrewing is “bière maison” or “brassage amateur” (French beer laws are in Legifrance; see, for example, beer industry labor laws). You can also find articles in French on homebrewing in Canada using those same terms as well as “biere artisanale”. See e.g. Catherine Schlager, “L’art de la bonne biere maison” (La Presse, 4 mars 2013). For France, see e.g. “Univers Bière” (Beer Universe):

Est-ce légal de brasser sa bière ? 

Complètement, la fermentation est une réaction naturelle qui peut intervenir n’importe où dans la nature et ne peut être contrôlée, elle n’est donc pas interdite en France contrairement à la distillation. On peut donc brasser sa bière chez soi sans problème et la faire fermenter dans un cadre privé. Le transport de grandes quantités d’alcool et la vente de bière sont en revanche soumis à la règlementation et aux droits de douanes.

You can check Wikipedia’s various language pages on homebrewing not only as starting points to locating legal information, but also to immediately find search terms. Homebrewing is “Hausbrauen” or “Hobbybrauen” in German (“Selbst Bier brauen: Darf man das?” Im Prinzip: Ja), “Heimabrugg” in Icelandic. In Brazil, homebrewing is “cerveja caseira” (or “cerveja artesanal” for craft brewing).

If you are making or selling beer for commercial purposes, you might want to check Euromonitor International’s Passport: Alcoholic Drinks database. It includes up-to-date beer market research reports for about 80 countries, plus global reports, and company reports. For example, the 2013 “Beer in Canada” report indicates the following trends:

Overall, demand for beer in Canada remained low in 2012 as the shift towards other alcoholic beverages continued, including wine (especially amongst the growing number of older consumers) and various spirits areas, many of which are undergoing significant product development and marketing activity. In addition, problems with NHL negotiations and resulting ice hockey game cancellations (one of the drivers of demand) continued to slow sales in 2012.

Note that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada states that beer is the number one alcoholic beverage in Canada (but that could be based on 2010 statistics).

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