SEE UPDATE/CORRECTION BELOW
Today is International Beer Day,* and if you’re a lover of fine micro-brews (and I know you are), you have but one person to thank. No, not Jim Koch. The person you must thank is none other than former President Jimmy Carter.
To make a long story short, prohibition led to the dismantling of many small breweries around the nation. When prohibition was lifted, government tightly regulated the market, and small scale producers were essentially shut out of the beer market altogether. Regulations imposed at the time greatly benefited the large beer makers. In 1979, Carter deregulated the beer industry, opening back up to craft brewers. As the chart below illustrates, this had a really amazing effect on the beer industry:
That’s the number of large and small-scale breweries in the US. You can see how the large brewers continued to consolidate and grow and absorb more and more market share right up to the point where Carter deregulated the industry.
What’s especially interesting is how Carter really was the one (bookended, even, but two Republican administrations) who started the deregulation trend of the past 30-or-so years. From breweries to massively deregulating the trucking industry, and even the airlines, Carter fully embraced deregulation as way to modernize the stagnant economy. However, his zeal for deregulation wasn’t the same as Reagan’s, who fully bought into supply-side economics and the fundamentalist belief in the sanctity of free and unregulated markets. No, Carter’s interest in deregulation was markedly different, and guided by a desire for smarter government, not just less for the sake of less.
So go home and life a glass of cold Harpoon IPA to Jimmy Carter, whose brother, you may remember, brought us Billy Beer. You know what, thank Billy Carter too.
* Okay, fine, it’s a made-up holiday by some people in Santa Cruz that goes as far back as 2007. So?
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Alexander D. Mitchell at Beer in Baltimore does a hell of a job setting the record straight on this. Apparently, what Carter accomplished was lifting the ban on home-brewing, not the kind of “deregulation” of the industry that we’d recognize as such. Not to mention that, after looking at the chart again, the supposed correlation isn’t even really there, as it’s almost 20 years before the explosion in craft beer breweries is even apparent. So, while the legalization of home-brewing may have created an appetite for arguably better—or at least different—beers in the marketplace, it’s hard to call it a deregulation, or even show that Carter’s little action actually was responsible for the explosive result.