No, Jimmy Carter Did Not Save Beer

A curious meme passed around the blogosphere last week. Not the beer-o-sphere, though, the polit-o-sphere. It went like this:
If you’re a fan of craft beer and microbreweries as opposed to say Bud Light or Coors, you should say a little thank you to Jimmy Carter. Carter could very well be the hero of International Beer Day. 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 the market back up to craft brewers.
I found this odd. Two of my great passions are politics and beer. I am one of 472 Americans who think Jimmy Carter's presidency wasn't so bad. I'm even a bit of an amateur beer historian. And yet never have I heard of this monumental legislation. Surely someone would have mentioned it before now. Yet late last week, scads of blogs--many from the MSM--picked up the story and ran with it. Carter's a hero! Forget the Camp David Accords, he brought us good beer!

I bookmarked the page, determined to get to the bottom of this. Fortunately, my cause was abetted by Alexander Mitchell, whose mind had been running down the same track. His conclusion? The original blogger, Balloon Juice's ED Kain, conflated Carter's much-praised legalization of home brewing with "deregulated the beer industry." After a lot of digging, Mitchell concludes that it's a classic case of urban myth running wild on the internets:
What I discovered is that, as of this moment, "Jimmy Carter deregulated brewing" is on track to replace "Ben Franklin said 'Beer is proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy'" as THE most popular "urban legend" regarding beer, thanks to people online citing the New Republic piece.....
Kain, for what it's worth, admits that there was no legislation in comments to the post. ("Actually Carter's deregulation of home-brewing was a deregulation of the beer market. I'm still failing to see how that doesn't count. " And that, of course, is the problem.)

I'll add one more piece. If you go to the original souce, you see a graph charting the growth of craft brewing in America; follow the link and it takes you here, to a March blog post about craft brewing (lesson: follow your links!). It's a long article making some point about " distributed biological production." But the key point, and the ur mistake that led to a thousand mis-appropriations, is this passage:
In 1979, Jimmy Carter signed legislation reopening the market to small brewers. This is an interesting and crucial point, because as far as I can tell nothing else substantive changed about the market. Deregulation reopened the market to craft brewers and the industry blossomed through organic growth and the preferences of consumers.
Very small brewers, as it happens. The author apparently didn't realize the law legalized home-brewing. (Amusingly, it did lead to a heated debate between libertarians and liberals about the advantages of deregulation on the one hand and Jimmy Carter on the other.)

Of course, laws did have to be changed: state laws. Bert Grant lobbied the Washington legislature to make brewpubs legal, as did the McMenamins in Oregon. States have tinkered more, liberalizing distribution laws to allow small breweries to get their product to market. But these had nothing to do with Jimmy Carter. He was cool, he just wasn't that cool.