Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pioneers of Beers Interview Series: Gary Glass, Director of the American Homebrewers Association



Gary Glass talks homebrewing, beer laws in the South, the Craft Brewers Conference, DC’s beer scene, the annual Big Brew Celebration...

When Mississippi passed Senate Bill #2183 last month to legalize homebrewing (see the press release here), there were some great supporters who played an integral role on this moment in brewing history. Besides the great work organizations like Raise Your Pints has done (shout out to President Craig Hendry), the Director of the American Homebrewers Association, Gary Glass, was also a major player in making history down South. In fact, besides working with AHA for the last seven years, Gary has dedicated 13 years with the Brewers Association as well.
Gary Glass chillin' with...a glass!
I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, DC from March 26th through the 29th; Gary, of course, was also there. It was my first one, but I knew Mr. Glass was seasoned vet so I had to give him an interview. Read on as I get his take on the CBC 2013, what breweries were a hit in DC, plus, since Gary has started homebrewing in 1993, I am sure he has some things to say about this awesome hobby’s present and future. Check it out as he gives a detailed play-by-play on what went down in Ole Miss and what neighboring Alabama has in store when it comes to brew! The latter is the last state left to legalize homebrewing. Sheesh!

Ale: I had a blast at the CBC. Since you have been to a few, what did you think about it being in DC and made it stand out compared to the others?
Gary Glass: What wowed me at this year’s CBC, a few things. First, the sheer number of people; there were a lot of people that I know were there, but I just never saw due to the size of the event. Second, the trade show was amazing! It was nearly four times the space of last year’s BrewExpo, yet it was full of vendorsmany showcasing new hardware.

Oh, and the Welcome Reception! That was crazy!
Yes! I don’t know how we can possibly top this year’s which was held at the National Air & Space Museum. Combine 3000+ brewers, great beer, excellent food with all kinds of air and spacecraft—both old and new—and you have a real winner. 

Did you get a chance to get to go any brew spots or breweries? I hit up a few including a few spots in the Commons.
I did get to visit a few DC breweries while I was in town. I was particularly impressed by DC Brau. They've really got something special going on there. Another highlight was 3 Stars. They are small, but they are making some really interesting beers, including a Gose, that while under 3 percent ABV, it was packed with flavor—perfect for a 9 a.m. brewery tour. I was also privileged to see the Blue Jacket Brewing facility while it was still under construction. That will be a truly amazing brewpub when it opens. I guess I’ll have to plan a return trip.

Shoot, me too! You made some serious rounds, my friend. I will definitely be in the house next year when it is in Denver. Moving on to homebrewing, let’s talk about what’s going on law-wise, especially in the South.
Sure. In the world of homebrewing, we are seeing a lot of legislative activity beyond just legalizing homebrewing in Mississippi and Alabama. Georgia and Iowa both recently passed bills to officially allow homebrewers to remove their homebrew from the home for events and club meetings. Similar legislation is working its way through the Missouri, Illinois and Ohio legislatures. 
Homebrewing continues to grow around the country. We are in the process of compiling the results of our annual survey of homebrew supply retailers and are seeing that 2012 was another year of double-digit growth in the homebrewing market. 

Good to hear! I want to specifically about Mississippi’s passing of the bill. Please discuss the toughest hurdle during this campaign. What was the opposition's reasoning?
The biggest challenge in passing homebrew legislation in a state like Mississippi is educating legislators about homebrewers. We find there is often a misperception that homebrewing is the same thing as moonshining, which is not at all the case.  Homebrewers are hobbyists who are dedicated to making the most interesting and flavorful beers they can; they are not distilling and are not participating in an illicit trade for profit.  They do it because it is fun.

What was your counter-argument to your opposition and who provided the biggest support?
Raise Your Pints, an organization whose mission is to promote and enhance craft beer culture in Mississippi, played the leading role in getting homebrew legalization passed. Raise Your Pints hosted events that introduced legislators to Mississippi homebrewers and their beers.  When legislators meet the people who participate in the hobby, they are quickly dispelled of the notion that homebrewer is synonymous with moonshiner.  They quickly see the passion and creativity that goes into making great homebrew.
It doesn't hurt to point out that homebrewing has been a part of our national identity since the earliest English settlements in the new world and that many of our nation’s founders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were homebrewers.

I wonder how good their brews were and what they made. Anyway, what is the next step for Mississippi in terms selling homebrew supplies, ingredients and everything else after the passing of this bill?
Mississippi already has two recently opened homebrew supply shops. Legalizing homebrewing will encourage more entrepreneurs to open new homebrew shops as the stigma of selling supplies for an illegal activity will be lifted, and more Mississippi residents are encourage to openly participate in the hobby. As homebrewing grows within the state, Mississippi can also expect to see more homebrewers going pro and opening their own commercial craft breweries, which will bring jobs and tax revenue to the state.

What bills are you looking for the state to pass next and how do you see the overall future for the Mississippi beer scene?
Mississippi passed legislation last year to allow higher strength beers to be sold within the state and now has legalized homebrewing, so I think the most important steps have been taken.  The new homebrew law is a good one, modeled closely after the federal homebrew law, so I don’t see any need for further changes on the homebrew front.  I’d leave it to Raise Your Pints and the craft brewers of Mississippi to determine what the next legislative goal should be.

How long do you think Alabama has to follow Mississippi’s lead?
Alabama has been working on homebrew legalization longer than Mississippi. Last year, a homebrew bill was passed by the state House and the same bill cleared a Senate committee hearing, but the legislative session ended before the bill got a vote before the full Senate.  This year, that same bill was filed in both the House and Senate and has cleared committees in both chambers. If the bills get scheduled for votes in the House and Senate, I think they will pass. If so, the Alabama law will actually go into effect before the Mississippi law, since the Alabama bill becomes effective immediately upon being signed by the Governor, while the Mississippi law does not go into effect until July 1, 2013.

What are your favorite breweries and beer bars in Mississippi?
I’ve been to Mississippi once to participate in a Raise Your Pints event where Mississippi homebrewers served their beer to members of the Mississippi state legislature along with other Mississippi state government officials.  I was truly impressed by the quality and diversity of the homebrews that were showcased at the event.  I have had the pleasure of sampling some of the excellent beers made by LazyMagnolia Brewing Co. and found the Belgian-style Blond from Lucky Town Brewing Co. to be truly outstanding.

Okay, let’s wrap it up because I know how busy you are. Let’s give our readers some closing thoughts.
I am very proud of the effort put into getting homebrewing legalized by the Mississippi homebrewing community and am glad the American Homebrewers Association was able to contribute to that effort. I am hopeful that we will see homebrewing legalized in Alabama this year as well, which would mean that Americans can legally homebrew in all 50 states for the first time since prohibition.

Speaking of the other states, who else has some serious progression going on?
In the world of homebrewing, we are seeing a lot of legislative activity beyond just legalizing homebrewing in Mississippi and Alabama. Georgia and Iowa both recently passed bills to officially allow homebrewers to remove their homebrew from the home for events and club meetings. Similar legislation is working its way through the Missouri, Illinois and Ohio legislatures. 
Overall, Ale, homebrewing continues to grow around the country. We are in the process of compiling the results of our annual survey of homebrew supply retailers and are seeing that 2012 was another year of double-digit growth in the homebrewing market. 


Oh! And talk about something you have brewing May 4th! 
Oh yes! We are also gearing up for our annual Big Brew celebration on May 4th. For Big Brew, we have homebrewers all over the world register their brewing sites, have friends come over and all brew the same recipes at the same time. It’s a really cool demonstration of homebrew solidarity and fun! [Here is more info.]

Sounds awesome! Thanks for cruisin’ for a brewsin’, Gary!
Cheers!

Just so you know, National Homebrew Day is May 7th! Make sure you keep up with great organizations like Raise Your Pints, the American Homebrewers Association, and Brewers Association so we can all fight the power!

Cheers!
Ale

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