- Associated Press - Thursday, March 22, 2012

MADISON, WIS. About the only thing Kevin Flynn enjoys more than drinking his home-brewed beer is sharing it with fellow beer-club members at festivals and tasting competitions. So Mr. Flynn and his buddies were shocked to discover that Wisconsin law prohibits sharing homemade suds anywhere outside the brewer’s home.

The law could “pretty much be the end of competitions in Wisconsin,” he lamented. “At least legal ones.”

An explosion of interest in home brewing is forcing lawmakers across the country to review long-forgotten alcohol laws, some of which date back to Prohibition. Although the old rules have rarely been enforced, beer enthusiasts fear they could criminalize the rapidly growing hobby and kill scores of annual tasting events that bring tourists to small towns and cities.

In Wisconsin, Mr. Flynn and other home brewers may soon be off the hook. The state legislature last week passed a bill to allow them to transport homemade beer and wine and to share it with other adults. Brewers will still not be permitted to sell anything they make, and they will remain exempt from permit requirements and taxes.

The proposal now heads to Gov. Scott Walker, who plans to sign it into law.

At least 17 states have ambiguous laws on whether home brewers can transport beer or wine outside the home, according to the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder, Colo.

The patchwork of rules can be frustrating for hobbyists who would prefer to spend their time exchanging recipes for pale ale or rhapsodizing about different varieties of hops, barley and yeast.

Some states, including Georgia and South Carolina, have restrictions similar to Wisconsin’s. In Kansas and Minnesota, home brewers can only make beverages for themselves or family members. Other states permit homemade beer and wine to be consumed by guests, too, as in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho and Illinois.

Dan Grady of the Wisconsin Homebrewers Alliance, who led the legislative effort to revise his state’s law, said beer brewers need to be watchful in case states try to use the issue to generate money for their tight budgets.

“States are under enormous pressure. It’s a revenue issue,” he said. “Everything is on the table these days.”

Gary Glass, director of the home brewers association, said it’s a balancing act when considering whether to pursue a change in the law.

“The question becomes: At what point does the home-brewing community want to take on having the law changed if it’s not really having an impact to what they’re doing?”

Home brewing was illegal in the United States until 1978, when the federal government lifted Prohibition-era restrictions on making alcohol in the home. The revised law allowed homemade beer and wine to be offered at tasting competitions, but also left most alcohol regulations up to individual states. Many states have their own home-brewing rules that supersede federal policies.