Though most Americans are the federal minimum drinking age of 21, the reality is a bit more complicated than it may first appear, especially when homebrewing is involved. For example, if someone under the drinking age decides to set up a carboy but never drinks the end result, would they have broken any laws?
The legislation governing the production and consumption of homebrewed beer varies widely from state to state. Although federal law allows anyone 18 years or older to brew beer for personal consumption, many states require homebrewers to be at least 21 years old before they can legally engage in the hobby.
For a complete breakdown of homebrew laws by state and more about the legal status of homebrewing, keep on reading!
Legal homebrewing and drinking age by state
Although homebrewing has been legally protected and tax-exempt in the United States since 1978, it was only officially made legal in all fifty states in 2013, when Mississippi and Alabama passed legislation to extend the right to homebrew to its citizens.
While federal law affords a great deal of flexibility regarding alcohol regulations, individual states often impose strict regulations. Take a look at this handy chart to see how each state compares:
|State||Legal Age to Purchase Homebrew Supplies||Legal Age to Produce Homebrew Beer||Legal Age to Drink or Possess Homebrew Beer||Specific Exception for Drinkers Under 21|
|Homebrew Quantity Limits*||Homebrew ABV Cap|
|Alabama||21||21||21||none||15 gal per quarter||13.90%|
|Alaska||n/a||18||n/a||only in a private location and with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Arizona||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Arkansas||n/a||21||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||5%|
|California||n/a||21||21||none||100-200 gal per year||60%|
|Colorado||n/a||18||n/a||only in a private location and with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Connecticut||n/a||18||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||50-100 gal per year||n/a|
|Delaware||n/a||18||n/a||only in a private residence and with parental or spousal consent||200 gal per year||n/a|
|Florida||n/a||21||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Georgia||n/a||18||n/a||only in parent/guardian’s home and with parental consent||50 gal per 90-day period||14%|
|Hawaii||n/a||18||n/a||with parental consent||100 gal per year||n/a|
|Idaho||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Illinois||n/a||21||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Indiana||n/a||18||21||none||100 or 200 gallons per year||n/a|
|Iowa||n/a||21||n/a||only in a private residence and with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Kansas||n/a||18||n/a||only under 3.2% ABV and with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||4%|
|Kentucky||n/a||18||n/a||with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Louisiana||n/a||21||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Maine||n/a||18||n/a||only in a private residence and with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Maryland||n/a||21||n/a||only in a private residence and with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Massachusetts||n/a||18||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Michigan||n/a||21||n/a||only in parent or guardian’s home||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Minnesota||n/a||18||n/a||only in parent or guardian’s home and with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Mississippi||n/a||21||18||only light beer with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||6.30%|
|Missouri||n/a||21||n/a||with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Montana||n/a||18||n/a||with parental consent; must not reach a BAC in excess of 0.05||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Nebraska||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Nevada||n/a||18||n/a||with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||80%|
|New Hampshire||n/a||21||21||none||100-200 gal per year||14%|
|New Jersey||n/a||21||n/a||with parental consent||200 gal per year||n/a|
|New Mexico||n/a||18||n/a||only in a private location and with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|New York||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|North Carolina||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||6%|
|North Dakota||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Ohio||n/a||18||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||21%|
|Oklahoma||n/a||21||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Oregon||n/a||18||n/a||only in a private residence and with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||4%|
|Pennsylvania||n/a||18||21||none||200 gal per year||n/a|
|Rhode Island||n/a||18||n/a||with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|South Carolina||n/a||18||n/a||only in the parent/guardian’s home with parental or spousal Consent||100-200 gal per year||17.50%|
|South Dakota||n/a||18||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||200 gal per year||14%|
|Tennessee||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Texas||n/a||18||n/a||only with parental or spousal consent and supervision||200 gal per year||15%|
|Utah||n/a||18||21||none||100-200 gal per year||4%|
|Vermont||n/a||21||21||none||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Virginia||n/a||18||n/a||only in a private residence and with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Washington||n/a||18||n/a||with parental consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|West Virginia||n/a||18||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||12%|
|Wisconsin||n/a||18||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
|Wyoming||n/a||18||n/a||with parental or spousal consent||100-200 gal per year||n/a|
Source: Homebrew Academy
Is it illegal to brew your own beer under the age of 21?
You’re probably well aware that you can’t buy beer under 21, but can you brew it?
While it may seem odd that someone under the federal drinking age could legally brew their own alcohol, the United States government actually allows for anyone over the age of 18 to make beer or wine at home. Yet despite the fact that this is federally legal, many state and municipal legislatures have ruled that only adults of drinking age can participate in the hobby.
To understand why an 18-year-old can legally brew beer in the U.S., let’s take a look at the laws involved:
H.R. 1337 (1978)
Signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, H.R. 1337 provided legal and tax exemptions for “any adult to produce wine and beer for personal and family use and not for sale.”
The 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act
While the name would imply a legally mandated minimum drinking age, the language in the NMDAA did not actually ban the consumption of alcohol by minors. Rather, it banned:
- The sale of alcohol to anyone under 21.
- Public possession of alcohol for anyone under 21.
Since homebrewing does not involve the sale or purchase of alcohol and is consumed in a private residence, the NDAA had absolutely no effect on H.R. 1337’s legal protections for adult homebrewers.
Despite this, many states have expanded on federal law and require that homebrewers be at least 21 before they can legally make beer. Take a look at the chart above to see if your state allows for 18-year-olds to brew beer!
Just as a state law can be more strict than federal law, your local laws may be different. Be sure to check your local and municipal ordinances before you head to your local brewing supply store.
Is it illegal to purchase homebrewing supplies under the age of 21?
Now that you know that you may be able to brew beer at 18, you’ll need to purchase the equipment – is that legal?
While you have to be at least 18 years or older to legally brew your own beer, there is no federal restriction on purchasing the equipment or ingredients needed for home brewing. While this is also subject to state and local laws, prohibitions of the sale of homebrewing supplies are incredibly rare.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alabama is the only state that explicitly bans the sale of brewing equipment to a minor. The Alabama Code section 26-4B-1(f) makes it illegal for “any person less than 21 years of age to attempt to purchase, possess, or transport any apparatus or equipment used to produce beer, mead, cider, or table wine.”
Alabama and local ordinances aside, there is nothing stopping someone of any age from purchasing brewing equipment. Moreover, since no ingredient used in brewing contains alcohol until after fermentation, it is entirely legal for minors to purchase the raw ingredients used to make beer.
Can you drink homebrew beer under the age of 21?
When you think about the drinking age, it’s easy to remember that it’s illegal under the age of 21, but that’s always completely accurate. Can you drink home-brewed beer before you’re legal?
Homebrew beer is still alcohol and counts as underage drinking. That being said, federal law provides a number of exemptions for minors to consume alcohol, leaving it up to each individual state to decide when people under 21 can and cannot legally drink.
The 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act made the purchase and public possession of alcohol illegal for people under the age of 21. However, the law explicitly states that public possession does not include:
- Possession of alcohol for an established religious purpose;
- When accompanied by a parent, spouse, or legal guardian age 21 or older;
- For medical purposes when prescribed or administered by a licensed physician, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, hospital or medical institution;
- In private clubs or establishments;
- Or to the sale, handling, transport or service in dispensing of any alcoholic beverage pursuant to lawful employment of a person under the age of twenty-one by a duly licensed manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer of alcoholic beverages.
You read that right: the United States has no federally mandated minimum age requirement for drinking alcohol in private establishments, including in the home.
This is especially interesting considering that homebrew beer is legally defined as beer made for “personal or family use and not for sale.” Since this definition does not break the NMDAA’s prohibition on the sale and public possession of alcohol, it is entirely legal for a person of any age to drink homebrew beer in their residence according to federal law.
But before any underage drinkers get too excited, it’s important to know that state laws are often much more restrictive when it comes to the minimum legal drinking age. While many states do allow minors to drink at home and/or with parental supervision, others enforce a strict 21+ drinking policy and may even hold parents criminally liable for any alcohol-related injuries and offenses that might occur on their property.
For an overview of which states provide exceptions for underage drinkers, take a look at the chart I included above.
How much homebrew can you make?
Once you’re ready to brew – at any age – it’s important to keep in mind that there are legal limits to the amount of beer you can produce.
According to H.R. 1337, any household may legally brew up to 100 gallons of beer per year if there is one adult in the household, or 200 gallons per year if there are two or more adults living in the home. Many state laws are much more restrictive though, so the exact amount of beer you can legally brew will depend on your local laws.
While most states abide by the federal guidelines, others use more specific language to ensure that a homebrewer may only brew 200 gallons of beer per year if there are two or more people aged 21 or older in the household. Most states that make this distinction also include language requiring a person to be 21 or older to legally brew beer at home.
Aside from age restrictions, a few states drastically cut the volume of beer that can be legally brewed in a household. Take a look at the chart above for a full rundown of the volume of beer allowed by state.
Can you sell your own homebrew?
If you’ve done any homebrewing, you already know it can be an expensive hobby. Is it okay to sell some of the beer to fund the next round?
In order to legally sell beer in the United States, you must hold a commercial brewer’s license. Because the legal definition used to describe homebrew in H.R. 1337 is “beer for personal or family use and not for sale,” the moment you try to sell your homemade beer it will be considered commercial beer by law.
Even though selling homemade beer without a license is illegal in the United States, many states provide specific exceptions for homebrew beer donated to charitable and nonprofit organizations to be sold through a fundraiser.
If you are interested in leveling up from homebrewer to commercial brewer, there’s no reason why you can’t apply for a commercial license. Just be aware that by doing so you will be subject to any legal regulations and excise taxes that apply to any other commercial microbrewery.
Can you homebrew beer or other alcohol under 18?
Anyone hoping to brew any kind of alcohol at home in the U.S. must be at least 18 years old. According to H.R. 1337, only adults may legally homebrew non-distilled alcohol.
While H.R. 1337 only explicitly mentions beer and wine, United States law classifies all non-distilled alcoholic beverages into one of the two categories. Therefore you still have to be 18 if you want to brew mead, cider, sake, or any other fermented alcoholic drink.
Do you have to be 21 to enter a brewery?
Though dependent on local and state laws, it is not usually illegal for people under 21 to enter a brewery. In fact, some states even allow minors to sample alcohol during brewery tours with parental consent.
Not only is it rare to see mandates against underage visitors at breweries, but many craft breweries even welcome younger patrons by offering food, games, and family-friendly public events. In addition, many states allow adults under 21 to work at bars and breweries and may even provide an exception for underage patrons to drink with consent from a parent.
Regulations regarding minors entering breweries vary widely between each state, municipality, and individual establishment though, so you’ll have to check your local laws and brewery policies before you go.
For the web story version of this article click here!