Hooker: 21st century rumrunning and the movement to legalize home brews

POLITICKER COLUMN – Cheers in this holiday season of high spirits to the notion of wiping off the books the crime of brewing your own brewskies or fermenting your own vino in the family basement, garage, bathtub, or wherever you choose to make your swill, er, fine alcoholic beverage.

The Assembly got things going Thursday by passing A4012, a bill to legalize home brewing and wine-making for those who are of age, the 21 and older crowd.

That is, up to 200 gallons a year for non-commercial consumption for you and your throw-caution-to-the-wind guests or that tough-to-buy-for old uncle on your Christmas list who just might appreciate a taste of your particular mix of hops and barley.

The Senate is still deciding whether to act, but the move by the Assembly to lead the way on this is coming none too soon.

Little did I know, for example, that my 20-something son Evan was a lawbreaker and his 20-something buddy Alex an accomplice last year when Alex gave Evan a home-brew kit for Christmas. Evan set about making the beer. And while it was pretty much undrinkable try as he might (sorry Ev), the concoction still sat there like a bootlegger’s stash in the garage fridge.

Thankfully, the local P.D. never asked the guys to open that fridge and have a look when they’d arrive on a noise complaint from the neighbor over their weekly dart games out there.

It turns out we were running the risk of becoming some kind of test case as modern-day rumrunners.

That’s because there hasn’t been a violation written in “recent memory” for lacking a home-brewing permit to brew your own brew, this according to the Division of Alcholic Beverage Control, which oversees such weighty issues. If there had, it would’ve been a Fourth degree crime, punishable by a sentence of as much as 18 months in state prison and a $10,000 fine.

Pretty steep punishment for some homegrown moonshining, though none’s been meted out that anyone knows of.

“We have not written any violations for homebrewing without a permit,” ABC spokesman Zacharia Hosseini wrote in an email.

Whew! That’s good to know, just in case the Senate gets pre-occupied with ending those six-figure government worker sick time payouts the governor’s been campaigning for of late.

It’s heartening to know that there are a fair number of our fellow citizens who’ve actually coughed up the $20 permit fee to home-brew legally.

There were 420 such permits issued last year in our fair state of more than 8 million souls, up from 299 the year before.

I would be floored if my late neighbor, Stanley, had one of those before he passed away some years ago.

See, Stanley, an elderly man by the time our paths crossed, grew his own grapes in a small plot in his backyard and then made those grapes into wine.

He would come through an opening in the hedge between our backyards, a couple of bottles of the home-made vino tucked under his arms.

“Jeem,” he would say in his thick Polish accent. “Have some wine.”

I had no idea I was participating in a criminal enterprise through the hand-off. It was Al Capone to Lucky Luciano, writ small.

Other times, when I’d run my lawn mower over on Stanley’s side, I’d later find a bottle or two of his tasty white wine sitting on our back stoop. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have at least given a furtive glance over the shoulder before steeling away with the prized bottles back into the house.

And while Stanley’s no longer with us to grace our table with his wine, surely there are others like him out there who’ve got their own talents just waiting to spill out; with or without the required permit.

So if the Senate can hold off on some of the really big issues of the day long enough to pass the home-brew bill, this may be an extra special holiday season to celebrate here in the Garden State with some concoctions of our very own.

And to Stanley, his memory, and all the other home winemakers and brewmasters, I say: Cheers and a toast to your health!

Just be sure to check back with your local lawmaker to see whether you’ll still need a permit or not to raise a home-brewed glass.

Hooker: 21st century rumrunning and the movement to legalize home brews