Oregon’s home brewers are facing a new hurdle that comes from an old law which promises to squelch their efforts to better their craft.
At issue is a state law, ORS 471.403, to be specific, that reads, “No person shall brew, ferment, distill, blend or rectify any alcoholic liquor unless licensed so to do by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. However, the Liquor Control Act does not apply to the making or keeping of naturally fermented wines and fruit juices or beer in the home, for home consumption and not for sale.”
The hiccup in the law was brought to light by a committee of the Oregon State Fair, which asked the OLCC whether its big homebrew competition, which would have been in its 22nd year this August, was operating against that law because the home brew is transported outside the home and is sampled by judges.
On Monday, the OLCC came back with an answer: The judges in these competitions are considered members of the public, and as such, the state fair’s homebrew competition, and the home-made wine competition, too, which has been operating for more than 30 years, have been operating illegally and will be shut down.
In other words, Aunt Sally’s apple pie has a shot at getting a blue ribbon at the state fair — but not her homebrew. It also means that home brewers (and wine-makers) in Oregon won’t be able to hold competitions.
It also appears that home brewers might not even be able to participate in other competitions outside the state; the OLCC is ruling that homebrew can’t be transported, because the law stipulates the beer must be consumed at the home where it is brewed. Heck, home brewers might not even be able to legally bring a corny keg of their latest IPA to friend’s summer barbecue the way the OLCC is currently interpreting the law.
Obviously, this is beyond ridiculous. It’s a short-sighted response to an outdated law. But the implications could be catastrophic to the state’s thriving beer culture. After all, it’s the home brewers that spawned the craft beer culture, and many a home brewer has “gone pro” after honing his or her skills at the homebrew level.
Indeed, at least two Portland-based homebrew clubs are being impacted by this mess. PDX Brewers have already decided to ban homebrew from its meetings, and the Oregon Brew Crew, one of the oldest homebrew clubs in the country, is meeting later today (Tuesday) to discuss whether to ban members from bringing homebrew to meetings. In-house club competitions, which are held monthly to help brewers learn more about brewing specific styles, will probably also be discontinued, and several larger competitions, including the American Homebrewers Association-sanctioned Fall Classic, and the in-club Collaborator Project, in which winners get to brew their winning beer at Widmer Brothers Brewing, will no doubt become a thing of the past. (Rob Widmer tells me they are having a “regulations specialist” look into this mess as I type).
For a very beer-centric state, the OLCC’s decision sure messes up a key element in this important and thriving industry — one that infuses more than $2.33 billion into the state’s coffers each year (according to the Oregon Brewers Guild) — not to mention being a source of state pride.
What can you do? If you are a craft beer lover and/or home brewer, even if you don’t live in Oregon, please consider giving good beer a voice in this important issue. You can find contact information for the state’s representatives here and a listing for the senators here.
If you live in-state, I think the motivation for them to listen to our voices should be pretty clear. But if you are from out-of-state, perhaps the legislators would want to hear your perspective as well — as an outsider who enjoys Oregon beer and maybe even comes here to visit and spend some of your hard-earned money. Or might not any more.
Oh, and while you’re at it, you can contact the OLCC here.
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