(Portland, OR) – July is normally the month for celebrating craft beer in Oregon. 2010 has been a bit different.
Just days after a report emerged that an audit revealed several internal issues limiting its effectiveness, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (and Department of Justice) left another black mark on the state: no more homebrewing competitions.
How did it all start?
Ever remember being in grade school when someone blurts out whether there’s any homework? Just as the class thinks it’s going to escape home with the teacher forgetting to hand out an assignment . . .
Well, KATU reported in late June that, despite running its State Fair Homebrew Competition for 20+ years, a State Fair representative contacted the OLCC to make sure that its competition was in compliance with the law. Meanwhile, more recent reports cite an OLCC agent saying that a representative from Deschutes Brewery called in a question about the law. Regardless of this whodunit, understanding the repercussions, Deschutes promptly sent out a press memo yesterday clarifying its position:
“The real story is that Deschutes Brewery contacted the OLCC to ensure that a homebrewers forum we were planning during American Craft Beer Week was legal. Given the rules we are bound to as licensee of the OLCC and as a responsible member of the brewing community, we always want to make sure that we understand the intricacies of the OLCC’s regulations. After a three-minute conversation with an OLCC representative, we were told that the agency would call us back with further information. This never happened, and the planned event was dropped as a result.
The bottom line is that we were attempting to create an event celebrating homebrewing, and our roots in this culture. We were never contacted by any media outlets to clarify this story and the reasons for our inquiry. We hope that these OLCC laws will change in the near future, as recent coverage has suggested, and that homebrewers can continue to share their creations with the world.”
The consequences of these questions were dire. The Bend OLCC office had already been slammed for its over-enforcement getting in the way of approving liquor licenses in a timely manner. And yet this squirrel that can’t stay out of its own way was gift-wrapped another grade-A nut. In response of the questions posed, the OLCC went to the DOJ who, of course, interpreted the law as it’s technically written. The result: no more homebrewing competitions (only homebrewing from private consumption within one’s own home) and no more winemaking competitions for that matter.
There is lots of optimism that the law will be changed in the next several months, however. The OLCC even states as much on its blog. The ruling also provides politicians an avenue to gaining some support though backing for law revisions should be nearly unanimous.
KGW reports, “[State Representative-D, Judy Stiegler,] said it may be possible for the Oregon Attorney General’s Office to figure out how to create a ‘short-term administrative fix’ for the OLCC, allowing home-brewing contests and clubs to carry on until the law is changed. [Republican challenger, Jason Conger,] agreed.”
If not, the law will probably be changed when the State Legislature meets again in January. In case there is any doubt, a homebrewers’ alliance has been formed to help achieve the goal of re-writing the law. Until then, 20+ years of traditions come to a close this summer.
A hard pill to swallow but state homebrewers won’t let it stop them from celebrating craft beer in Oregon this month.