Written by Scott Hammers for The Democrat Herald
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s new interpretation of an old law has put homemade beer and wine in the spotlight, effectively banning judged competitions, home-brewing club tasting nights, and even the taking of a six-pack of home-brewed beer to a neighbor’s barbecue.
At issue is ORS 471.403, a statute that forbids the production of alcoholic beverages by anyone not licensed by the OLCC. But it “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.”
Citing the new interpretation of the phrase “home consumption,” the Oregon State Fair has canceled this year’s beer and wine competitions. The wine competition has been a fixture at the fair for 31 years, the beer contest for 22 years.
Rachel McIntosh, director of open class exhibits for the Deschutes County Fair, said that unless she’s explicitly notified by the OLCC that beer and wine contests are out, the county fair will be accepting entries for the fair later this month.
“Somebody’s opened a can of worms,” McIntosh said. “We’ve done this for a long time, and it’s probably been a law forever, but somebody opened the can and stirred the pot.”
Representatives of the OLCC did not return calls for comment. On the agency’s official blog, a July 2 posting states that the OLCC’s current interpretation of the law came through a recent analysis of the statute by the Oregon Department of Justice.
“The Department of Justice’s guidance certainly requires us to look at the competitions in a different way than we have before,” the posting read. “It’s completely understandable that home beer and wine makers would be disappointed.”
Brett Thomas, past president of the Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization, or COHO, said clubs and competitions have played a big part in helping him hone his skills in the 13 years since he began home-brewing. Now a professional brewer for Silver Moon in Bend, Thomas said COHO has about 75 registered members. He said there may be as many as 900 home-brewers in Central Oregon.
Thomas said he was surprised to learn that the law appears to forbid what he and others have been doing for years.
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