This probably is a historic first: This week's edition of THE BOOT was inspired by a bit of imbecility involving Oregon's liquor laws, but we're not giving it to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The OLCC, it seems, is just an innocent pawn in this story, which involves the regulation of home brewers. Oregon's liquor control law - enacted shortly after the end of Prohibition some 70 years ago - forbids anyone not licensed by the OLCC to make alcoholic beverages but carves out an exception for "the making or keeping of naturally fermented wines and fruit juices or beer in the home, for home consumption and not for sale."
For almost three-quarters of a century that was taken to mean home brewers could serve their beers not only in their homes but also at club meetings and at special events and competitions, like those held at the Oregon State Fair and the Deschutes County Fair for decades.
No more, according to a notice put out by the OLCC on its blog earlier this month.
It seems somebody asked the OLCC "whether certain public competitions involving home-made alcohol products were in compliance with the law." The agency asked the state Department of Justice for guidance, and the DOJ advised that "the law only allows for consumption of home brews in the home. The home brewers lose their exemption to craft brew without a license when the home brew is consumed outside of the home."
Unless the law is changed, that means the end of the state and county fair homebrew competitions as well as smaller events like the monthly meetings of the Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization at The Brew Shop on Division Street in Bend, at which members frequently exchange and sample each other's products.
We think the Department of Justice could have been a little more lenient in its interpretation of what the law means by "home consumption." If the law really says events like county fair home brew competitions are illegal, then, in the words of Charles Dickens's Mr. Bumble, "the law, sir, is a ass - a idiot." But the DOJ has ruled, and apparently that's what the law really does say - for now.
Fortunately a campaign to change it is well underway, with the encouragement of the OLCC itself. "The OLCC is already working with [legislative leaders] to draft language for legislative consideration in the next session," the agency said on its blog.
Central Oregon Reps. Judy Stiegler and Gene Whisnant and Sen. Chris Telfer already have indicated their support for revising the law. Tom Gilles, proprietor of The Brew Shop, says a new organization, the Oregon Home Brewers Alliance, has been formed to lobby for the change.
With everybody apparently in favor of it and nobody (at least on the record) against it, getting the law fixed "should be a simple slam dunk," Gilles said.
We sure hope so. The next time the state legislature convenes, one of its first orders of business should be to join us in giving THE BOOT to this silly regulation.