Next month, the Oregon State Fair ignites Salem for the 148th year, transforming the fairgrounds into what organizers call Oregon’s second largest “city.”
But two recent traditions at the popular fair won’t be present this summer: the 22-year-old home-brewing competition, and the 30-year-old amateur winemaking contest.
And the group responsible for that is this week’s Rogue, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
In May, the OLCC began informing Oregon’s large and growing home-brewing crowd that the contests it holds around the state are forbidden because of an obscure law on the books since 1933.
“No person shall brew, ferment, distill, blend or rectify any alcoholic liquor unless licensed so to do by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission,” that rule reads. “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.”
In recent decades, regulators roundly ignored the rule.
But Chris Hummert, competition chairman for the Oregon Brew Crew, says the OLCC re-examined the prohibition when a Bend-based OLCC agent raised questions earlier this year about a home-brew contest scheduled for that city.
When OLCC officials sought a legal opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice, the agency determined home brewers and vintners lose their right to make beer without a license when the home brew is consumed outside the home—by contest judges, for example.
Hummert calls that ruling a big blow to the scores of brewers who were scheduled to compete at the State Fair on Aug. 27. Nearly all the professional brewers working in Oregon began as home brewers, he adds. The new decision affects as many as 20 other contests held around the state.
“The State Fair is actually one of the smallest competitions,” says Hummert, a Salem network administrator who has been brewing for seven years. “The [Oregon Brew Crew] Fall Classic usually has 300 to 400 entries, and the American Homebrewers Association Regional gets 400 entries.”
More importantly, he says, “the competitions are a lot of fun.”
OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott says the agency is “actively seeking a solution” and is working with state lawmakers to craft a fix in 2011. That’s small consolation to Hummert.
“There are better things for OLCC to be doing with their time,” he says.