State fair: No 2010 home beer/wine contests

State fair: No 2010 home beer/wine contests

SALEM, Ore. – Law enforcement officials are putting a stop to the home-brew and home-wine-making competitions at this year's Oregon State Fair.

KATU reported on the glitch in state law that at the time put the home-brewing competition in jeopardy. Late Friday, Oregon State Fair Manager Connie Bradley learned from the Department of Justice that the law requires both its beer and wine competitions to be shut down.

"The issue has to do with the judging," Bradley said Monday. "Judges are considered the public, and we cannot have the public tasting amateur wine or beer."

The Homebrew Beer Competition has been going on for 22 years at the Salem fairgrounds. The Amateur Wine Competition would have been in its 31st year.

The Oregon State Fair runs Aug. 27 to Sept. 6, 2010.

Earlier this year, we're told a county fair official asked the Oregon Liquor Control Commission about whether the 30-some-year-old Oregon law indeed made it illegal for members of the public to taste home-brewed beer. Over the past month, officials with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department then worked with the OLCC and the Department of Justice to find a way to hold the event and still comply with state law, but were unable to so. Late Friday, the word came down: 

"Regretfully, the Oregon State Fair has been forced to cancel the amateur beer and wine contest for the 2010 State Fair in order to comply with state law ...  The law in question – ORS 471.403 – [says...] '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.'”

To be sure, "We don't sell, and we don't serve to the public," Bradley said. Beers and wines are tasted by judges, just as pies and preserves are, in the weeks prior to the opening of each year's Oregon State Fair. Ribbons are given to the winners in each category.

Nearly 125 wine entries have already been received at the state fair office. Bradley said state fair officials will begin returning wines and issuing entry-fee refunds ($10 per entry) the week of July 5. The amateur beer competition has not yet started, so there are no entries to return or refunds to issue.

The irony is the Oregon State Fair has been holding this home brew competition for years under the same law that is now being interpreted to make the competition illegal. And this in a state known for its microbrews. For example, Oregon is the second largest producer of craft beer in the U.S. and Portland alone has more breweries than any other city in the world, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild.

When KATU reported on the glitch in the law this past week,  many home beer makers were shocked – especially given that a lot of microbreweries spring from people's home brews.

Home brewer Scott Nash has been competing at the Oregon State Fair for three years. He said the fact the state was even taking another look at the law makes him feel like the government is micro-managing home brewers. 

"This is just something else homemade, like a quilt or an apple pie," said home brewer Scott Nash. "[There's] Grandma's marmalade; what's wrong with Scott's beer?"

Though the Department of Justice's determination puts the kibosh on the 2010 beer and wine competitions, state fair officials are looking into their options for keeping the competitions alive down the road. Indeed, the determination stated "The Department hopes the law will be amended to permit this traditional State Fair event and similar competitions to resume in 2011." It would take an act of the Oregon Legislative Assembly to amend that law.

"We're going to do our best this fall," Bradley said, "to try to do everything we can so we're ready for next year's competition."

- KATU Reporter Melica Johnson contributed information and interviews to this report.

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