Trouble Brewing: Beer Aficionados Suffer Through a Legal Hangover

Drinking and lawmaking seldom mix, and a legislative snafu last year left California homebrewers crying into their beer.

A bill meant to clear up legal ambiguity around wine and beer hobbyists donating the fruits of their labor to nonprofit organizations did just that: It rendered the action illegal, the diametric opposite of what its authors intended.

“It hurt us more than it helped us,” laments Chris Cohen, the founder and president of the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild. As such, he and a legion of beer nerds sallied forth from their garage and basement breweries this month to deliver our legislators a sobering message: “We want to let the politicians know we're paying attention.”

Last year, no one was paying attention until it was too late. The small print of AB 1425 stanched the flow of homebrewed beer festivals with an efficiency even Eliot Ness couldn't match. In specifically forbidding the supply of homebrewed beer and wine to “nonprofit organizations that either promote home brewing or home winemaking or that are primarily composed of home brewers or home winemakers,” it effectively outlawed homebrewing or home winemaking gatherings or competitions.

The 24th annual Southern California Homebrewers Festival, scheduled to be held next month in Ojai, has already been canceled; holding the event would have required forming a non-beer-related charity or convincing an extant one to take on all costs — and liabilities — for a cavalcade of 2,000 homebrewers, a sea of tents, and oceans of beer.

There were no takers.

Its Northern California counterpart, to be held in September in Yuba County, is imperiled, as is the 2015 National Homebrewers Conference, tentatively slated for San Diego.

Last week's lobbying beer bash was aimed at the promotion of AB 2609, a bill intended to dispel the hangover induced by its predecessor, and undo the banishment of thousands of free-spending beer aficionados to their basements and garages.

The toast of the state's homebrewers is Assemblyman Brian Nestande, a Palm Desert Republican carrying the suds for the California Homebrewers Association. His remedial bill last week cleared the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee via a unanimous 18-0 vote; a date in the Appropriations Committee is forthcoming.

That made Cohen, his 200 dues-paying members, and the 700 “local beer geeks” on his mailing list very happy indeed. “We don't want to rock the boat. We always make sure to behave ourselves,” he says. “We just want to do this and share it with our friends.”

AB 2609 may yet legalize the above. There is, as of now, no plan to craft a commemorative brew for AB 1425: Epic Fail Ale.

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