Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Washington Homebrewing Legislation

Homebrewing is regulated differently in every state. In some, the regulations are as open as the Federal Statutes. In Utah and Alabama, it remains illegal. (Though legislative efforts are underway in both states.) In Washington, RCW 66.12.010 allows untaxed home production of wine and beer in the home, so long as it is not sold. However, and this is a big however, RCW 66.28.140 has been interpreted to severely limit the transportation of any homebrew produced in the state. The statute reads:
RCW 66.28.140 - Removing family beer or wine from home for exhibition or use at wine tastings or competitions — Conditions.

(1) An adult member of a household may remove family beer or wine from the home for exhibition or use at organized beer or wine tastings or competitions, subject to the following conditions:

(a) The quantity removed by a producer for these purposes is limited to a quantity not exceeding one gallon;

(b) Family beer or wine is not removed for sale or for the use of any person other than the producer. This subparagraph does not preclude any necessary tasting of the beer or wine when the exhibition or beer or wine tasting includes judging the merits of the wine by judges who have been selected by the organization sponsoring the affair; and

(c) When the display contest or judging purpose has been served, any remaining portion of the sample is returned to the family premises from which removed.

(2) As used in this section, "family beer or wine" means beer or wine manufactured in the home for consumption therein, and not for sale.

As I understand it, the state Liquor Control Board has interpreted this statute not just as listing the conditions under which homebrew competitions may take place, but, in conjunction with the "manufactured in any home for consumption therein" language of RCW 66.12.010, as listing the exclusive conditions underwhich homebrew may be legally removed from your house.

Senate Bill 5060 is to go before the Washington State Senate Commerce, Labor and Consumer Protection Committee today, where it will hopefully receive favorable treatment. The bill amends Washington's alcohol regulations to clarify the wording of RCW 66.28.140. It would allow removal of up to 20 gallons of beer and wine produced at home, and amends section 2 to include not only family production, but also homebrew produced for exhibition or use at organized beer or wine tastings, competitions, meetings, or conferences, or use by internal revenue code section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, and not for sale. Leftover beer from competitions would no longer have to be returned to the brewer (which would be frustrating and near impossible!) This would allow larger homebrew events, such as the AHA Conference or AHA rallies, and smaller club competitions. It would also allow use by non-profits, for example you would be able to donate a keg to a church social, or other non-profit organization event.

However, to me it is still unclear whether you could donate one for a non-profit fundraising event like an auction or raffle. That is, if it's legal to consume your keg at a charity auction, would it be legal to auction the keg itself? Or the brewing of a batch for the winner? This is often a serious grey area in most states.

Presumably the bill will pass the committee and hopefully we'll see it voted on in this session. More info at the Washington Homebrewers Association.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The End of Alcohol Energy Drinks(?) And The Quiet Death of Zima

A week before Christmas MillerCoors issued this press release, and voluntarily pulled their alcoholic energy drink Sparks from the market. This follows a similar move by AB last year, in which that company reformulated their Tilt brand. With the two biggies voluntarily bowing out, this could be the end of alcoholic energy drinks. At least, for a few years...

What's interesting about this is that the breweries voluntarily agreed to reformulate the product due to pressure applied by state AGs, though they were not currently breaking any laws. Certainly any state could easily amend their regulations to prohibit pre-mixed caffeinated alcohol drinks, but that wasn't the case here. The big debate currently in alcohol law is whether and to what extent the "old" values of temperance and control still apply, and to what extent the free market should be allowed to take over. These drinks are products of the new millenium, and the question arises, "We have caffeinated soft drinks. We have malt-beverages. Why exactly can't we combine them?" The answer seems to be less in the black-letter law and in the original spirit of post-prohibition regulation: caution, and restraint. The jury is still out on the combined health and safety effects of alcohol and caffeine, but consumption of these beverages does seem to indicate a tendency toward excess. Particularly in the younger demographic. Which makes the states wary...

One gets the feeling from the press release, and a Sparks FAQ still up on the web (note to companies: "removing current content" from the website does not make it go away altogether...) that their big concern is that they will be prosecuted for marketing the product to underage consumers, hence the repeated denials of any such conduct. The fact that these energy drinks are quite popular among the highschool and college set certainly is a liability for them in that respect. It's interesting that Miller agreed to pay over $500,000 to the AGs to settle the matter, and is illustrative of the gun-shy tendencies of producers faced with the sortof legislative netherworld that alcohol advertising exists in.

On a similar malt-beverage note: in the last few months Zima went quietly into that good night. Not exactly breaking news, but I've been meaning to mention it. Zima will go down in history as a perfect example of what can go both right and wrong when introducing a new alcoholic beverage, and how companies should adapt to the demos that embrace their product, not try to force the product on an uninterested group. If men think Zima is a laughable girly drink, don't try to convince them to drink it. Here's a much better article on the subject from Slate. Here's another fun one, in which it's argued that the discontinuation will allow MillerCoors to "focus on more preferred brands like Sparks".


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No More Free Beer At Busch Gardens

Article in the St. Pete Times. For those who were wondering whether InBev's stated goal of reigning in the corporate excess of Anheuser-Busch would impact consumers, it begins. Busch Gardens will stop offering free beer samples at their hospitality areas starting the 25th. (You've got 10 more days Florida! And, Virginia too I guess.) Apparently they are also revamping the parks' various restaurants, and there is some question whether (and which) InBev brands will be in, though they will probably put Stella Artois in at the very least. InBev has also mentioned that it is considering selling the parks, so perhaps this is step on in making them more family-friendly for a future non-brewery owner?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Northwest Absinthe / Washington Alcohol Law

Since we are in all probability moving back to Washington in a few months I've been paying more attention to Washington's own alcohol laws and general goings on.

First: there's a new microdistillery in Woodinville, (conveniently located near my in-laws!), called Pacific Distillery LLC. They are in the process of producing their first commercial batches, gaining label approval and approaching the WA Liquor Control Board for distribution. The man behind the works is Marc Bernhard, an herb farmer turned distiller. He's starting off with a flagship gin ("Voyager Dry Gin") and...get ready Washington, an Absinthe! Called 'Absinthe Pacifique', Pacific Distillery uses medical grade ethanol which they infuse with high quality herbs to make their absinthe. This is big news because until recently Washington has made it very difficult to open a distillery, I believe Pacific is the second opened since Prohibition ended! (The first being Spokane's Dry Fly Distilling, who have only been around about two years themselves and who have a cool distiller's class they teach out of their distillery)

Their blog is here and there's an article on them in the Seattle Weekly here. Marc mentioned that he uses actual Artemisia Absinthium (Grand Wormwood) as well as Artemisia Pontica (Roman Wormwood) so I'm wondering whether he had trouble with the TTB or FDA on that one. I know many of the recent commercially available absinthes have had altered recipes to cut down on the Artemisia Absinthium (and therefore the thujone content).

Second: I bet that part of the reason that Pacific was able to open was Washington's new Craft Distiller's License. The licenses began June of last year, after SHB 2959 was passed, which amended RCW 66.24.140, and adds a new section RCW 66.24. The new license applies to distilleries producing less than 20,000 gallons a year, and at least 50% of whose ingredients come from within Washington state. The license costs only $100, while the normal distiller's license is $2000. This should raise eyebrows to those familiar with dormant commerce clause issues in alcohol law, as the state seems to be doing a similar sort of thing the Supreme Court shot down in Bacchus Imports, LTD. v. Dias, 468 U. S. 263 (1984), while at the same time giving the sorts of breaks to in-state producers that led to Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005). I haven't the time to write too deeply about it now, but I will in the near future.

Friday, January 9, 2009

And we're back...

So finals and a snowbound Christmas vacation ate my life for the last few weeks...but now I'm back and tomorrow will be a major writing and posting day! Topics include:
  • Brew Day: Smoked Porter
  • Charcuterie: Brats, Weisswurst, Andouilles, Tasso, Turducken, Trotter Gear and Headcheese!
  • CSA roundup weeks 4. 5. 6.
  • The End of Zima, and the end of alcopops?
  • Woodinville's new craft distillery: NW Absinthe!
  • Washington's new craft distiller license: have they just recreated Bacchus?
  • Maybe more...
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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.