Homebrewing in Colorado faces new scrutiny | SummitDaily.com

Homebrewing in Colorado faces new scrutiny

John Frank
The Denver Post

Mike Cole, an employee at Tom's Brew Shop in Lakewood, pours ingredients into a grinder for a customer on Dec. 16. Homebrewers in Colorado are trying to get their minds around a regulatory crackdown earlier this year.

DENVER — Months after an extraordinary law enforcement sting threatened a cherished Colorado pastime, Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration is clarifying the laws on making beer at home.

The state's Liquor Enforcement Division recently issued a bulletin that outlines the limitations on homebrew consumption, supply shops and events, putting a spotlight on an industry that operated for decades with little scrutiny.

The administration's new guidelines are designed to address confusion about a popular hobby that holds a unique place in Colorado culture and counts the governor among its enthusiasts.

"Homebrew is a very vital industry in Colorado," said Patrick Maroney, the division's director. "We wanted to provide guidance to them on what they can do."

The questions on homebrewing — the small-scale production of beer for personal use —began in July, when liquor-enforcement officers conducted an undercover bust at Tom's Brew Shop in Lakewood.

Owner Tom Schurmann said the division issued his employee a citation for serving alcohol to an underage person and gave him a citation for alcohol sales without a license. Maroney refused to comment on the case because it is still pending.

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Like other supply stores, Schurmann's shop allowed samples of homebrew, often to give critiques to a customer's beer or allow a taste before purchasing a recipe kit. But the bulletin now makes clear that "a homebrew supply store during open hours would be a public place" and public consumption is prohibited.

The crackdown is the first in recent memory at a Colorado homebrew shop, according to the division, and represents what industry officials downplayed as an isolated incident.

"The sting itself has little to do with anything that homebrewers typically do, but it did create a lot of confusion and much greater scrutiny of the activities of homebrewers by LED," wrote Gary Glass, the director of the Boulder-based American Homebrewers Association, in a recent message to Colorado members.

Colorado's law operated for decades under a loose interpretation, particularly given that a provision only allows "a head of a family" to produce a fermented malt beverage for "family use." It essentially follows the 1979 federal law that legalized the practice.

The state's law has "given rise to a very thriving homebrew community in Colorado … and that homebrew culture has created a heck of a lot of professional brewers and breweries," said John Carlson, the executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild and an avid homebrewer.

All states now allow homebrewing after Alabama and Mississippi legalized the practice in 2013. The homebrewers association estimates that 1.2 million adults in the United States brew their own beer. Colorado is home to the largest contingent of association members.

"It's more mainstream now than it's ever been," Glass said in an interview.

The fallout from the sting sent a jolt through the state's homebrewing community and jeopardized entrenched rituals, such as beer samples in educational classes, club meetings at supply stores and amateur competitions.

"It resulted in some backlash," said Kevin DeLange, the owner of Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora and its sister homebrew store, Brew Hut. "For a few months, everybody was stressed out and all up in arms."

The homebrewing enthusiasts considered hiring a lobbyist to push for legislative changes at the Capitol and even contacted a local lawmaker. But they later decided against that path after the division agreed to clarify the law's interpretation.

The bulletin, posted Nov. 25 to the division's website, explains that supply stores can only offer homebrew samples after closing or in a private location, such as a back office.

Further, all homebrewing events must be marked private and advertising, such as posts on social media or a website, must limit participation to a select group to avoid being deemed open and run afoul of public consumption laws.

For competitions or exhibitions, only locations licensed to serve beer can serve as drop-off locations, though the division is allowing drop-offs at homebrew supply stores.

Maroney said his liquor enforcement officers are working to help educate homebrewers on the laws.

"Homebrew is not something we go out of our way to enforce," he said. "If we get complaints, if we come across it, then we will take a look at it. It's not something that we on a regular basis are in a method of investigating."

Months after an extraordinary law enforcement sting threatened a cherished Colorado pastime, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration is clarifying the laws on making beer at home.

The state’s Liquor Enforcement Division recently issued a bulletin that outlines the limitations on homebrew consumption, supply shops and events, putting a spotlight on an industry that operated for decades with little scrutiny.

The administration’s new guidelines are designed to address confusion about a popular hobby that holds a unique place in Colorado culture and counts the governor among its enthusiasts.

“Homebrew is a very vital industry in Colorado,” said Patrick Maroney, the division’s director. “We wanted to provide guidance to them on what they can do.”

Read the rest of this article on the Denver Post website.