Illinois Homebrewers [yes, we’re going with one word, not two] may have reason to fret given some recent statements made by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

The Peoria Journal Star posted the article “Law enforcement keeping home brews out of beer festival” by Danielle Hatch on April 18th. The article details some events surrounding homebrewers presenting their beers at the Peoria International Beer Festival. Homebrewers have apparently been participating in the event for the past 19 years.

But this year the ILCC has barred homebrewers from the event.

The online page for the Beer Festival shows that the festival does charge a fee for ticketed admissions and is open to the public.

The interesting thing is the article’s reporting on comments from an ILCC spokesperson regarding the Illinois law. They have the possible implication that the ILCC interprets the State statute to only allow homebrewers to serve their beer at homes – possibly even just the home of the brewer:

It’s not that state law has changed; rather, the state just became aware of what was going on at the Peoria festival and is now enforcing the law. Home brewers have never been able to share their beer outside of the home, said Susan Hofer, spokesperson for Illinois liquor Control Commission.

“The reason we call it home brewing is because you serve it at home to friends and family and invited guests,” she said. “That doesn’t include anybody that walks through the gates at a festival – that’s a different kind of event than your kids’ graduation party.”

The Illinois statute and administrative code certainly restricts what homebrewers can do with their beer. The statute, 235 ILCS 5/2-1, states that:

“…nothing herein contained shall prevent the possession and transportation of alcoholic liquor by the possessor for the personal use of the possessor, his family and guests, nor prevent the making of wine, cider or other alcoholic liquor by a person from fruits, vegetables or grains, or the products thereof, by simple fermentation and without distillation, if it is made solely for the use of the maker, his family and his guests…”

There is a section of the Administrative Code, Title 11, Chapter 1, Part 100 Section 100.280 that regulates giving beer away as well:

Section 100.280 Giving Away of Alcoholic Liquors

a) No licensee, individual, partnership or corporation shall give away any alcoholic liquor for commercial purposes or in connection with the sale of non-alcoholic products or to promote the sale of non-alcoholic products.

b) No licensee, individual, partnership, or corporation shall advertise or promote in any way, whether on or off licensed premises, any of the practices prohibited under subsection (a) of this Section. This includes, but is not limited to, advertisements using the words “free” or “complimentary” with alcoholic liquor.

c) Subsection (a) shall not apply to test marketing or tasting.

So a direct reading of both the Statute and the Administrative Code seems to imply that a homebrewer can’t sell their beer, can’t give it away in conjunction with the sale of other items like food at a restaurant or festival, can’t advertise any such event, and only the homebrewer, their family and guests can drink it. But the Statute certainly allows transportation and nothing in the Statute explicitly restricts where the homebrewer, their family and guests can consume the homebrew.

Moreover, the Federal Government certainly recognizes the activities homebrewers participate in. While they don’t authorize ticket sales, the Code of Federal Regulations governing homebrewing (27 CFR 25 Sections 25.205 and 25.206) certainly allow for the exhibition and competition activities by individual homebrewers:

§ 25.205 Production.

(a) Any adult may produce beer, without payment of tax, for personal or family use and not for sale. An adult is any individual who is 18 years of age or older. If the locality in which the household is located requires a greater minimum age for the sale of beer to individuals, the adult shall be that age before commencing the production of beer. This exemption does not authorize the production of beer for use contrary to State or local law.

(b) The production of beer per household, without payment of tax, for personal or family use may not exceed:

(1) 200 gallons per calendar year if there are two or more adults residing in the household, or

(2) 100 gallons per calendar year if there is only one adult residing in the household.

(c) Partnerships except as provided in §25.207, corporations or associations may not produce beer, without payment of tax, for personal or family use.

§ 25.206 Removal of beer.

Beer made under §25.205 may be removed from the premises where made for personal or family use including use at organized affairs, exhibitions or competitions such as homemaker’s contests, tastings or judging. Beer removed under this section may not be sold or offered for sale.

Other states, have enacted legislation specifically allowing for the presentation at festivals. We’re all aware of Wisconsin’s homebrewer’s recent win enacting a statute that explicitly allows homebrewers to use their brew at exhibitions, demonstrations, judgings, tastings, samplings or contests and competitions.

So we know that homebrewers in some States have had to take the extra step of specifically allowing for contests and exhibitions…

But where does that leave us with regard to the comments made about the location at which Illinois homebrewers can use their brew? They certainly seem to imply that you have to drink your beer at your house. Which doesn’t seem to allow for the “transportation” aspect of the statute to make much sense beyond the transportation of non-homebrewed alcohol. But the statute doesn’t make that distinction when discussing what kind of “alcoholic liquor” can be transported.

The bottom line is that if these statements reflect some policy, it would seem that the state may be interpreting the Illinois statute in too narrow a fashion with regard to where homebrewers can let their family and guests drink their beer. In any event, given that most states, and even the Federal Regulations, have specific language allowing for holding exhibitions or contests where the general public (not just guests) can come and have a taste of homebrew, it may be time for some explicit language to be codified in the Illinois statutes as well.