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updated: 12/1/2012 5:12 PM

Should home-brewed beer be allowed at festivals?

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  • Rich Placko brewed strawberry beer in his home in Elgin. He wanted to serve it at a Elgin fundraiser but discovered it might be illegal.

       Rich Placko brewed strawberry beer in his home in Elgin. He wanted to serve it at a Elgin fundraiser but discovered it might be illegal.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Rich Placko pours himself a glass of his homebrewed beer that he made in his kitchen in Elgin. He wanted to serve it at a Elgin fundraiser but discovered it might be illegal.

       Rich Placko pours himself a glass of his homebrewed beer that he made in his kitchen in Elgin. He wanted to serve it at a Elgin fundraiser but discovered it might be illegal.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Rich Placko samples beer that he brewed in his Elgin home. He wanted to serve it at a fundraiser but discovered it might be illegal.

       Rich Placko samples beer that he brewed in his Elgin home. He wanted to serve it at a fundraiser but discovered it might be illegal.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- Last year, Rich Placko and the St. Charles Silverado Homebrew Club took some of its homemade beer to a local Elgin bar for a fundraiser, serving tastes for a flat fee to raise money for a children's charity.

But when they tried again earlier this year, they were told doing so was likely illegal. State alcohol laws generally don't allow home brewers to distribute their beer except for "use of the maker, his family and his guests."

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"The point of brewing beer at home is that you drink your beer at home," said Illinois Liquor Control Commission spokeswoman Sue Hofer.

Placko, a member of the Silverado club, is trying to get that law changed in Springfield, saying people who brew beer at home should be allowed to take it to tasting festivals and fundraisers. It's not like they're selling beer to compete with commercial brewers, he argues.

"We didn't see a reason that this had to be monitored," Placko said.

Legislation in Springfield could let the club participate in fundraisers once again, but the proposal could face a long road to becoming law.

Bill Olson, president of the powerful Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, said Placko's idea raises a number of problems.

"Alcohol is different from all other products," Olson said. "It's regulated differently."

Olson says his group opposes the plan because, among other reasons, the home-brewed beer wouldn't be subject to health regulations and the home brewers don't have required insurance to protect from liability if someone gets drunk and later gets in a car accident.

"It's not root beer," Olson said. "It's an intoxicating beverage."

State Rep. Keith Farnham, an Elgin Democrat, is working with Placko and filed the legislation in Springfield. Though lawmakers are back at the Capitol, Farnham says he won't be working to move the proposal forward until the General Assembly's new term begins early next year.

He says he's willing to work with the beer distributors to look for a compromise and said the legislation he has filed is far from final.

Still, Farnham thinks Placko and other home brewers should be allowed to participate in fundraisers in some way.

"I don't see any harm in that," Farnham said. "It's not like they're selling a product."

Farnham points to a similar law approved in Wisconsin this year that allows people who make beer and wine at home to enter their products in competitions as a possible model for Illinois.

Olson says he's willing to work toward a compromise, but there haven't been any discussions about one yet.

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