What will be the 24th annual this year, has been undergoing political turmoil due to some small, but potentially tragic, piece of legislation.
Amended in Senate September 6, 2013, Governor Brown signed a Committee Bill that is being interpreted by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to prohibit homebrew festivals, such as this one.
Introduced by the California Assembly Committee on Governmental Organizations, it was originally drafted to make home brewed beer and wine easier to share. AB 1425, the new law, makes the SCHF and possibly future AHA National Conferences, illegal.
Read the California Assembly Bill 1425 here.
The California Homebrewers Association is putting pressure on the ABC for a more favorable interpretation of the law. And it’s working.
A press release was submitted on January 23rd from the office of Assemblyman Brain Nestande, Vice-Chair of the Governmental Organizational Committee (R-Palm Desert) and Chairman, Assembly Member Isadore Hall III (D-Los Angeles). Together, they sent a letter to the Director of the ABC in an effort to ensure that the festival can continue this year.
In the release, Nestande stated, “It appears that there is a misinterpretation of the Committee’s intent with this bill. These small local festivals attract thousands of people. They are a vital part of our economy and promote small business growth. I’m committed to working with Director Gorsuch to ensure the festival can carry on as planned.”
David Humphrey, CEO for the Coachella Valley Brewing Company and an estates, trusts and conservatorships attorney continued, “Reading the entirety of the statute as well as the statutory intent, it appears clear that the provision in question (c3) should be read to keep commercial breweries from using the expansive language as an end around from obtaining a proper license. Under no good faith reading was the provision meant to limit a home brewer or home wine maker from showcasing his hobby at a festival.”
Brett Newman is the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club president and has been helping the other Southern California homebrew clubs change the language of the new bill. Newman has attended the festival twice and loves getting ideas, and tasting rare beers from larger breweries like The Bruery and Mikkeller.
“Serving and pouring at your booth is just amazing. I actually love doing that almost more than anything else. It’s like instant feedback….You can’t trust your own senses with your own homebrew sometimes.”
California Homebrewers Association President Christy Elshof wants to clarify that it’s the “Southern California Homebrewers Festival.”
“We want to make that clear because it seems that there’s a lot of misunderstanding that it’s all about the beer. And we want to make it very clear it’s all about the homebrewer. It’s the homebrewers rights that are in jeopardy with the law as it stands.”
Elshof started attending the event and homebrewing 17 years ago. She started going as a volunteer, in 1995 and was later asked to join the board and then became president of the association. Elshof feels that the ABC is looking at it as a beer festival. And the way she sees it, it’s a place for homebrewers to get together and talk about what they make.
“We are enthusiastic hobbyists. Over the years, we’ve grown from I think it was 3-4 clubs that started it back in stores and wineries back lots to where we are now and in the last few years, it’s grown very rapidly. We had over 2,000 people last year…I think if they could actually hear how brewers talk to each other, talk about technique, ya’ know, as a brewer, you’re always looking for that little intangible. You want to know what it is that added that little back flavor… As a brewer, I think that’s what we’re always after…What did you add? What was your temperature? You gather more information by sharing with others.”
Elshof is working to define and clarify the language. What is a taste? What is it to share? What is an exhibition?
“We just want to get back to the rights we had before.”
“What we’re going to have to do is to find a non-profit…to donate homebrew that can be sold then by a charity, for their fundraising…they have to manage the event for us…we are trying to find somebody who is a good fit. If we get that whole structure put together, then we take that to the ABC and they’ll let us know if we can have the festival that we want to have.”
The rough estimate of funds lost for Lake Casitas Campgrounds, area vendors and the region would total approximately $150,000 if the festival can’t occur. And if the summer of 2015 American Homebrewers Association Annual Conference must be cancelled, that impact is estimated by the AHA at $8.5 million dollars.
The severity of this bill lies in how homebrewers contribute to the craft beer industry.
“This is where we grow our future craft brewers, is in the homebrewing industry,” Elshof said.
It's worth repeating. It's all about the homebrewer. You can help by visiting their website at http://www1.calhomebrewers.org/.
UPDATE: On February 19th, Elshof got word that The Surfrider Foundation will manage the event and all indications point to the 24th annual SCHF going on without a hitch. Tickets will likely go on sale March 1st.