This coming weekend (May 4-5), Denverites will descend upon the southern burb of Littleton, CO for the inaugural South Denver Beer Fest, with over 60 breweries, both local and national (and a couple of Belgians, as well as a couple of local distillers). Unfortunately the Fest will carry on without roughly 8 breweries planned for attendance.
One of the major draws of the South Denver Beer Fest was/is the presence of breweries so new, they hadn’t even signed building leases. And in a town with 24 currently active breweries (seven in the past twelve months), NEW is as sought-after as a hoppy double IPA. But on the evening of April 24, ten days before the Fest was set to begin, CLED (the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division) told event organizers that beer from unlicensed breweries would not be permitted.
Festival co-organizer Jeremy Hutaff’s goal with involving breweries-in-planning was to give a bit of exposure to these small businesses like Demon Spawn Ale Works, 53 Peaks Brewing Co., and Former Future Brewing Co., and hopefully allow these entrepreneurs a chance to gain some early fans in an increasingly crowded market.
To paraphrase Colorado’s laws on the matter, homebrew may be involved in beer fests, but only to “judges”, not the general public. Homebrew (or, more to the point, beer from brewers without a state license) may not be sold. And since the South Denver Beer Fest is a ticketed event, a bit of creativity was involved in trying to get these unopened brewers to take part in the fest.
Hutaff’s plan was to set up these breweries-in-planning as homebrewers in a separate Homebrew-Judging pavilion, apart from the licensed brewers. Hutaff said he talked to state Liquor/Tobacco Enforcement Division staff about the festival well beforehand and “all they could come back and say was, ‘It’s a gray area.’”
The gray area came to a head last week when officials told Hutaff the “homebrewers” would be solicited on the day of event by CLED, and that charges levied against these brewers would certainly affect their license applications. Officials noted that homebrew judges need to be selected beforehand, not invited from the general public (paying customers).
“I personally still do not believe this is in any way illegal,” says Jason Conger of 53 Peaks Brewing. “We aren’t selling beer and there is no area from Jeremy’s understanding of the law, that would make us to believe we were doing anything illegal. I believe this is in every way of the law, unfair, and unjust to disallow this event from happening. As Jeremy has said, he never hid this fact, he’s talked to [CLED] on many accounts, and it’s been going on for months now.”
To be safe, Hutaff, the other organizers, and the brewers themselves decided to scrap the pavilion to be safe. The breweries affected still plan on attending, just not pouring beer. Former Future’s James Howat added, “We absolutely want to do things the right way, which is a big reason why we started the contract brewing agreement in the first place – because I know the serving homebrewed beer at festivals, etc is a huge grey area. We are getting closer to opening our doors and we want to cooperate and work with [CLED] to make sure we are doing things legally and not jeopardizing our future licensing.”
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