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Homebrewers activated by statewide festival sample ban

David Starr left Wayne Richard Placko right Elgshare beer during Silverado Homebrew Club meet-up Tap House Grill St. Charles Ill.

David Starr, left, of Wayne, and Richard Placko, right, of Elgin, share beer during a Silverado Homebrew Club meet-up at Tap House Grill in St. Charles, Ill., on Thursday, June 21, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |

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Updated: January 29, 2013 6:04AM

This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our communities in 2012.

This past summer members the St. Charles-based Silverado Homebrew Club found themselves inadvertently in the middle of the murkiness that is Illinois politics.

The club had been set to provide free samples of member-made beers at the Aug. 4 Wheaton Ale Fest but weren’t allowed to do so as city officials were worried about the legality of serving the brew.

That led to the club also not being able to give away samples at the Beer & BBQ @ Bowes fund raiser in Elgin in September — and eventually to some grassroots political activism.

The matter actually started to build to a head, if you’ll excuse the pun, downstate in April when Peoria International Beer Festival organizers were told by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission that since participating brew clubs’ equipment is not regulated and their beer is not taxed, they could not share the beverages at the festival. A dozen clubs had been a feature at the Peoria festival over the last 19 years. The event is a fund-raiser for the local Jaycees and other charities.

And thus — with the rise in popularity of home brewing — the state’s liquor control commission had started enforcing rules already on the books that do allow people to make their own beer and share it with friends, family and guests to their own home parties, but not offer their creations at public events.

“Once you open up offering homebrew to the public, it’s not good. Its use is limited to the home and may not be offered to the general public,” ILCC spokesperson Susan Hofer said.

This fall homebrew clubs across the state began working with the office of State Rep. Keith Farnham (D-Elgin) in putting together a draft of legislation, that, under certain controlled circumstances, would allow such groups to give away beer samples at events open to the public. The Colorado-based American Homebrewers Club also offered suggestions on the wording of the proposed bill, which Farnham hopes to introduce in early 2013.

A club in Plainfield called PALE (Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts) coordinated collecting the information. PALE had been part of the first Midwest Brewers Fest in 2011 but was not allowed to offer homemade beer at the second one held this past August.

Their efforts have been a lesson in democracy for the members of the beer clubs.

Richard Placko, spokesman for Silverado, said, “I have learned that when bills go through Springfield, there are a lot of parties — lobbyists, associations and such — working down there who need to get involved in a bill before it can be voted into law. The intent of this bill is not to put forth legislation that is questionable. Rather, the goal is to give small groups of home-brewers the ability to share the beer that they’ve created with others at a licensed and regulated festival. This same access has already been given homebrewers in Oregon, Wisconsin, and other nearby states.”

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