Am I brewing trouble?
August 6, 2010 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Can I start a private club to function like a CSA, but for homebrewed beer?

I enjoy homebrewing beer. Can I collect money from people to pay for the ingredients, and then give them a share of the final brew? Or would this be selling alcohol? I wouldn't be selling per bottle; money would be paid in advance only for ingredients.

I'm not too concerned for now about Rex Banner knocking down my door, but I'm just curious about what the legal status of such a "private club" might be.

(I'm in MA.)
posted by overeducated_alligator to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I asked a somewhat similar question related to homemade food, not beer, and the general consensus seemed to be that I would be running afoul of the health department pretty quickly. I can only imagine that adding alcohol into the mix would complicate it all the more.
posted by Gilbert at 7:16 AM on August 6, 2010

Alcohol regulation laws are always very complicated and very specific by state. I'd suggest asking this question of someone at the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverages Control Commission.
posted by something something at 7:31 AM on August 6, 2010

The CSA part of this isn't the issue - You would still need to conply with FDA regulations to sell
posted by xammerboy at 7:32 AM on August 6, 2010

Best answer: As far as the Feds are concerned, you can brew 200 gallons in your home per year. Plus an additional 100 gallons for each adult resident. That's a lot of beer. I don't think you'll go over that limit. If you do, then excise taxes come into play.

I don't see any MA-specific laws that apply.

The concern seems to be are you 'selling' beer. I'd say no, but IANAL. Your friends are giving you beer ingredients and you are turning that into beer which you give back to them. If my neighbor gave me flour, yeast, salt and water and I gave her a loaf of bread in return, did I sell her the bread?

I say this with some self-interest, as I'm doing the same CSB (Community Supported Brew) idea as you.
posted by iwhitney at 7:35 AM on August 6, 2010

Your friends are giving you beer ingredients and you are turning that into beer which you give back to them. If my neighbor gave me flour, yeast, salt and water and I gave her a loaf of bread in return, did I sell her the bread

but contract brewing is regulated, contract baking is not. That's where your logic fails. If you really care ask a lawyer.
posted by JPD at 7:40 AM on August 6, 2010

But contract brewers make money. They charge you to make your beer. The OP is not charging. He's brewing ingredients given to him for free.

It all sounds nice when stated as 'common sesne', but I agree that common sense tends to fly out the window when alcohol and the law collide. Like I said, IANAL.
posted by iwhitney at 7:46 AM on August 6, 2010

There is a service being performed - brewing for someone else - even if you are doing it for free. IANAL either but knowing what I know about liquor laws in the US I would be shocked if this is legal.
posted by JPD at 7:48 AM on August 6, 2010

Something similar happens in various states/provinces with raw milk & cheeses. One buys a share in a cow, and then at some point you receive some of the milk/cheese your cow has produced. The court cases on this are still pending but lower circuits are generally finding it legal, though the regulatory bodies are trying to stop it anyway with hassle and appeals.

Definitely an ask your state's alcohol control board question, as there may be some "spirit of the law" violations inherent in your idea and you really don't want to get any of those people angry with you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:54 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From a logistical point of view, it's totally fine to do anything until you're in the newspaper. That's the point at which you get shut down.

My idea of less shaky legal footing is getting them to buy the actual ingredients, and then giving those ingredients to you. When you say you're only collecting money for ingredients - hey, that's what real businesses charge you for!

And in regard to the previous underground food market question, charging money is a big deal. Talking to people who are or were involved in similar things, it seems like you can do whatever you want as long as you're only accepting donations.
posted by soma lkzx at 7:57 AM on August 6, 2010

I've made beer for several friends' weddings. Often they wanted to pay for it, but I always refused for the reasons being discussed here. If they insisted, I'd usually allow them to pay for ingredients, but no more.

The context is a bit different than what you're considering, because I only made beer for weddings I attended, and so I drank some too, and so it was personal use. But I always tried to make clear to my friends that while I was happy to receive a gift of some grains and hops, and also happy to bring a few kegs of beer to their wedding, the beer was a gift. "I can give you beer," I'd say, "but I won't sell it to you."

I'd agree that it's probably worth seeing what your local regulators have to say.

Another possibility might be to brew the beer, say "I've got more beer than I can drink. Who wants a six-pack?" and leave an empty hat by the pickup point.

Also, I thought the federal limit was 100 gallons and 200 for people filing their taxes as head-of-household... but it's been a while since I checked. Or got anywhere close to the limit.
posted by nickmark at 8:23 AM on August 6, 2010

nickmark, you're right. I had the federal limits wrong. The actual statute

(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.
posted by iwhitney at 8:28 AM on August 6, 2010

well I hate to be buzzkill but : from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau there is actually a definitive answer.

B3: Must TTB approve my operations when I intend to make beer?
If you intend to make beer for other than family or personal use, TTB must approve your operations. Refer to the answer for limitations on making beer for personal or family use.

B:10 What are the guidelines for a Nano brewery?

Nano-breweries, which we define as very small brewery operations, are springing up across the country. Nano brewing is a result of the steady appeal for craft-brewed beers and the beneficiary of the growing home brewing movement. We issue this advisory as a reminder that any beer produced for sale by home brewers is not exempt from Federal excise tax payment.

Section 5092 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC) defines a brewer as a person who brews beer or produces beer for sale. Section 5053(e) of the IRC provides an exemption from Federal excise tax payment for beer that is produced for personal or family use.

So the definition of a brewer isn't just quantity or sale driven but consumption driven - so unless they are all family it ain't kosher.

link here
posted by JPD at 8:47 AM on August 6, 2010

It's probably best to check with your local municipality and try to get a license for selling liquor. For Montgomery County, a Class A license is only $250/yr. If you can make 200 gallons/year as iwhitney said then you could just tack on a little extra to your purchasers to cover the cost of the license.
posted by JJ86 at 9:02 AM on August 6, 2010

Someone I know was recently approached to brew beer for some local farmers who already do a veggie CSA. The plan was to include beer in the CSA for "free" but to up the price of the CSA rate. My friend decided it was more work than he had time for, and passed.

I have heard of garage pubs where the homebrew is free, but folks are encouraged to tip heavily. I think this was the case of a garage pub that was built as an episode of the TV show Man Caves in San Francisco(?).

I have also heard of private clubs where the beer is free, but one is expected to pay their dues. Either each time they entered the private club or monthly.

All of these methods are obviously designed to get around the state and federal laws. I would contact my state's secretary of state and find out what is involved, but I think JPD is correct, and unless you piggyback on another CSA or go the private club route you may run into the law.

Good luck.
posted by terrapin at 10:13 AM on August 6, 2010

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