Brewery grows its own ingredients

A worker at Rogue Farms cuts hop vines in preparation for harvest. A bill before Oregon lawmakers would extend agritourism privileges to on-farm breweries.

Breweries would enjoy agritourism privileges similar to those of wineries and cideries on Oregon farmland under legislation that’s hit a snag over on-site hop acreage requirements.

Lawmakers allowed wineries in Oregon to conduct certain commercial activities and special events in “exclusive farm use” zones in 2013, then extended similar rights to cideries in 2017.

Senate Bill 287 would now allow on-farm breweries to also have tasting rooms for malt beverages and hold brewer’s lunches and dinners, among other promotional activities.

“We’re simply asking that you do the same for beer,” said Matthew Merritt, general counsel for Rogue Ales and Spirits. “I think there are a number of breweries that want to do this but are afraid to.”

The sticking point is that SB 287 ties these privileges at on-farm breweries to the size of adjacent hop yards, which don’t evenly correspond with vineyards or orchards.

“Hops are not to beer as grapes are to wine,” said Katherine Jernstedt, who testified against the bill on behalf of the Friends of Yamhill County farmland conservation group.

Critics of the bill point out that hops are a flavoring agent in beer, which is primarily made from grains and water, while wine and cider rely on fruit from surrounding vineyards and orchards as the main ingredient.

Jernstedt said breweries can benefit small towns by operating within city limits instead of being allowed to spread into the countryside.

A garden-like setting around a brewery is not the equivalent of a vineyard or orchard that produces fruit for on-site processing, she said.

“We are continuing to remove agriculture from agritourism,” Jernstedt said. “We need to look not only at our short-term entertainment value.”

Under the original version of the bill, breweries could benefit from the legislation if at least 25 acres of hops are grown around the facilities.

An amended version of the bill would reduce that threshold to 10 acres, which supporters say is intended to allow smaller breweries to benefit from the statute.

The Oregon Farm Bureau’s board of directors was willing to accept the basic concept of SB 287 because it makes sense for breweries to be treated similar to wineries and cideries, said Samantha Bayer, the group’s associate policy counsel.

While the organization feels the 10 acre standard is “too small,” it’s willing to negotiate over the issue to hopefully strike the right balance, she said.

The earlier legislation for wine and cider successfully found that balance, which is trickier in this case because hops aren’t the primary component of beer, said Meriel Darzen, rural lands attorney for the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group.

The organization is also willing to discuss how best to maintain the connection between brewery activities and agriculture, she said. “I think there is a way to bring that to our breweries.”

The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources held a public hearing on SB 287 on Feb. 14, but will now “await the resolution of those differences,” said Sen. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland, the committee’s chairman.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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