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(Tribune file photo) Snowbird likely will secure a liquor permit for its annual Oktoberfest after the state liquor commission sparked controversy with a tougher interpretation about approving single-event liquor permits to businesses.
Editorial: Utah liquor regulators overreach with event rules

DABC overreaches with event rules.

First Published May 29 2014 05:17 pm • Last Updated May 30 2014 09:25 am

Ach du lieber! Only 3.2 beer at Oktoberfest? Any self-respecting Bavarian can eliminate a higher percentage than that.

A subtle change in interpretation of state alcohol law by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control may put Snowbird’s 40-year tradition of Oktoberfest on a Utah beer diet. At issue is whether Snowbird can continue to obtain a single-event permit from DABC that allows the resort to serve wine, spirits and beers and ales stronger than what is found in Utah grocery stores. These permits are commonly used by churches and other non-profits to throw fund raisers.

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The question is whether the annual fall tradition is a "civic or community enterprise," which is defined by DABC rules as "a function that is in the nature of a temporary special event such as a social, business, religious, political, governmental, educational, recreational, cultural, charitable, athletic, theatrical, scholastic, artistic, or scientific event."

Surely something in there covers bratwurst.

But here’s the kicker in DABC rules: "A ‘civic or community enterprise’ generally is a gathering that brings members of a community together for the common good."

If Oktoberfest can’t meet that standard, then all the German beers (and many Utah beers) are off the table during the several weekends of Oktoberfest. This despite the fact that, like most single-event permittees, Snowbird has complied with all the exhaustive regulations for single-event permits, including limits on the number of events per year.

Department officials have seen a surge in applications for these temporary permits, and they are concerned about people using single-event permits to circumvent state liquor law, so they’re starting to invoke the "common good" standard. The Maverik Center was turned down for single-event permits to offer higher-alcohol drinks to hockey spectators at certain games.

Is Oktoberfest a commercial enterprise? Yes. A sure sign of that is that it actually starts in August. Is Oktoberfest a "common good"? The folks gathered around the oompah band on the Snowbird plaza would certainly say it’s "good." And, based on the crowds, it’s arguably more "common" than bingo night at St. Michael’s.

Could Snowbird associate with a charitable cause to give Oktoberfest more "common good"? Probably, but it shouldn’t have to. State law passed by the Utah Legislature specifically says that single-event permits can be issued to corporations and limited liability companies, the vast majority of which do not operate under any mandate to serve "the common good." State law says nothing about the common good. That’s just DABC’s interpretation. The law just says that it must be a "civic or community enterprise," and presumably that can include the lederhosen-wearing community.

So the division would be wise to not position itself to decide what makes an event "for the common good." If the applicants meet all the other DABC requirements, they should get to raise their steins.

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