Vancouver-based Fortside Brewing Co. is joining a lawsuit seeking to allow easier, more affordable distribution of Washington beer into Oregon. The suit also challenges Oregon’s restrictions that don’t allow Washington brewers to ship beer directly to Oregon residents.
Oregon breweries don’t have to pay to get beer into Washington, which has stifled Southwest Washington’s brewery scene, according to Fortside co-founder Michael DiFabio.
“We’re trying to level the playing ground overall,” DiFabio said. “It’s really about fairness.”
Fortside joined Seattle brewery Mirage and Burlington-based Garden Path Fermentation in filing the lawsuit against the state of Oregon on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland. The lawsuit has been in the works for about six months, said DiFabio.
Oregon law currently requires out-of-state breweries that want to sell their beer in Oregon to obtain a federal wholesaler’s permit. Then they must start a separate distribution company in Oregon with a different business license, and get yet another license from the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
DiFabio and Fortside co-founder Mark Doleski went through the process four years ago, founding a separate Oregon company called Fortis. It costs thousands of dollars per year for the brewery to go through Fortis to sell, ship, and deliver their beer directly to Oregon consumers.
Origin of lawsuit
Goldendale attorney Justin Leigh first ran into the distribution issue five years ago when he started Dwinell Country Ales and couldn’t send his beer to Oregon. He, like Fortside, also founded an Oregon distribution company, and he also said it costs thousands a year to operate.
The struggle led Leigh to start researching the Oregon law that stifled him to what federal laws it might contradict.
He found a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established the principle that states could not favor their own alcoholic beverage industries. He reached out to the Indianapolis lawyers who won that case. When they learned about Oregon’s laws, they told Leigh that they wanted to take on the case.
“I wasn’t trying to solicit services. I just trying to get document copies,” Leigh said. “I was surprised.”
Leigh has known Fortside’s founders for years, so he asked them to join the lawsuit, Leigh said.
The lawsuit seeks to have Oregon treat Washington brewers like any in-state brewery: The brewers send a statement every month showing how much beer they sold, the state calculates tax and the brewers pay it.
The lawsuit would also allow Washington brewers to ship beer directly to consumers, even at their houses. Oregon currently only allows direct shipments from states where there’s reciprocity. Washington does not allow other states to do that, so Oregon won’t allow that from Washington. (Leigh also objects to the Washington law).
The lawsuit will be examined by the Oregon State Attorney General’s office, which will reply to the court, likely within the next few months.
“Oregon brewers can distribute here without regulation,” DiFabio said. “That’s totally fine, and that’s how it should be. We’re just trying to level the playing field.”
DiFabio and Doleski founded Fortside at 2200 N.E. Andresen Rd.Road in 2015.
The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission did not reply to The Columbian’s request for comment on Wednesday because the spokesperson is out of the office until next week, according to an email reply.