Many who stop by here surely know of Dean's Scene. If you aren't in the know, Dean's Scene is located in the basement of a home on Northeast Fremont Street across from the Alameda Brewpub, where it operated as a speakeasy for a number of years. Owner Dean Pottle closed the joint this week after the OLCC notified him of probable violations.
The story announcing the closure of Dean's funhouse first appeared on the Willamette Week website. There's a reason. Several months ago, WW ran a story that delved into the goings on at Dean's Scene. It was a decidedly positive story written by Martin Cizmar, arts and culture editor at WW.
At the time, many beer geeks thought the story a bad idea...thinking it drew attention to a well-kept secret that needed to stay that way. With the announcement that Dean has shut things down, those folks are piling the blame on Cizmar and WW. This is what declining attention spans do for us.
There are several points that need clarification and, apparently, explanation. Because there are details in this mess of a story that are being horrendously overlooked.
For the record, I have no loyalty to Cizmar or WW. We run in some of the same circles, but I've never met Cizmar. I exchanged emails with WW editor, Mark Zusman, Cizmar and others as part of last year's book project. That's it. In fact, I have criticized some of Cizmar's work at WW and it stuck in his craw. Even though I often disagree with his opinions, I think he's a good writer who produces entertaining stuff. But I have zero loyalty to him or WW.
Who's responsible for the closure of Dean's Scene? Definitely not Willamette Week. The original story was a great example of providing information of interest to the community. See, that's what journalists are supposed to do. Newspapers and news weeklies pay their bills by building readership that helps sell ads and subscriptions. Cizmar's story on Dean's Scene was a dialed-in fit for those objectives.
There's more. It was not Cizmar's job to investigate the legality of the operation at Dean's Scene. Or, more to the point, to evaluate the impact of the publicity. His job was to write a story that reported on what the place had to offer, good or bad. It certainly was not his job to keep Dean's Scene secret or write a negative story so the beer geek community could keep the place all to itself.
If you want to place blame, look no further than the owner of the establishment, Pottle. He agreed to be interviewed for the WW story. If he was remotely concerned that publicity might attract the interest and ire of the OLCC, he should have declined to be interviewed. Cizmar may have still written the story, but it would have been less detailed.
Another thing to consider is this: Dean's Scene is not closed permanently. In response to the OLCC notices, Pottle filed an application for a home brewers and private club license in mid-January. He closed up shop this week to prevent the possibility of OLCC action while he waits for that license. Assuming the application goes through, he will eventually reopen with some guidelines in place.
What was the OLCC's beef? A letter to Pottle dated Dec. 9 (and acquired by WW) outlines the agency's concerns in several areas. The most prominent issues involve production levels and fees.
The OLCC had discovered evidence that Pottle was brewing 30 gallons of beer every week...more than 1,500 gallons annually if extrapolated out. By the way, this fact was not revealed in Cizmar's story. It was evidently included in a TV interview Pottle did for the Esquire Network's Brew Dogs. The law limits unlicensed beer production at home to 100 gallons a year (200 in a house with two adults).
Donations, required or otherwise, were the other major issue. When I visited Dean's Scene more than a year ago, a sign on the wall said "No Beer Without Donation." Cizmar's story indicated that donations were optional. Wall signage shown in a photo published with the story contradicted that statement, but never mind. It doesn't matter to the OLCC if a donation is required or optional. You cannot charge or accept a fee for beer unless you have an OLCC license. Period. Some will quibble with this requirement, but it is clearly the law.
So Pottle was in clear violation of at least two OLCC regulations. It seems to me he should have acquired the appropriate OLCC license long ago, assuming he intended to brew 30 gallons of beer per week and offset the cost of that production via donations. By operating outside legal guidelines, he was inviting scrutiny. Why shouldn't he comply with the law? Other people do.
If the Willamette Week story and the Brew Dogs piece helped bring Pottle into compliance, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. Go ahead and turn Martin Cizmar into a virtual punching bag if you want, but what happened to Dean's Scene ain't his fault.