Wisconsin Lawmakers Propose Craft-Friendly Legislation

A group of Wisconsin lawmakers today introduced the first in a series of legislative actions aimed at modernizing the state’s three-tier system.

The proposed legislation, dubbed “Cheers Wisconsin,” is designed to make the three-tier system more consumer friendly while also making it less restrictive on suppliers. It was introduced by Republican state representatives Gary Tauchen, Shannon Zimmerman, Dale Kooyenga and John Macco along with state senator Sheila Harsdorf during a press conference at Wisconsin Brewing Company.

Among the changes that would impact beer makers is a proposal to double the annual production cap, for brewpub permit holders, from 10,000 barrels to 20,000 barrels across all locations. The bill would also double the number of locations that a brewpub group could operate, from six to 12.

In addition to beer produced on-site, licensed brewery manufacturers would be allowed to sell wine and spirits as well as other Wisconsin-made beer for on-premise consumption; sales of wine and spirits would also be permitted at a brewery’s off-site retail outlet.

The number of Class B liquor licenses issued to restaurants, bars and taverns for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages in municipalities would also be increased by 10 percent. Additionally, the bill would eliminate a requirement that beer wholesalers sell and deliver products to at least 25 separate and independent retail licensees or wholesalers. (A requirement that liquor wholesalers sell and deliver to a minimum of 10 accounts would also be eliminated.)

Wisconsin Brewers Guild president Will Glass told Brewbound that the proposed legislation is a good start but “doesn’t go far enough.” However, he said he anticipates “a much more intensive rewrite of statutes” to be attempted as the Cheers Wisconsin campaign progresses and other modernization bills are introduced in the coming weeks.

“This is the first step in a multi-bill effort to modernize the state’s liquor laws,” said Glass, who also serves as the president of the Brewing Projekt brewery in Eau Claire and a member of the the Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition board (a collaborative lobbying group of breweries, wineries and distilleries),

Glass said he anticipates working with lawmakers to draft follow up bills or amend the existing bill. Among the changes brewers are seeking is the creation of a new, small manufacturers permit that would allow breweries producing fewer than 300,000 barrels annually the flexibility to operate as a brewer or a brewpub while maintaining the right to self-distribute and operate taprooms.

“We look forward to working with them so there are not any unintended consequences,” Glass said.

With the Wisconsin Legislature currently focused on finishing the state’s budget, Glass said he expects the issue to be discussed by legislators in the fall.

Earlier this year, Wisconsin breweries fended off a proposal from the states wholesaler groups that could have eliminated crossover among the tiers while also creating a new government agency, the Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement, to police the industry. The state’s breweries, wineries and distilleries later joined forces to form the Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition in order to beat back efforts by the state’s wholesalers to reform the three-tier system and lobby lawmakers.

Glass said the reform effort led by Tauchen is the first time a lawmaker has introduced legislation that would challenge the state’s powerful wholesaler groups, which he said have been “treated as third rail, not to be touched.”

“This is unchartered territory,” he said.

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