Craft brewers, wineries and distillers are beefing up their legislative efforts following an effort by distributors to cut them out of the lucrative alcoholic beverage retail market.
An alliance called the Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition announced its effort on Thursday.
“The coalition will work to promote legislation that will allow Wisconsin’s craft beverage industry to grow and thrive and will raise awareness of all legislative and special interest proposals that would harm our small businesses,” the group said in a press release.
Members of the board of the new group include: Alwyn Fitzgerald, president of the Wisconsin Winery association and owner of Fisher King Winery in Verona; William Glass, president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild and the owner of the Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire; and Brian Sammons, president of the Wisconsin Distillers Guild, owner of Twisted Path Distillery in Milwaukee.
The alliance comes in response to an effort by the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute to tighten the state’s three-tiered system of manufacturing, distributing and selling alcoholic beverages by keeping small-scale producers from selling beverages for drinking on-site — a move that would stunt a growing industry.
The wholesalers are pushing “drafting instructions” to lawmakers that would clarify rules in their favor. The proposal would allow for fines of up to $10,000 for violations of the system’s restrictions on producers', distributors' and retailers' ability to encroach on one another’s turf. Significantly, those rules would penalize a business for selling beverages not purchased from a distributor.
The proposal comes in response to the growing number of craft breweries, wine makers and distillers that are opening tap and tasting rooms adjacent to production facilities.
“By uniting the small breweries, wineries and distilleries from across the state, the Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition will serve as a unified voice to help educate policy makers in the state and local level about the economic, employment and tourism opportunities that local craft beverage producers provide to their communities,” the group said.
The wholesalers’ proposal includes a provision that would create a new enforcement agency, which would operate out of the state Department of Revenue, which regulates liquor licenses.
While the craft beverage makers fear that the rules might be slipped into the state budget, it’s unclear how much support they have. The powerful Wisconsin Tavern League has not endorsed the proposal, and the state’s largest brewer, MillerCoors, opposes it.
A member of the state’s budget writing committee, Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, also opposes the plan, as does the state chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.