Saving the Craft: Is Wisconsin Next?

In Beer Politics by Karl

KARL: With SB754 just a signature away from becoming law, it would appear that this chapter of Save the Craft is coming to a close.  And truth be told, we Guys have been kinda looking forward to getting back to the Drinking Beer part of the site’s name, doing some reviews, setting up some vertical tastings and all that jazz.  It would appear, however, that even though as Minnesota has seen some success (see: their Surly bill) and as Illinois is getting ready to finish this particular fight*, other states are gearing up for more battles over craft beer and microbreweries. 

Over the course of the past few days we’ve been receiving messages and emails about a battle brewing between MillerCoors and breweries around Wisconsin.  Most notably was this page from the Madison Beer Review site.  Some of the following language should be fairly familiar to regular readers, so see if this raises any red flags the way it did for us:

[H]ere’s the gist of what’s going on. The Wisconsin wholesale laws prohibit an out-of-state brewery, say, Anheuser-Busch from holding a distributor’s license. However, in-state breweries, like O’So, can have a distributor license to distribute up to 50,000 barrels of beer. However, according to a court in the Northern District of Illinois this violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution; you can’t treat out-of-state companies differently than in-state companies.

So, in order to keep the status quo, but avoid a court challenge that would destroy the whole thing and allow A-B to own a distributor (it’s not entirely clear why this is something that needs to be avoided, but that’s another post for another day, I suppose), the Wisconsin Distributors (and MillerCoors, incidentally) want to eliminate the ability of breweries to hold a distributor’s license at all. Distribution up to 300,000 barrels would just be part and parcel of holding a brewer’s license.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Who knew that the one decision by an Illinois judge could have set off a huge battle over these right.  You might as well commit AB v. ILCC to memory at this point.  Oh, and the Wisconsin Positive Business Council isn’t too thrilled about this either.  The requirement for 25 individual retail accounts for wholesaling your own beer seems particularly egregious, but check out the link for all the details.

It also brings to mind our post about Michigan’s fight for self-distro rights as well.  While the battle in Ilinois over microbrewery rights focused on small business owners and the big bad supercorporation coming into town and trying to mess things up, it looks like a completely different game in Wisconsin, who as you may have heard, has a little place in Milwaukee called Miller Brewing Company.

With a huge business like MillerCoors having a huge presence instate as opposed to, say, A-B existing across the Mississippi River from Illinois, the stage is set for some bad news for Wisconsin craft brewers. You should go read the rest of the MBR post for further details on how it looks bad for in-state craft brewers, and what kind of reading between the lines is necessary in looking at this proposal.

And, as MBR tweeted earlier today, this just happened:

The motion specifies that a wholesaler’s permit may not be issued to a person who holds a brewers permit. It also eliminates a grandfather provision that allows a person to hold a wholesaler’s license, a retail beer permit or license, an industrial beer permit, or a brewpub permit.

It also eliminates a provision that allows a brewer to hold a wholesaler’s license and a Class “B” license for on- or off-premises sales of beer.

That story states that the proposal passed out of a GOP-led panel.  We’re much more familiar with Illinois law than we are with Wisconsin’s, but our layman interprestation certainly seems that aim has been taken directly at brewpubs, small brewers and self-distro rights up north of the Cheddar Curtain.  We may be nothing more than a bunch of FIBs, but we still want to see protections for favorite breweries like New Glarus and Lakefront.  While we’re still fuzzy on the exact impact of this kind of legislation, we’re looking into it.  All this is in the early stages for us.

It does look, however, like we may have to head back to the graphic design shop to throw a Wisconsin state outline behind our little logo up there.  We might be calling on our Wisconsin readers to make some phonecalls and send some emails in the near future.  We’ll see.

*We fully expect there to be some future haggling over the brewpubs amendment, which we of course will cover for you.  This ain’t over yet.



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About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers. If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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