, , , ,

Lawmakers Look To Loosen Rules On Breweries, Wineries

Republican Bill Faces Opposition From Influential Tavern League

Bartender pouring a beer at Wisconsin Brewing
Shamane Mills/WPR

Supporters of a proposal that would relax restrictions on craft brewers and wineries in Wisconsin say it would boost tourism. The Wisconsin Tavern League says it upsets a longstanding system in which manufacturers, distributors and retailers are kept separate, and could potentially put small taverns out of business.

State Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, and three other Republicans introduced their bill Tuesday, speaking to reporters at a Verona microbrewery. He said the measure is an effort to “get the conversation going” about changing Wisconsin’s three-tier system for alcohol. Under that system, someone makes a product, another outfit distributes it and someone else sells it. Regulations prevent crossover between those roles. This legislation would change that.

“The bill we put together is going to make a difference in Wisconsin. It’s our job to find balance to try and be pro-business and pro-economic development and try and help the state of Wisconsin move forward,” said the bill’s author, Tauchen, at Wisconsin Brewing. “We want to increase the opportunity through a free market and be pro-small business.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

One provision would allow those with a brewer’s permit to sell wine and distilled spirits consumed on site.

According to the Wisconsin Tavern League, it would be hard for small bars to compete if the rules were changed.

“A proposal like this is going to be detrimental to many of the mom-and-pop tavern owners throughout the state of Wisconsin,” said Tavern League lobbyist Scott Stenger.

One of the bills co-authors, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, says the market is big enough for everyone.

“We’re not trying to pick favorites,” Kooyenga said. “We’re not trying to pick big brewers or small brewers or wineries or distilleries over taverns. We’re just trying to have more flexible rules for everybody.”

Kooyenga said Wisconsin could boost tourism by relaxing regulations on craft breweries and wineries. The bill would help the entire alcohol industry, he said.

“There’s room for everybody in this space, and especially if Wisconsin becomes the Napa Valley of Beer, which we historically have been but we’re losing momentum. I believe by supporting both our big breweries, small breweries,” Kooyenga said.

The bill would also loosens rules for wineries, which Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, says have increased dramatically in the last decade.

“In 2007, there were about 40 wineries in Wisconsin. In 2017 we now have over 100,” she said.

The proposal Harsdorf and others have co-authored would let wineries sell beer, double the allowed capacity of what are considered small wineries and extend winery hours. Currently a winery with a Class B license has to close at 9 p.m. The bill would extend that to 2 a.m.

The proposal would also increase by 10 percent the number of liquor licenses a municipality may issue.

“This will provide greater flexibility for municipalities that have the opportunity to grow businesses like restaurants which really need those liquor licenses to give those services their customers are demanding,” said Harsdorf.

The legislation isn’t currently scheduled for a hearing.