Good Beer Hunting

Wisconsin Brewers, MillerCoors Stand Against Proposed Alcohol Regulation Agency

Wisconsin’s craft brewers and MillerCoors are opposing an effort by wholesalers to strengthen the parameters of the state’s regulatory environment.

As reported by Madison’s The Cap Times, the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute are working to clarify state law by prohibiting businesses from one tier of the three-tier system from operating in another. Further, the proposal—which would be added to the state budget—calls for the establishment of a new enforcement office tasked with regulating alcohol licenses.

Small brewers contend the effort would hamper their own businesses, while MillerCoors supports clarification, but believes the current regulatory framework is adequate in its current state.

The state’s smaller breweries have already made clear their opposition to the effort, previously calling it “just bad business.” This week, though, they’re being joined by MillerCoors, the largest beer manufacturer in the state.

Asked for its stance on the matter by the Cap Times, MillerCoors spokesman Marty Malone offered the following statement:

“We support efforts to clarify and reinforce that Wisconsin indeed has a strong system of regulation for all brewers, distributors and retailers. We oppose the creation of a new, stand alone alcohol enforcement agency since we believe the current regulatory structure is effective.”

The two sides—craft brewers and MillerCoors—aren’t in complete harmony, though. While they both believe the establishment of a new government body—which would cost an estimated $2 million and staff up to 16 people—is unnecessary, they diverge elsewhere.

While MillerCoors believes the “current regulatory structure is effective,” smaller brewers believe the current system is grossly outdated. “Not a day passes where there isn’t a new example of one of our small businesses trying to grow, or even get off the ground, being stifled by prohibition era laws,” says William Glass, president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild.

As for what’s at stake in this latest movement: Beyond the clarification aspect, wholesalers are aiming to “create a fee structure for businesses that violate the system,” according to the Cap Times.

“Under the proposed structure, businesses could be fined up to $10,000 for some violations, including failing to buy beer from a wholesaler. The [proposed] Office of Alcohol Beverage Enforcement could also issue civil penalties for those who do not comply with the law.”

Furthermore, it would “specifically prohibit businesses from one tier of the system, like a brewer or winemaker, from obtaining a license to serve another kind of alcoholic beverage.” (The Wisconsin Tavern League, a retailer group, was also reportedly behind the initiative, though it has denied it).

For now, the Wisconsin Brewers Guild reportedly sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker last week, detailing its opposition. As is usually the case with beer legislation all over the country, this situation will probably keep evolving soon.

—Dave Eisenberg

MillerCoors opposes alcohol enforcement office, clarifications to Wisconsin alcohol license law [Cap Times]
Wisconsin Tavern League, beer distributors draft plan to narrow distribution laws [Cap Times]