Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wisconsin Legislature Attacks Craft Brewers

One of the many great things about being a brewer in Wisconsin was the ability to self-distribute our beers, something that is impossible here in Nebraska. Self-distribution gives the small brewer a foot in the door, and without it, Wisconsin wouldn't have nearly the beer diversity that it enjoys today. Lots of people would be out of work, and lots of tax money wouldn't be flowing into Wisconsin's coffers.

New legislation drafted by MillerCoors aims to change that. Under the guise of protecting MillerCoors from Anheuser-Busch InBev, the bill would institute a strict three-tier system. No holder of a brewer, wholesaler, or retailer license could hold a license in another category.

This bill is also supported by the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association, the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Stores Association, the Wisconsin Wine & Spirits Institute, large organizations that do most of their business with the big brewers.

The Wisconsin Brewers Guild, which represents about one-third of the state's craft brewers, was not consulted on the bill, even though there are provisions that will actively harm them.

Of course this has nothing to do with ABI. This is all about MillerCoors dictating what brewers can and cannot do in Wisconsin. No self-distribution means a lot fewer brewery startups, and very likely a lot of brewers going out of business.

The Tavern League has their grimy mitts in this as well, supporting a provision to ban brewers from operating pubs and restaurants, even on the brewer's own property.

Jay Brooks has posted one of his always-excellent rants on this subject.

Obnoxiously, Horton added that “the fundamental issue is whether small craft brewers want to be brewers or want to be brewers, wholesalers and retailers.” Given the way small brewers have been treated by distributors and retailers over the years, as they struggled against some pretty big, entrenched institutions to change how people thought about beer, that’s an awfully insulting thing to say. Craft brewers have had to find creative ways to gain access to market out of necessity, including doing their own selling and distributing, precisely because of all the roadblocks put in their way by distributors, retailers and big brewers, the very people who are trying once more to harm their business with this new legislation. So to hear MillerCoors suggest that small brewers should behave more like them, after making it impossible for them to do so for decades, is a pretty offensive thing to say.

There's a lot more; read Jay's article at The Brookston Beer Bulletin.

If you're in Wisconsin, find out who your legislators are and bombard them with opposition to this bill. Let them know that you support craft brewers, and that you vote.

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