New group will fight for craft brewers’ interests

A new trade group, the Wisconsin Craft Beverage Association, has been formed to fight for the interests of craft beverage producers in the state.

This not-for-profit group will be made up of the Wisconsin Winery Association, the Wisconsin Brewers Guild and the Wisconsin Distillers Guild. The three trade groups in the coalition represent over 300 small, independent businesses that have a combined economic impact of over $2 billion in Wisconsin.

The coalition will push for state legislation which is less restrictive of craft wineries, distillers and brewers. It will start with SB 311, a bipartisan bill that would free up wineries to sell wine later at night. Currently, they are restricted to the hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. — this bill would expand nighttime sales to midnight.

It would, however, allow municipalities to restrict that expansion through an ordinance. The bill goes to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism tomorrow.

“The Winery Association will be there in full force,” said Alwyn Fitzgerald, president of the Wisconsin Winery Association and founder of Fisher King Brewery in Verona.

He says the bill would better align government regulations and the desires of consumers.

“We believe in free trade, free market systems,” he added.

In his view, if the customers want it and it’s not doing any harm, there’s no reason not to do something — in this case, staying open as late as many other purveyors of alcoholic beverages.

As of now, he says, the law is in conflict with what consumers want, and that’s got to change.

In a release, the coalition states that protecting and maintaining market access and expanding customer choice will be key to a healthy craft beverage sector moving forward.

Moving forward, the group will provide educational materials to policy makers, promoting the “economic, employment and tourism opportunities” that come from local craft beverage producers.

Though the coalition is still figuring out its game plan, it will certainly involve supporting legislation that is beneficial to all three partners in the group, Fitzgerald said.

“We have somewhat different goals, but a lot more commonality,” he said. “We’re supporting each other’s backs a bit.”

–By Alex Moe