Lawmakers say 99 percent sure brewery budget changes dead

(AP) — A proposal that would require breweries and wineries to stop selling their products on-site and instead work through distributors is probably going nowhere, a key Republican lawmaker said Wednesday.

Craft brewers and wineries were outraged last month when a mysterious memo emerged detailing a plan that would require them to work through distributors rather than sell their products directly to customers in on-site tap and tasting rooms. The brewers and wineries feared the proposal would force them to pay exorbitant fees to distributors and the Legislature's finance committee would slip the plan into the state budget on its last night of work on the spending plan.

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, a Brookfield Republican who sits on the finance committee, said he doesn't think the panel will make any changes. The proposal doesn't make any sense and the committee wants to foster craft breweries' growth, not hamper it, he said.

"I am 99 percent certain it's dead," Kooyenga said.

William Glass, president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild and Eau Claire brewery the Brewing Projekt, said he hopes Kooyenga is right.

"We're pretty confident but until the governor's signature is dry on the budget bill anything could happen," he said. "It's politics."

It's unclear who is pushing the changes. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity obtained the memo and leaked it to media outlets in June. The group's Wisconsin chapter director, Eric Bott, declined then to reveal the document's source and didn't immediately reply to an email Wednesday asking again how the group got it.

The memo features the acronyms for the Wisconsin Tavern League, the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute, which represents wine distributors, on top of the first page. Despite the acronyms, tavern league lobbyist Scott Stenger said Wednesday that the league had nothing to do with the document and someone must have added the league's acronym.

"The Tavern League never has and never will support any effort to eliminate brew pubs' ability to sell products at their establishment," Stenger said. "They're partners in our industry."

Stenger said in June that his members can't compete with craft breweries that are growing into tourism destinations. He said Wednesday that he meant that the league doesn't want breweries to obtain liquor licenses, which would give them an unfair advantage over bars.

"That doesn't mean we're opposed to Capital Brewery having a tasting room," Stenger said. "But they shouldn't be doing what we do."

Eric Jensen, executive director of the beer distributors association, said in an email that his group wasn't aware of any plan to force craft brewers to sell through distributors and if any such proposal was dead that would be "great news."

"We have never sought and would not support any effort to require craft brewers to sell through distributors," Jensen wrote.

He didn't immediately reply to a email asking how the association's acronym got on the memo.

WWSI lobbyists also didn't immediately reply to emails seeking comment.

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