October 23, 2018

Homebrewing in Madison, WI

Backstory: If you’ve been following the homebrewing scene in Wisconsin, you may know that the state’s Department of Revenue decided to interpret the statutes concerning homebrew with a new scrutiny.  It was, and still is, their view that homebrew could not be transported or consumed beyond the place of it’s creation i.e., the homebrewer’s home.  It was also decided that homebrewing and home wine making could not occur in a place of business - for example, Northern Brewer Milwaukee.

It was decided in the offices of NB that we would take up our business concerns separately from the homebrewer’s concerns to make sure one didn’t muddy the other’s chance of getting things changed.  With assistance from homebrew clubs, homebrew shops including NB, and the AHA, The Wisconsin Homebrewers Alliance was created to start drafting language and a voice to hopefully win over a WI legislator to take of their cause.  This is still in the works, and any and all assistance is welcomed! Northern Brewer was fortunate to find a sponsor, or rather he found us, in Representative Dale Kooyenga.  We worked with Rep. Kooyenga to draft a bill that would allow homebrew supply and home wine making shops in Wisconsin the ability to not only brew on premise for educational and research purposes, but serve limited samples for educational purposes to customers. About a week or so ago, this bill came to fruition, and the first stages of pushing through came in  public hearing before the Wisconsin committee of Homeland Security and State Affairs scheduled for October 12th.  Northern Brewer was asked to be on hand to testify in support, and I raised my hand to volunteer.

Now: On Wednesday October 12th, I headed from the comfort of my warm bed at around 4am in the morning to catch a plane to Milwaukee, drive a rental car to Madison, and ultimately testify in support of Wisconsin State Assembly Bill 290, or AB 290. A quick flight into MKE, about an hour and half drive to Madison, and by 10am I was trading notes and talking points with Rep. Kooyenga.  I got him up to speed on some of finer notes of homebrewing’s history and legal trials, and he got me up to speed on what a public hearing was and what to expect.   Going in, he mentioned that this bill had strong bi-partisan support, and wasn’t seeing any opposition. We headed up stairs through the majestic and beautiful Wisconsin State Capital building and I found myself in a small board room, with WI representatives and Senators, along with other members of the public waiting to speak in support of or against various bills that were on the docket for the day. AB 290 was first up...nothing like jumping right into a new experience!  

Rep. Kooyenga gave a short but powerful endorsement of the bill, answered a few questions from the committee and then handed the floor to me.  I stuck to my script, which was distributed to the committee in advance, and tried to resurrect my oratory skills once finely tuned as a college professor years ago: After saying my peace, I fielded about a half dozen, well delivered and considerate questions from the committee.  They seemed eager to get full picture of what this bill would mean for Northern Brewer and other shops like ours.  Some suggestions were made to make some minor tweaks, but all in the interest of making the bill stronger. After I thanked the committee for their time, I headed out of the room, accompanied by Rep. Kooyenga.  He was excited and highly encouraged at how well it went, and restated that he had a good feeling about this bill’s chances to move forward  I was told by Rep. Kooyenga, in no uncertain terms, that I should be prepared to return in a couple weeks or so to once again speak on behalf of this bill, hopefully as it begins its journey of becoming a reality.

I celebrated the step forward for this bill and homebrewing in WI. with lunch and pint of Cask Mild at The Great Dane, two blocks down from the capital. I hope it’s the first of more small victories and cask conditioned pints that I will experience in the coming months as we fight the good fight for homebrewing, homebrewers, and home brew supply shops in the great state of Wisconsin. More to come ...