Wisconsin microbreweries up in arms over provision in state budget
Wisconsin microbreweries and their loyal fans are furious over a budget provision approved on May 31 by that state’s Joint Finance Committee.
The measure is intended to limit the ability of brewers to own wholesale distributorships and restaurants. As explained by Open Market, its primary backer is MillerCoors, which claims to be trying to ward off an attempt by their main competitor, AB/InBev (Anheuser-Busch), to buy up beer distributors and squeeze out other companies’ products. But the state’s microbreweries may be the real victims of the provision.
“Wisconsin’s craft brewers are getting caught in some cross fire between MillerCoors and Anheuser Busch,” the Blue Cheddar Blog explains. If this thing goes forward, it will be much more difficult to start a new small beer brewing business with room to grow in one of the states that loves beer the most.”
“This motion was sold to the legislators by Miller/Coors and the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association on the premise that it would protect Wisconsin from a hostile AB/InBev take over of many current Wisconsin wholesalers,” the blog continues. “This is simply a farce. Since InBev took over AB, they have had 16 opportunities to buy wholesalers and have passed 16 times. Here is the real truth….Miller/Coors and the WBDA are threatened by the growth that is happening in the craft beer industry. Craft is the only segment of beer that is growing, and it is growing by double digits.”
Wisconsin’s craft brewers, who were not consulted while the measure was being framed, account for only about 5% of sales, but their share is increasing. “Everything in this bill is designed to make it harder for small craft brewers to grow,” complained Deb Carey, a co-owner of New Glarus Brewing. “It is a slimy piece of legislation.”
“We are losing assets and we are losing control over our products,” Carey added. “This debate boils down to the fact that the wholesalers do not want a drop of beer going to market in Wisconsin without them making their 30 percent profit from it. That’s it.”
As explained by Think Progress, “The provision will make it much more difficult for the Wisconsin’s burgeoning craft breweries to operate and expand their business by barring them from selling directly to restaurants and liquor stores, and preventing them from selling their own product onsite. The new provision treats craft brewers — the 60 of whom make up just 5 percent of the beer market in Wisconsin — like corporate mega-brewers, forcing them to use a wholesale distributor to market their product. Under the provision, it would be illegal, for instance, for a small brewer located near a restaurant to walk next door to deliver a case of beer. They’ll have to hire a middle man to do it instead.
The measure was noticed by those most affected, such as the Pearl Street Brewery, even before it was adopted, but it has been drawing increasing attention over the last week.
John Nichols, a blogger for The Nation who has been focusing closely on the protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, delivered a rousing speech against the MillerCoors attack at a rally on June 4.
“They came for our public utilities … and I did nothing,” Nichols proclaimed. “Then they came for SeniorCare and BadgerCare … and I did nothing. And when there was nothing left, finally they came for our beer. And that’s when I said, ‘It’s time for revolution!’ … This is the Wisconsin revolution, and it’s powered by beer!”