Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Spirit of ’07 Milwaukee Beer Party Protest

Now comes a bill in the Wisconsin legislature to revamp a Prohibition-repeal era restriction that had forbidden breweries in that state from owning more than two locations to brew and sell their own beer if they had produced more than 4,000 barrels per year.

This was put in place in the 1930s(!) to prevent hegemony by large breweries to the detriment of smaller local brewers. But these days, 4 thousand bbls is relatively insignificant in regard to the 115 billion barrel production levels of the big boys (e.g., Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Miller).

Maryland has a obliquely similar restriction which forbids a brewery - of any size - from holding more than one brewing license. The Capitol City Brewing group was caught by this law a few years back, when it attempted to open 2 brewpubs in Maryland: one in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and one in downtown Bethesda. It was told that had to cease operations at one, and chose the Bethesda location, assuming, correctly, that the Baltimore spot, with its tourism traffic would be more profitable. Unfortunately, that success has led to higher rent, and the group has decided to close down that pub.

Another Maryland group, the DuClaw chain, produces draft beer at its main brewery and sells that to its several non-brewing pubs: a hub and spoke concept. Of course, it can't do that directly, as it must sell the beer to a distributor, and then buy it back, with all the price add-ons that go along with such.

As a personal note, this concept is somewhat identical to that promulgated in 1997 by my friend Joseph Marunowki, when he was the Director of Operations of the Local Brewing Company in Westlake Ohio, and I was Brewmaster.

The picture is of Joe wrestling with the spent grains at the now defunct Oxford Brewing Company, circa 1994.

Now, back to Wisconsin.

The proposed bill will increase exemption to 10,00 barrels - that's one step forward. But - two steps in reverse - it will mandate that each location serve at least 40% food over beer, and that all locations serve either draft beer or from bottled beer - not both.

Thus if you would want to add a production facility to bottle the beer that you've been producing draft-only at your brewpub, you would be required to serve food at your bottling facility, but you would be forbidden from serving draft beer at your brewpub. Huh?

Several small breweries and brewpubs held a protest yesterday afternoon in Milwaukee to bring attention to this illogical bill. They cracked the bungs on old-style kegs (Hoff-Stevens) and allowed the beer to spray out into the Milwaukee River.

Call it sort of a (not Boston Tea but) Milwaukee Beer Party.

The bill is being publicly discussed today in committee; representatives of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild will be there. I wish them good luck.

[UPDATE: 2007.07.12]
From Michael Horne's blog MilwaukeeWorld:
The committee has adjourned without taking any action on the bill.

[UPDATE: How it finally was resolved.]


  1. Thanks for your comments on this story and for the link to
    We will continue to study this issue and follow developments. Thank you for helping bring this to the attention of your readers.
    Also, there is a You Tube video (or two) of the Spirit of '07 Milwaukee Beer Party Protest and Demonstration.
    (The demonstration, of course, was the blowing of the kegs.)
    Michael Horne

  2. Here's the link to the YouTube video Michael mentions. And he has alerted me that the bill has been tabled for now.


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