Sprecher Brewing Company is joining microbrewers around the state who are worried about the effect of a provision in the state budget bill that bans beer-makers from also distributing their beverage.
The Glendale-based beer brewer is worried about its future as well as that of other microbreweries in the state of Wisconsin if Gov. Scott Walker doesn't veto the provision.
"Craft brewers don't see each other as competition and would much rather work together than apart … and that differentiates us from the big guys who don’t work together," said Jeff Hamilton, vice president and general manager for Sprecher. The company's brew-master, Craig Burge, is a resident of Port Washington and has at for the past several years.
Hamilton said an important aspect of working together for the craft-brewers is marketing their beers in collaboration with one another. An example of this would be if a brewery in Madison were to help sell Sprecher Brewing Company's product in that city, while Sprecher worked to also sell the Madison-based beer in the Milwaukee area, along with their own respective products.
Or, if a sales representative for a wholesaler owned by Sprecher were to approach a store or bar with the idea of selling Sprecher products, as well as Lakefront Brewery beer, New Glarus Brewing Company's products, and more — for example.
Market sharing strategies such as these have given the industry a lot of success in states such as California, he said.
This provision bans brewers from owning distributorships; it is part of the 2011-13 budget that Walker plans to sign on Sunday. State legislators who oppose the measure also say it would also ban brewers from owning taverns.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) asked Walker to veto the provision.
"I'd like to veto it just because it’s a complicated issue it shouldn’t have been in the budget," Grothman said. "I don’t want to do anything to hurt the craft-brewers."
Grothman said he believes the biggest damage this provision does it takes away brewers rights to open their own taverns, adding that he has consistently supported craftbrewers over the larger companies, such as MillerCoors.
Hamilton called Grothman a friend to the industry, and thanked him for all his work to support craft-brewers.
"I just can’t say enough … this guy is truly a champion for small business and small breweries," Hamilton said.
State Sen. Robert Jauch (D-Poplar), said even though he's a member of the Joint Finance Committee, the Legislature's budget-writing committee, he didn't have enough information before he was forced to vote on the provision.
But a spokesperson for Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), the committee's co-chair, said the measure was drafted to ensure Wisconsin's so-called three-tier system stays in place. In that system, brewers make the beer and sell it to independent distributors, who then resell it to retailers and taverns.
The Journal Sentinel reported that the provision was put into the budget to stop Anheuser-Busch from buying wholesale distributors. Last year, Anheuser-Busch won a court challenge to an Illinois law that barred out-of-state brewers from owning beer wholesalers and supporters of the budget provision are concerned the same thing could happen in Wisconsin, the newspaper said.
"It's just up to Walker's signature," Hamilton said. "Veto is what we are hoping for."
Let the governor know how you feel about the legislation by calling (608) 266-1212.