Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinions, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.
The craft brewing industry is growing in Wisconsin, not rapidly but steadily.
Head brewer Jeff Olson at Karben4 Brewing in Madison, WI.
The Small Biz Times reported in January of 2016:
MillerCoors may still be king on the local scene when it comes to size and volume, but with 121 craft breweries in the state, Wisconsin ranks 13th overall for the number of craft breweries in the country.
In 2014, Wisconsin’s craft breweries employed just more than 14,100 people and had a $1.7 billion impact on the state’s economy, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft brewers.
And while Wisconsin may rank fourth-slowest for growth in the number of craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association, that doesn’t mean the industry is slowing down here. Far from it.
“It’s only natural that you would grow slower than states with more potential room for growth,” said Bart Watson, chief economist with the Brewers Association. “Wisconsin is traditionally a strong brewing state with a history of major brew presences. Not only do you have a good beer culture, but you have a great pool of talent.”
Today, there are just under 140 craft breweries in the Badger State.
Many of these smaller breweries, here and across America, have incorporated taprooms into their businesses where they sell their brews and also offer food menus.
The taproom at Lion’s Tail Brewery Company in Neenah, Wisconsin features seating for 80+ in 3 different areas.
The taproom at the Pot Huron Brewing Company in Wisconsin Dells, WI.
The brewers prefer the taproom approach, selling their product on their premises rather than employing large distribution.
In May Draft magazine asked “Are taprooms the future of craft beer?”
The magazine concluded:
“…it would seem that a majority of the growth potential for breweries is no longer in competing for shelf space, but in owning and operating taprooms in underserved areas across the U.S. In coming years, as more breweries realize this, we may see more brewers setting up satellite locations and focusing on establishing their breweries as neighborhood and tourist destinations that bring people to the beer, rather than the other way around.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But in Wisconsin as the state Legislature struggles to pass a two year budget that was due July 1, there’s great concern in the industry. Americans For Prosperity (AFP) has produced and is now broadcasting this ad.
On June 1, AFP sent a letter to the chairs of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee, the Joint Finance Committee:
“It has come to our attention that three or more special interest groups are quietly circulating a budget motion and statutory language seeking to harm Wisconsin’s growing craft alcoholic beverage industry and limit consumer choice. If and when these interests approach you, we respectfully request that you flatly reject their surreptitious efforts.
“The draft motion, leaked to us by multiple interested parties, seeks to further strengthen the near monopoly of some interests pushing it while directly attacking the competitors of another. Unlike the proponents of the motion, we’ve reached out to the owners of several small wineries, distilleries, and breweries. They’re troubled by what they see happening in Madison.
“Based on conversations with these small business owners, we fear that the two-pronged motion could preclude at least one common practice at dozens of small businesses in Wisconsin from continuing.”
That “common practice” would be taprooms. If they were to be declare illegal, craft breweries say they’d be dead, wiped out of business.
Think it couldn’t happen with supposedly pro-business Republicans running the statehouse? Guess again.
Eric Bott of AFP has a guest editorial in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel where he sums up the situation perfectly:
“A secret state budget proposal would tighten regulations on Wisconsin’s craft brewers, wineries and artisan distilleries and create an Office of Alcohol Beverage Enforcement, informally dubbed the Liquor Tsar, to enforce those regulations.
“The Liquor Tsar would have broad independent authority to regulate the industry and impose stiff fines. And though affiliated with the Department of Revenue, that office could not supervise or regulate the tsar. In short, the tsar would be all-powerful, unelected and unaccountable. Given that Wisconsin has become rightly famous for its government reforms, this would be a huge step backward.
“…the Liquor Tsar proposal isn’t completely dead. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos refuses to rule out tucking it into the infamous 999 motion, a budget tool that allows lawmakers to anonymously introduce policy — you may remember it from last session when lawmakers used it in an attempt to weaken Wisconsin’s open records law.
“It’s disturbing to think that legislators would use the state budget to attack Wisconsin’s thriving craft beverage industry, but it’s not surprising. For years, the state budget has been the vehicle of choice for special interests and legislators from both parties to strip craft beverage producers of their rights.”
Disturbing indeed. Why go after a thriving, growing industry in Wisconsin, especially one that’s centered around beer?
The apparent total lack of transparency is also disturbing.
So, it seems some special interests have gotten to some folks and in the process are moving to stifle competition when it should be encouraged.
That’s very bad for Wisconsin business.
A FINAL NOTE: Any such budget amendment would have to be approved by the state Assembly and state Senate, and then escape a veto by Governor Walker. Even though the scenario is unlikely we shouldn’t have to be discussing the possibility.