Tasting map as of 2012. States that allow in store tasting of spirits are green.
In my last post I discussed the concept of tasting spirits in stores. In this post I hope to point out a few more details and some of the political aspects of this issue.
First a recap- Spirits producers are looking to change Wisconsin’s tasting laws to allow us to sample spirits in licensed stores. This is a responsible means of marketing our products that both beer and wine producers already enjoy in Wisconsin. Already legal in 38 states including every state surrounding Wisconsin, we hope to modernize Wisconsin’s outdated tasting laws this year.
I’m happy to say a WI Senate bill (SB535) has been created joining an Assembly bill (AB344) to finally level the playing field between spirits producers and beer and wine producers. Bi-partisan support in both the assembly and senate should help get this done but powerful forces are at work behind the scenes to stop it. The tactics include misinformation and out and out lying.
Who’s in favor of in store sampling? Wisconsin’s 20 distillers (either open or in the process of opening), DISCUS (the distilled spirits council of the US) which represents the majority of distilled spirits producers and marketers in the US. The Wisconsin Grocers association, the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute (representing Wisconsin’s liquor distributors) and Diageo North America.
So, who’s against distillers sampling in stores? Primarily MillerCoors and the Tavern League of Wisconsin, two very powerful organizations when it comes to Wisconsin politics. Why is the Chicago based brewer against spirits sampling? I’ve heard many reasons, the most plausible is that MillerCoors has lost a significant percentage of their business to spirits over the last decade and they prefer to keep the marketing advantage tasting gives to themselves. Why is the Tavern League against it especially when they previously were supporters of legislation that allowed beer and wine to be sampled? They like to say it’s because people won’t come into their members businesses if they can get free spirits samples in stores, a pretty weak argument considering no one goes into a tavern to order a half ounce taste of anything. Frankly it seems the Tavern League is just falling in line with MillerCoors wishes. MillerCoors is a major sponsor of the organization and both MillerCoors and the Tavern League share the same lobbyist.
We still have a long way to go to get the outdated law changed, below are some significant points regarding spirits tasting;
1. Distillers make expensive products. Consumers are reluctant to spend on something they have never tried before. Through sampling, a consumer can make an informed choice as to whether they want to purchase the product or not.
2. Currently Beer and Wine may be tasted in stores. Spirits cannot. Wisconsin’s distillers would like the same responsible marketing opportunity that brewery’s and winery’s already enjoy.
3. 38 states allow in store tastings. Every state surrounding WI allows in store tasting. States that allow tasting have not reported abuse, social consequences or enforcement problems resulting from tasting spirits.
4. Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa allow in store tasting. When it comes to sampling, our neighbors treat Wisconsin’s 20 small distilleries better than Wisconsin does.
5. The Tavern League of Wisconsin and MillerCoors are against it. The Tavern League feels if people can get samples of spirits in stores that it may hurt sales in the states taverns. In 2001 wine sampling was permitted, in 2007 Beer sampling was permitted. Both of these laws were supported by the Tavern League. There is no indication that this hurt the states taverns. MillerCoors the North American division of SABMiller is against it simply because big beer producers have lost market share to spirits over the last decade.
Standard Drinks. Alcohol is Alcohol. What matters is how much you drink.
6. Alcohol is Alcohol. It does not matter if it is from beer, wine or spirits- it’s all the same. What matters is the volume consumed. A typical cocktail will have the same amount of alcohol as a beer or a glass of wine. US Dietary Guidelines define a standard drink as 1.5oz of 80 proof alcohol distilled spirits, 5oz of wine at 12% alcohol and 12 oz of beer at 5% alcohol. Please see Standard Drinks for more info.
7. The Tavern League and Miller released an opposition statement that is blatantly inaccurate.
a. They erroneously state that beer and wine are allowed to be sampled in stores at a maximum of 3- 1oz samples. The fact is they can sample 2- 3oz samples (you would think one of the worlds largest breweries would be aware of this?).
b. They use this to imply that the amount of alcohol distillers want to sample would be greater than that allowed for beer and wine.
c. They state the only beneficiary of this law would be large foreign owned distilleries completely ignoring the fact that there are 20 distilleries located in Wisconsin. The fact is by not permitting spirits tastings legislators are only helping a large foreign owned brewery.
8. Distillers want to sample 3- 1/2 ounce samples at most.
9. Distillers are not asking for preferential treatment, but simply want to level the marketing playing field with brewers and wineries.
10. Distillers have no desire to give away our product. We simply want people to be able to taste our products so they can make an informed decision.
11. Not one tavern League member that I spoke to indicated their business was hurt by beer and wine sampling. There is no reason to believe spirits tasting would have any negative effect on Wisconsin’s taverns. In fact allowing sampling of spirits will likely help Wisconsin’s taverns. Consumers will be more aware of the brands they sell and if they tried something in store and liked it will likely order it while out at the states taverns.
12. Millers US headquarters moved from Wisconsin to Illinois. Illinois law allows tastings in store. Miller has made no effort to stop these tastings in Illinois. Why are they okay with it in Illinois but not in Wisconsin?