Unfortunately the 2014 WI Legislative session has come to an end and no vote took place for the proposed tasting law changes. The good news is it got further this year than any year in the past. It seems the legislation was stopped by legislative leadership in committee. Sometimes it’s easier for legislators to ignore a bill than to actually have to commit to one side or the other. In this case the other side was lobbyists representing a big brewery. Small business and a growing industry lost this time, but we will take up the fight again next year. 2014 is an election year so unfortunately there won’t be another legislative session this year.
My thanks to the numerous customers that contacted their legislators in support. In addition thanks to the state representatives who had the courage to tell the opposition that their monopoly on this marketing technique (tasting) was wrong. Also a huge thanks to Wisconsin’s other distilleries that supported and worked to make this change happen. We’ll try again in 2015.
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 Already legal in 38 states including every state surrounding Wisconsin, we hope to modernize Wisconsin’s outdated tasting laws this year.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;
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.
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.
Wisconsin currently allows sampling of beer and wine in licensed retailers. Spirits are not allowed to be sampled in those same licensed stores. Unfortunate because sampling is a responsible method of marketing our products and it helps the consumer make an informed choice. Quality spirits tend to be sold at a higher price point which discourages an impulse buy for consumers. Our best marketing? Getting people to taste our products. Consumers win because they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to spend their dollars on our products or not. In store sampling is currently permitted in 38 states including every state surrounding Wisconsin, so why not us?
The basic answer is that no one has asked- until recently. Over the last four years there have been at least three attempts by the spirits industry to get this law changed. A Wisconsin Assembly Bill AB344 would correct this. Unfortunately opponents of allowing spirits tastings like to spread misinformation. Typically they like to paint a picture of people going on drunken rampages in stores, they claim that havoc will break out when people are doing “shots” in the super market aisles. They also like to say that spirits are somehow worse than beer or wine. The fact is the amount we’d like to be able to sample (3 half ounce samples max) has an alcohol content that falls just between what is currently allowed for beer and wine sampling in Wisconsin stores.
As distillers, we’re not asking for preferential treatment, just a level playing field with beer and wine producers. Wisconsin currently has 15 beverage distilleries open or in the works. Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa let us sample in their states, it’s a shame we can’t in our own home state.
Next Post: Why would anyone be against sampling?
We frequently get customers asking us about the gluten content of our spirits. Several organizations that provide guidance on gluten free diets say that distillation separates gluten from the final spirit even when the source grain includes gluten (a good post highlighting these reports here). The US government claims they have not seen an adequate test to determine whether a spirit made with wheat, barley, or rye is truly gluten free. Therefore, a distillery cannot label a product made from the distillation of those grains as gluten free.
If you have a sensitivity to gluten, an abundance of experts say you shouldn’t have any problem resulting from the consumption of any distilled spirits. If you’re not convinced that distillation results in a gluten free spirit and you want to play it safe, drink our Rehorst Gin. Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka, Roaring Dan’s Rum, Amerique 1912 Absinthe, or our Artisan Series Fruit Brandies. There is no possibility of gluten in these products since none of the raw ingredients contain any gluten before distillation. Our straight Rehorst Vodka, our Pumpkin Spirit, and Kinnickinnic Whiskey are the only products we make with grains that have gluten.
Update 11/18/2013- Fred Minnick writes in Scientific American about Gluten in distilled spirits and that the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is close to finalizing standards for what spirits can be called Gluten free. Read it here.
Kinnickinnic Whiskey is different. It has NO neutral grain spirits and is a blend of three distinct whiskies including a Bourbon, Malt and Rye Whiskey. Master Distiller Doug MacKenzie painstakingly blends the product to taste in small batches of approximately 1000 bottles each.
As a producer of absinthe we spend a lot of our time explaining the myths and facts that surround absinthe. The short hand version is that basically everything anyone has told you about it being a hallucinogen is a lie. It will not drive you insane nor will it put you into seizures. Absinthism is what people were said to be afflicted with if they had any number of frightening symptoms and it was a total lie. Excepting the fact that absinthe is generally higher in alcohol content, It is in fact no more harmful than any other spirit.
In 2007 the US government lifted their ban on products containing Grande Wormwood and since, a number of absinthe’s have now been imported and produced here in the US. Which makes this “authoritative” medical information website’s reliance on 150 year old scientific studies a complete joke. According to the article;
Prolonged drinking of absinthe causes convulsions, blindness, hallucinations, and mental deterioration. Absinthe has been banned but something of its taste of absinthe is still available in such drinks as ouzo in Greece and in France, pastis,…”
From the way it reads you may think it was written by the French wine industry in the late 1800’s but the best part is that under the article it says “Last Editorial Review: 3/19/2012″. I can’t wait to see what they say about the current state of Blood Letting….!