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 Already legal in 38 states including every state surrounding Wisconsin, we hope to modernize Wisconsin’s outdated tasting laws this year.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We still have a long way to go to get the outdated law changed, below are some significant points regarding spirits tasting;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.