Sunday, June 12, 2011

More regulation, less filling

Anyone that follows this column knows of my great disdain for the current governor of Wisconsin, the state where I grew up. Scott Walker's misguided attempts to reshape a state once known for its progressive politics into a bastion for corporations and wealthy individuals at the expense of everyone else takes some bizarre twists and turns.

You've gotta love this latest move.

Tucked into the latest state budget is a little-noticed provision to overhaul regulation of the beer industry.

In a state known for beer, the provision will make it more difficult for Wisconsin’s burgeoning craft breweries to operate and expand their business by barring them from selling directly to restaurants and liquor stores, and preventing them from selling their own product onsite.

The state currently has about 60 craft breweries and they sell about 5% of the beer consumed in Wisconsin. The new provision would treat craft breweries like their mega-corporate competitors. Small breweries would be required to use a wholesale distributor, a.k.a. a middleman, to market their product. Under the provision, it would be illegal, for say, a brewer located near a restaurant to walk next door to deliver a case of beer. They’ll have to hire and pay a third party to do it instead.

Not surprisingly, this provision was quietly slipped into the massive budget legislation without any consultation from independent craft brewers, who are justifiably outraged by the proposal. One group that did have input is one of the world’s largest beer makers, MillerCoors.

Chicago-based MillerCoors, which operates a brewery and eastern division headquarters in Milwaukee, supports the proposal because it shares concerns with wholesale distributors about the possibility of Anheuser-Busch buying wholesalers throughout the country, according to company spokesman James Wright.

Craft brewers contend that the real competition MillerCoors is trying to protect itself against the growing craft beer market.

It does not go unnoticed by this blogger that the reason that Governor Scott Walker, who calls himself a champion of small business, has sided with the big boys may have something to do with their largish campaign contributions. MillerCoors, which is a joint venture with foreign-owned SABMiller, contributed $22,675 to Walker's campaign.

As for me, you can rest assured no Miller or Coors products will grace my lips or be purchased by this household.


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