Associated Press Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Some Wisconsin brewers held their own version of the Boston Tea Party on Tuesday, spewing beer suds into the Milwaukee River to protest legislation they say hampers start-up breweries.
Their sticky statement is a protest to a proposed update to post-Prohibition laws related to the blooming business of craft beermaking.
The bill would divide small brewers into two licensed classes — those who want to serve food as brewpubs, and those who seek to bottle and distribute their product on a larger scale. The latter would face new restrictions on food service.
The brewers, who acknowledge they’re not savvy about the legislative process, say it’s not fair for new beermakers to have to decide their fate that early.
“Every business takes on a life of its own,” said Jim McCabe, proprietor of the Milwaukee Ale House. “For the guy that wants to start a brewery tomorrow, he’s got to make decisions early in his business life that aren’t possible.”
After countdowns in English and German, the kegs were opened with mallets that sent a fountain of foam across the deck and into the Milwaukee River.
One tourist boat full of onlookers yelled “Beer!” with a woman opening her mouth in a vain attempt to reach the beer stream more than 20 yards away.
The issue started when the Great Dane Pub opened a third location in the Madison area but couldn’t sell its own brews because the law allows only two such operations per chain. That problem is supposed to be fixed in the new legislation, but beermakers say the update would present a new set of problems.
Eliot Butler, owner of the Great Dane, did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
“It could have been solved with a couple of sentences, a paragraph at the most,” McCabe said. “What happened is the bill grew to 28 pages to do a whole bunch more.”
The brewers want to scrap the bill and sit down with wholesalers and lawmakers to craft a new law for the industry.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, was out of the office Tuesday, but spokesman Terry Tuschen said amendments are being written to ease the brewers’ concerns.
“Everybody’s working hard to fix what needs to be fixed,” Tuschen said.
Wisconsin beermakers spill brew on docks in Milwaukee to protest brewery bill