Wisconsin has always been a beer state, but its laws about homebrewed beer are more in line with what taverns want, and not what homebrewers need.
It is currently illegal to share homebrewed beer outside the home where it is brewed. So, your friend who makes gallon after gallon in his basement and brings a six-pack of bottles over for a dinner gathering? Criminal. The local homebrew club that has tastings at its meetings? Speakeasy!
A bill making its way through the legslature is trying to change that. All About Beer magazine has been covering the issue. The Wisconsin State Journal's Chris Drosner wrote about the fight over the weekend, highlighting what it would mean for Madison homebrewers and why the law change is needed. So far, the measure has passed the Senate, on a vote of 32-1. The lone holdout was Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is facing recall.
Sente Bill 395/Assembly Bill 521 would allow homebrewers to bring their beer off their property, to share it with friends and to legally have tastings and competitions.
What has the current law meant so far? Last year in Racine, it kept the local homebrew club from offering tastings during Downtown events, and forced the Great Lakes Beer Festival to boot the homebrewers out of the event.
The law change is "critical to the future of homemade beer and wine in Wisconsin," say the Beer Barons of Milwaukee, a homebrew organization.
The Beer Barons said homebrewers believed it was legal to hold tastings and to share their brew — until they were told otherwise by the government. The law is simply seeking to bring things into line with federal law, many state laws and current practice.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin doesn't support the law change, however. The objection says the organization supports changes to "accommmodate the desire to share homemade beer and wine," but that the bill as-written is too broad.
Its official objection to the changes says the new law "allows for virtually unlimited production of beer or wine outside of the home," and would allow homebrewers to operate outside the existing system, "jeopardizing Wisconsin's ability to effectively regulate the consumption of alcohol beverages."
For some history on Wisconsin's brewing tradition, check out the Wisconsin Historical Society entry on Brewing and Prohibition. And, see what homebrewers have to say about the law in this message board on HomeBrewTalk.com. Read more about federal and state laws on homebrewing at the Homebrewers Association website.