New bill could loosen restrictions on Wisconsin breweries, winer - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

New bill could loosen restrictions on Wisconsin breweries, wineries

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Eau Claire (WQOW) -- Restriction put in place almost a century ago have some breweries and wineries feeling untapped, but a new bill could mean a big change.

A bill introduced Tuesday would loosen state restriction on breweries, wineries and distilleries. For an industry bursting with bubbles, it could be a new breakthrough in a long fought battle.

"Legislation of the past, probably decade, has actually slowly but surely been kind of putting a grip on them, making it tighter and tougher on them," said Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, one of the backers of the bill.

"A lot of the laws themselves are pretty archaic and were written before prohibition. The fact that they're finally looking at them and seeing how they can make it better for small businesses throughout Wisconsin is really ideal," said Katherine Rapacz, Sales and Marketing Manager for Infinity Beverages.

The bill would allow the boozy businesses to double the amount of product sold in house. Wineries would be allowed to push back closing time from 9:00 p.m to 2:00 a.m. Municipalities would be able to increase the number of liquor licenses they can issue by ten percent. Restaurants would also be allowed to operate distillpubs that are run similarly to brewpub, but sell hard liquor.

"The Cheers Wisconsin package of items in this bill are meant to really initiate progress towards an improved small business environment for all alcohol producers," Zimmerman said.

The Wisconsin Brewers Guild President and Brewing Projekt owner Will Glass said this is meant to be a starting point, and the first of many bills introduced to modernize industry legislation. It comes almost a month after another proposal was made, adding more restrictions on alcohol sales and distribution, but failed. Some believed it could have corked the industry.

"This is about supporting small businesses and letting us thrive in the state, versus trying to contain us and make it almost impossible for us to function in what it is we're trying to provide, not only the community but for the state in general," Rapacz said.

Officials said it could help support an industry that keeps tourism dollars pouring in the state, which the Brewers Guild said is estimated to be about $2 billion.

"We're providing an experience for our customers that entails more than just drinking, it's letting them know how we make the wine, where we're sourcing product from, really giving them an overall taste of what it is to be a winery in Wisconsin," Rapacz said.

Zimmerman encourages the community to reach out to local legislators if they feel moved by the industry legislation. 

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