Wisconsin craft beer and state breweries are the focus of a new piece of legislation which aims to make the state the “Napa Valley” of the brew industry.
A bill from Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, looks to establish a beer commission that would focus on further promoting Wisconsin beer and breweries.
In 2012 alone, Wisconsin residents consumed $4,160,398 in beer, ranking the state fifth in beer consumption per capita in the United States.
Beer production in Wisconsin generates $8.6 billion in revenues and has created more than 60,600 jobs in the state, according to the Beer Institute. According to The New York Times, Wisconsin was one of two states in the nation in 2010 that had more bars than grocery stores.
“Beer is a part of our heritage and it’s something that we all enjoy,” Tauchen said. “We want to continue to grow the industry and create jobs in the state and to provide for tourism. It should be a priority.”
Guy Rehorst, founder of the Milwaukee-based Great Lakes Distillery, said the bill would help bolster the growing beer industry, which he says plays an important role in the culture and revenue of Wisconsin. Rehorst said Wisconsin’s brewing industry has grown hugely since the repeal of prohibition in 1933.
Despite ranking 20th in population,Wisconsin has consistently ranked in the top five state for beer consumption and, as of 2012, is home to 87 breweries, according to the Beer Institute, an organization representing the $246.5 billion American beer industry.
“People are always looking for unique and local things. Wisconsin used to have a couple major breweries, and that was it, then craft breweries came along,” Rehorst said.
To make Wisconsin a destination akin to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys for wine connoisseurs, Tauchen hopes the committee can follow similar steps that California took through the development of state committees and programs to support Wisconsin’s growing beer industry.
Tauchen said the state’s beer industry already creates many jobs and the bill and would further boost the economy.
“There are a lot of jobs provided by the industry and we have an opportunity to expand it and grow it,” he said. “We can make it one of those items that people think of when they think of Wisconsin.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who represents the Napa and Sonoma Valleys in Congress, has worked closely with other congressmen to establish and maintain California’s dominance in wine and wine tourism, according to his office’s website.
To encourage more wineries to open, Thompson worked to pass legislation such as the Market Access Program, which allows smaller wineries to gain a share of the market. Thompson has also lobbied to promote tax cuts for California’s wine industry.
“The wine industry generates an estimated $162 billion for the U.S. economy every year and supports the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs,” Thompson said in a statement. “The cultural and economic impact of [California’s] wine industry cannot be overstated.”
Although the Wisconsin beer industry is significantly smaller than California’s wine industry, Wisconsin currently ranks 11th in the nation in breweries per capita and Tauchen believes that it can continue to grow.
Tauchen said he was confident the bill would eventually pass, although he said he does not expect the bill to pass before the end of this session. He added it was important to start the conversation now so the legislation can be taken up in the next legislative session.