Hard liquor distilleries could be able to host sampling events under a proposed bill, which advocates say will bring the industry in line with other breweries.

Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, proposed the bill to bring Wisconsin law in line with regulations in many other states that allow the sampling of liquor in stores, in addition to beer and wine.

“Craft distilling is taking off in Wisconsin and allowing tastings will help us grow,” Guy Rehorst, owner of the Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee, said at a public hearing earlier this month. “Wine and beer tastings are allowed at liquor stores throughout the state. It’s time to modernize our state’s liquor laws to give us distillers a fair and equal opportunity to compete in the marketplace.”

According to a statement from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, 11 states have passed liquor tasting laws since 2009, bringing the total number of states allowing these events to 38.

Brian Ellison, president of Death’s Door Spirits in Middleton, said the goal of the legislation is to provide for equal rights for distilleries of hard liquor in the state.

“We are in favor of liquor stores being able to allow customers to sample all of their liquor products,” Ellison said. “We want the same privileges that beer and wine distilleries enjoy.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Tavern League of Wisconsin and MillerCoors LLC oppose the bill. The article cited Tavern League spokesperson Pete Madland saying sampling in stores would take sales away from taverns.

Neither organization returned requests for comment on the legislation.

The article also reported MillerCoors sent a memo to legislators stating the bill’s action, “puts our collective industries at a competitive disadvantage only to the real benefit of a few international liquor distillers.”

Ellison said the notion that liquor sampling would reduce profits for taverns is “preposterous.”

People who go to liquor stores to sample products typically want to buy the alcohol to take home for a party or get together with friends, and this is not the case with taverns, Ellison told the Journal Sentinel.

“I think when people are able to buy a product in a more open environment like a liquor store, they’re actually more likely to go into a tavern,” Ellison said.

He said it is important for liquor samples to be enjoyed responsibly just like beer and wine samples. In addition, he said it is necessary that employees are trained to serve properly.

From his experience in Illinois and other markets, Ellison said although he is the CEO of his company, he is generally the one conducting sampling events.

“It’s really nice ability to have a one-on-one interaction,” he said. “It’s not at all just about drinking. It’s actually taking an opportunity from consumers to learn more about local products.”

[Photo by Flickr user Bien Stephenson]