Despite being a state known for its beer, Wisconsin still has a number of laws that severely limit the ability of people to access their favorite beverages. This includes the “three tier” system, that prevents a brewery from selling its products directly to retailers and consumers.
But in this time of the coronavirus, a law that before was simply a matter of inconvenience, is now affecting the very survival of breweries. According to current state statutes, it is illegal to sell alcohol outside of licensed locations, and therefore home delivery is illegal. However, there is bipartisan movement in the senate and house to change this, at least for the current health emergency.
On September 27, Sen. David Craig (R-Big Bend) authored a Republican bill that would allow for “certain alcohol beverages retailers to make online or telephone sales of alcohol beverages and deliver the alcohol beverages to the customer or to have the alcohol beverages delivered to the customer by an independent third-party delivery service.” The bill was referred to a committee but never received a hearing.
However, on March 26, Democrat Senator Chris Larson of Milwaukee offered an amendment to that bill that would include the language “during a declared public health emergency” in order to pass the law temporarily during the COVID-19 crisis and now making the bill bipartisan.
Gov. Tony Evers issued a stay at home order for March 25 through April 24 that shuttered all “non-essential” businesses. So breweries that would sell most of their beer in tap rooms and either don’t sell in supermarkets or only in a select few, are struggling to be innovative during this time. In St. Francis last weekend, a number of craft brewers got together to get their beer out via a drive through service, but lines stretched for more than an hour (from personal experience!).
One of the owners of Mob Craft — a Milwaukee brewery that relies on its taproom for profitability — told On Milwaukee that they will lose 80% of their revenue during this time. As a result, many breweries and beer drinkers alike are clamoring for a home delivery system that will allow consumers to support their favorite craft brewer without leaving their home. Home delivery would be a far better system.
Some states have taken action already to allow for delivered alcohol during the outbreak. The governor of Kentucky, for example, has created a path for citizens to get home delivery of drinks in their original container to those over 21. New York has taken a similar path.
As the Wisconsin legislature considers what they can do during the emergency session on COVID-19, getting this antiquated law off the books for at least the present crisis could be the life saver for many local breweries throughout Wisconsin.
Allowing home delivery could have public health implications as well. Alcohol sales are increasing throughout the country, with some retailers reporting 300–500% increases in sales. Allowing delivery might keep some of these people at home, decreasing the change of drunk driving and increasing the effectiveness of social distancing. It is not only breweries that can’t deliver alcohol, it is grocery stores as well. Home delivery might be the difference in someone using a service like InstaCart to get their groceries at home or in venturing out to the store themselves.
We are all in this together. Many of the restaurants and breweries that are a regular part of our lives during “normal” times are struggling to stay afloat and keep people employed.
If this now bipartisan bill would help restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars bridge the massive financial gap during this time, then it should be passed. And legislators and the governor alike should keep in mind that few things could engender more goodwill from Wisconsinites than making it easier for those in quarantine to have a cold one.
Will Flanders is the Research Director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty