Let’s support the Fine Folks of Wisconsin in changing more stupid rules on Homebrew!!!

Homebrewers push to relax rules on sharing wine, beer

Store owner Karl Liebmann demonstrates how to begin yeast starter batches Friday at Bull Falls Home Brew Depot on Prospect Avenue in Wausau.

Store owner Karl Liebmann demonstrates how to begin yeast starter batches Friday at Bull Falls Home Brew Depot on Prospect

Wisconsin’s law

» No license/permit required for homebrewing.

» Wine or beer can be made inside a residence; can be shared with guests and family.

» Sale of homemade beers or wines is prohibited.

» Wisconsin Department of Revenue interpretation: cannot transport homemade wines and beers

» No tax payment required.

Proposed bill

» No license/permit required if the beverage made is not sold and does not exceed either 100 gallons a year if there’s one person of drinking age living in the household or 200 gallons a year if there are two or more people of drinking age living in household.

» Allows homebrewers to hold competitions, tastings and other events at public and private locations.

» Sale of homemade beers or wines prohibited.

» No tax payment required.

MARATHON — Chad Hoffer brews beer at his home in Marathon when he isn’t working at his regular job repairing computers or installing satellite television systems.

The 48-year-old has made his own beer for 21 years and brews five varieties regularly. He spends hours a day trying techniques to extract flavor from various ingredients and watching his brew ferment. Hoffer shares much of his brew with his family and fellow members of the Bull Falls Home Brew Club.

“I have to give a lot of my beer away; otherwise, I end up throwing it away,” Hoffer said. “I can’t drink that much.”

But lately, Hoffer and others who share his hobby have to be careful they don’t get in trouble with their creations.

The state Department of Revenue caught many homebrewers by surprise in 2011 when it interpreted state law to mean that drinks could not leave the household in which they were made. The law allows Wisconsin residents to make wine or malt beverages without a permit inside their homes as long as the drinks are not sold.

“It has to be consumed at the home of the person that is making the homemade beer,” department spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said.

This poses a problem for homebrewing clubs that for years have been hosting competitions and holding group meetings where samples are shared.

The Department of Revenue made the interpretation last spring after Racine officials inquired about the law’s meaning in advance of an annual beer festival held on city grounds.

The Great Lakes Brew Fest, a major fundraiser for a nonprofit drum and bugle corps, featured homebrewing sampling and a contest. After speaking with the state agency, Racine officials decided to ban the homebrewing event from the festival.

Now, beer and wine-making hobbyists are working to legalize actions they’ve been practicing for years.

Drafting legislation

“We just want to bring our homemade beer or wine to our friend’s house, to our family’s house, to club meetings,” said Dan Grady, president of the Appleton Libation Enthusiasts, or ALE, Homebrew Club.

Grady also is a member of the Wisconsin Homebrewers Alliance, a statewide group of homebrewers that’s leading the charge to change the law.

The alliance drafted a bill introduced in the state Senate on Jan. 20 that would make it legal for brewers to transport their homemade drinks to competitions and other events around the state. A bipartisan group of five senators and 14 Assembly members is sponsoring the legislation.

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Sen. Michael Ellis, R-Neenah, called the department’s interpretation of the law “ridiculous” and said he and another Neenah lawmaker, state Rep. Dean Kaufert, are spearheading the effort to pass legislation that would ensure the law leaves no room for such interpretations.

Kaufert said the current state law — enacted in 1982 — is out of date.

“A lot of other states are updating their rules regarding homebrewers,” Kaufert said. “It seems to be taking off.”

Changing the law

When Racine decided to ban the homebrewing competition at the Great Lakes Brew Fest, Glass said he was contacted by several Wisconsin brewing hobbyists who expressed concern — and surprise — that their local clubs had been acting outside the law.

It also was a surprise for the Colorado-based American Homebrewing Association, Glass said. Madison had served as one of 10 regional judging sites for the association’s national competition.

“For one thing, (the law) wasn’t enforced,” Glass said. “It was pretty common knowledge that there had been homebrewing competitions going on in the state for many years, so it had never been an issue before.”

He said the national tournament will not be held in Wisconsin until the law is changed.

To make that change, Glass facilitated the creation of the Wisconsin Homebrewers Alliance — a 39-member “email group” made of representatives from homebrew clubs across the state. The members helped craft the language of the bill as well as a strategy for garnering lawmakers’ support.

“The bill is essentially just going to legalize doing all the things homebrewers were doing prior to last year’s interpretation of the law by the Department of Revenue,” Glass said.

The bill has strict guidelines residents must follow for their beverages to be considered “homemade” — a distinction that exempts brewers from permit requirements and paying taxes.

As with the current law, the brewer cannot sell the beverage. In addition, the amount of beverage produced cannot exceed 100 gallons a year if one person in the household is 21 years or older, or 200 gallons if two or more persons in the household can legally drink. Wine and beer retailers can host contests, tastings and other homemade drink exhibitions as long as the beverages are not for sale.

“We’re not asking to be able to sell it,” said Grady, a 15-year homebrew veteran and restaurant owner. “We’re not asking for any special taxes. We’re just asking to do what a normal person would think would be OK.”

The bill was referred to the committee on Energy, Biotechnology and Consumer Protection and is awaiting a hearing.

Kaufert said there’s a better chance of a bill passing when it has the bipartisan support like this one does.

“I don’t think anyone is going to get hurt by this bill,” Kaufert said. “There’s no hidden agenda.”

Welcome legislation

The legislation is welcomed by Wausau-area brewers.

Karl Liebmann has owned the Bull Falls Home Brew Depot on Prospect Avenue in Wausau for two years and sells ingredients and supplies for brewing homemade beer and wine. Liebmann said he has noticed a surge in recent years in homebrewing in central Wisconsin, and state officials largely had ignored social gatherings, contests and samplings hosted by craft brewers until recently.

“If we don’t allow people to do what they have already been doing for a long time, it will stifle (homebrewing) immensely,” Liebmann said.

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