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Sharing Homebrew Moving Toward Legality

Homebrewers are getting closer to being legally able to do what they've always done — share the products of their hobby with others.

Wisconsin has always been a beer state, but its laws about homebrewed beer are more in line with what taverns want, and not what homebrewers need. 

It is currently illegal to share homebrewed beer outside the home where it is brewed. So, your friend who makes gallon after gallon in his basement and brings a six-pack of bottles over for a dinner gathering? Criminal. The local homebrew club that has tastings at its meetings? Speakeasy!

A bill making its way through the legslature is trying to change that. All About Beer magazine has been covering the issue. The Wisconsin State Journal's Chris Drosner wrote about the fight over the weekend, highlighting what it would mean for Madison homebrewers and why the law change is needed. So far, the measure has passed the Senate, on a vote of 32-1. The lone holdout was Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is facing recall.

Sente Bill 395/Assembly Bill 521 would allow homebrewers to bring their beer off their property, to share it with friends and to legally have tastings and competitions. 

What has the current law meant so far? Last year in Racine, it kept the local homebrew club from offering tastings during Downtown events, and forced the Great Lakes Beer Festival to boot the homebrewers out of the event.

The law change is "critical to the future of homemade beer and wine in Wisconsin," say the Beer Barons of Milwaukee, a homebrew organization. 

The Beer Barons said homebrewers believed it was legal to hold tastings and to share their brew — until they were told otherwise by the government. The law is simply seeking to bring things into line with federal law, many state laws and current practice.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin doesn't support the law change, however. The objection says the organization supports changes to "accommmodate the desire to share homemade beer and wine," but that the bill as-written is too broad.

Its official objection to the changes says the new law "allows for virtually unlimited production of beer or wine outside of the home," and would allow homebrewers to operate outside the existing system, "jeopardizing Wisconsin's ability to effectively regulate the consumption of alcohol beverages."

For some history on Wisconsin's brewing tradition, check out the Wisconsin Historical Society entry on Brewing and Prohibition. And, see what homebrewers have to say about the law in this message board on HomeBrewTalk.com. Read more about federal and state laws on homebrewing at the Homebrewers Association website

The Donny Show February 28, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I heard one time Gov Walker knew someone that may have shared a homebrew. I have contacted the Milwaukee County DA and expect a John Doe investigation to commence immediately.
Robert B. February 28, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Wow, me too. I've been brewing for years and sharing as well. I knew you can't sell it but share outside of the house? Gimme a break! Less government please!
Mike J February 29, 2012 at 02:38 AM
The bill brings the state back to circumstances that existed before the Dept of Revenue issued its new interpretation of the law late last year. The worst-case scenarios the Tavern League describes didn't exist before, and this bill wouldn't make them occur. Also, the Tavern League printed an outright lie by claiming the bill will allow unlimited production. Read the bill as introduced in both chambers. It clearly puts limits on home beer and wine production. Those limits match federal limits that have been in place for more than 30 years.
David Stanton February 29, 2012 at 06:31 PM
I have been a homebrewer for many years as well. The legistation that we are seeking will only bring Wisconsin up to the Federal level for brewing beer/wine in your home. Federal laws places a cap on the actual amount manafactured by one person per year at 200 gallons. Most homebrewers never approach the 200 gallon limit. I am not a criminal for wanting to share a beer with friends. I am a proud member of Milwaukee's Largest Home Brew club - Beer Barons of Milwaukee. Please contact your district's Assembly Representative and politely urge him/her to vote yes on SB 395/AB 521 (AB 521 is identical to SB 395 and either version could be voted on) and to oppose any amendments to the bill. In addition, please contact the Speaker of the Assembly and the Assembly Majority Leader and ask them to schedule a vote of SB 395/AB 521 as soon as possible.
Denise Lockwood February 29, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Mr. Denise used to brew his own beer and frequently shared his his batches of "Mr. Denise brew." Heck that was half the fun of it. Quite frankly, I don't get why a law seeks to impede what someone does in their home.... it's sooo... anti-American actually.

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