local brewing operation faces even more hurdles
There can’t be that many businesses that have faced more hardship and red tape than The Brewing Projekt. The experimental craft brewery headed up by “former” owner of The Fire House, Will Glass, has had to deal with everything: Buildings falling through, loans falling through, and now the Projekt faces a critical – yet silly – Prohibition-era statute that would prevent that delicious craft beer from ever reaching our taste buds. We caught up with Glass via email to chat about the Brewing Projekt’s future.
“It seems everyone is in agreement that this is silly. Even the Department of Revenue officer who officially rejected our application was sympathetic, but said he has to work with the statutes as they’re written.”
Volume One: Sorry to hear about all the bureaucratic silliness you’ve had to deal with. What exactly happened?
Will Glass: Basically we were denied license because of my “indirect” interest in The Fire House.
The statute reads: “No person holding a Class ‘A’ license, Class ‘B’ license or permit, or wholesaler’s permit issued under this chapter may register as a brewer.”
My father, who is the license applicant, does not hold a class “B” license. So we are good there. In the application, it asks if you have any direct or indirect interest in a Class “B” license. The answer to that is “no” for my father – again, the true owner of the business – and “sort of” for me.
I legally sold my shares in The Fire House to my wife with a Marital Property Agreement. This basically says I have no interest or ownership in the business whatsoever. If my wife wanted to sell The Fire House, she could do so without any input from me. If she wanted to create a restraining order preventing me from entering The Fire House, she could and there would be nothing I could do about it. But because we are married the state considers that an indirect interest.
The concept of indirect interest is based on an opinion rendered by the State Attorney General in 1972. Needless to say the laws are dramatically different today than they were in 1972. The point of the opinion is that the intent of the law is to “divorce entirely the (manufacturer and) wholesaler from ... retailer.”
The problem with that concept is that because of law changes, brewers producing under 300,000 BBLs (barrels) annually can sell directly to retailers. And to give a little perspective, New Glarus produces around 160,000 BBLs annually and they are far and away the largest craft brewer in the state. The only brewery that applies to is MillerCoors.
So I imagine you’ve been calling elected your representatives. How has that been going? Are you sensing there being some flexibility soon?
We’ve been in direct contact with several representatives and are hoping to meet face-to-face with them soon. It seems everyone is in agreement that this is silly. Even the Department of Revenue officer who officially rejected our application was sympathetic, but said he has to work with the statutes as they’re written.
Soon? Probably not. If we have to go through the process of changing the statutes that will take months.
It’s a Prohibition-era statute, right? You’d think it’d be easy to change. ... What steps are you taking?
In our rejection letter it says the law has been in place for “many decades” and the purpose was to create the freest competition in the industry by preventing monopolistic practices ... which made sense 80 years ago when there were only a handful of breweries. Today there are over 3,000. And the big brewers, who are foreign owned, are starting to buy up large craft brewers all over the country.
They can get away with that because there are so many other brewers out there today that they can’t be accused of creating a monopoly based on the sheer number of brewers still out there. But you bet your ass they’ll fight tooth and nail to fight us from being able to enter the business.
We have a few options:
First, I have to be completely removed from the business. We would have to find a way for my father, a retired cop, to assume a loan from me for around $500,000. That’s not going to be easy since he is living on state pension and Social Security
Second, we ask the current attorney general to review the opinion from 1972 and take into account the statutes as written today. This could either fix our problem or it could open the door to make it easier for legislators to change the statutes.
Third, we work with our representatives to amend the law. This isn’t going to be a quick fix.
Fourth, we sell The Fire House to The Brewing Projekt, sink a ton of money into making both locations restaurants (adding commercial kitchens) and then we would have to go all the way back through the federal approval process and then back to the state as a brewpub. This would take probably nine months. We’d be capped on our capacity that we could produce and sell annually, basically crippling our ability to grow.
Fifth, we sue the State of Wisconsin. We argue that the state is unjustly not recognizing our marital property agreement and it is limiting our freedom of opening a legal business.
When we last spoke, you had mentioned that as a last resort, you and your wife could get a legal divorce and “sell” her The Firehouse, right? Has it come to that? Will it?
It still may be an option. But still a last resort. I did legally sell her my interest at the end of 2014 to help the situation. In the attorney general’s opinion from 1972, there was reference to “moral obligations,” which might mean that even if we get divorced, because we have children, there would be a moral interest between us. Ridiculous.
Have you started production at the Projekt yet? Has this jeopardized that end?
We haven’t started production yet. We do have the majority of our equipment and it’s badass stuff. The place looks pretty awesome.
I feel like with all the hardships the Projekt has faced, a lot of people might have given up at this point. What motivates you to keep going?
This has been my dream. I want to make awesome beer and break the mold. I believe strongly in individual liberty and that the government has no business interfering with me if I am causing no harm to others. Winners never quit and quitters never win.