Milw. distiller wants customers to be able to sample in liquor stores

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A popular Milwaukee distiller says customers should be allowed to sample his product in liquor stores. It's an advantage he says is allowed when it comes to other forms of alcohol.

Guy Rehorst is the founder of the Great Lakes Distillery, located on W. Virginia Street in Milwaukee. He is one of the main supporters of a bill working its way through Wisconsin's Legislature right now.

Great Lake Distillery is a small-batch distillery which prides itself on hand-crafting award winning distilled spirits in limited quantities using old world methods and traditions.

"We did 10,006 bottle cases last year -- which is what most of the big guys spill on the floor every year," Rehorst said.

Despite its size, the chance to sample the distillery's smattering of flavors makes this a hot spot -- especially on weekends.

"Hand-crafted premium spirits, including vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, absinthe. We had probably about 400 some people through (Saturday)," Rehorst said.

Despite the distillery's popularity, Rehorst says they're playing at a competitive disadvantage against other forms of alcohol.

"A $30 bottle of our product is not exactly an impulse buy, so unless somebody is familiar with our product and actually can taste it, they may not pick it off the shelf -- in fact, likely won't," Rehorst said.

Great Lakes Distillery can offer samples on site, as well as in bars and restaurants sometimes -- but Rehorst wants liquor stores to be added to the list. That's why he's a big supporter of the Spirits Tasting Bill.

"Would allow us to do something that breweries and wineries can already do and that is basically sample our spirits in liquor stores so that people can try them before they buy them," Rehorst said.

Christopher Rick stopped by the Great Lakes Distillery on Sunday, February 16th. He said he thinks allowing sampling in liquor stores could give local producers a boost.

"If you're going to go from a Swedish vodka or a Russian vodka versus a local vodka, you might not know that the quality of the local vodka is as good as those traditional vodkas, so a free sample would be like 'hey this is great -- let's get this,'" Rick said.

Rehorst says he's not sure how much the move could boost their business, though he says most states already allow it.

"We're an island," Rehorst said.

The Spirits Tasting Bill limits the sample amount to three .5 fluid ounce samples per customer per day.

The bill does have some opponents, according to the Government Accountability Board's website, including Health First Wisconsin, MillerCoors LLC, and the Tavern League of Wisconsin.

CLICK HERE to read the Spirits Tasting Bill -- Assembly Bill 344.

CLICK HERE for additional information on Great Lakes Distillery.