New legislation to aid home brewers in competitions

MILWAUKEE -- Until recently, home brewing was harshly restricted in Wisconsin, and it wasn't just hurting beer lovers, but might have cost the state millions.

Bruce Buerger and his friend Brian Joas brew beer out of a Waukesha garage. They craft flavor profiles with tools to distill hardiness and hoppiness and balance the bitter with the buttery.

The two are part of a growing number of those brewing beer at home.

Buerger is even a member of the Milwaukee Beer Barons -- a local home-brewing club.

"I also hold a semi nickname of 'Dean of Brew U,' which is our brewing education segment for the club," Buerger said.

On a snowy day inside the Milwaukee Ale House, Buerger's brew is among those that help everyone stay warm during the Mid-Winter Home Brew Competition. Buerger was a contestant, and the event's coordinator.

Fellow home brewers sipped, swirled and scribbled. Winners in various categories got medals, but the real prize is often the pointers on the score sheets.

"We do realize a lot of our entrants are first time entrants, so we try to help them out with not just the next batch they make but the next competition they may enter," Buerger said.

Competitions like the Home Brew contest could be a cash cow for the Brew City and the state of Wisconsin.

The catch -- none of the beer can be brought into the home of brewing in the United States -- metro-Milwaukee. Home brew festivals are illegal in the Brew City, and the state of Wisconsin.

"The existing home brewing law says you can only enjoy your beer at home or on your farm," Milwaukee Beer Baron's President Jason Heindel said.

The longest-running violator of this law is the Wisconsin State Fair, which gives away cash prizes for home brewing.

In general, it's up to police to enforce the rules restricting home brewing. For years, most law enforcement officials have looked the other way because no one is getting hurt. However, bigger national competitions -- the type attended by thousands of people putting millions of dollars into the economy, are not looking the other way. They're staying away -- afraid of Wisconsin's beer laws.

Recently, Democrats and Republicans came together to overwhelmingly pass bi-partisan legislation allowing home brewers to take their beer outside their homes.

"We've basically closed a loophole. We could bring in many different types of conferences and conventions and that could only be positive for Wisconsin," Democrat Peter Barca said.

"I think this is a pretty good piece of legislation. It's a great opportunity for people to get involved with something they'll have fun doing," recently recalled Republican Senator Van Wanggaard said.

Buerger says the new law will make his home brewing seem just a bit sweeter, as he hopes to win some newly legal competitions.

"Can't go wrong with beer. It's fun," Buerger said.