“Something we’ve been after for a long time:” Great Lakes Distillery founder excited about liquor sampling bill

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Wisconsin Assembly last week approved a bill that would allow retailers with a liquor license the ability to serve mini shots of hard liquor to their customers. The legislation would allow shoppers to sample one .5-ounce sample of hard alcohol in stores -- the equivalent of one-third a shot. The Assembly's passage of the bill was a victory for local distillers, who say they just want a fair playing field.

"It's incredible marketing for us," Guy Rehorst, founder of Great Lakes Distillery on W. Virginia Street in Milwaukee.

Rehorst says when he started his company more than a decade ago, he knew the industry needed change.

"Expecting that it would be an uphill battle," Rehorst said.

Some changes have taken longer than expected.

"I think it is a modernization of laws that were quite frankly antiquated," Rehorst said.

Like the craft beer movement, small batch distilleries are now abundant, but in Wisconsin, beer and wine makers have a leg up over the whiskey and rye guys.

"We're just looking to basically get the same marketing advantage that breweries and wineries have had in this state for the last decade," Rehorst said.

Liquor manufacturers cannot host tastings at grocery stores the way beer and wine makers can. However, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill this week allowing limited tastings.

Todd Garcia, a native of Milwaukee's south side says he noticed a difference when he moved to Chicago for college. Illinois, like Wisconsin's other neighboring states allow people to sample hard alcohol in more places.

"I think that's something that is missed up here specifically is people don't get to try new things easily unless they are going to a bar and the bartender recommends it and then they go and try to find that," Garcia said.

For small operations like Great Lakes Distillery, there's not a lot in the budget to buy air time and add space.

"The ability to sample in stores is something we've been after for a long time," Rehorst said.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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