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Whistling Straits Kohler

Martin Kaymer walks down the path to the 12th hole during the 2016 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, a championship golf course owned by Kohler Co.

A new type of liquor permit would be created to suit Kohler Co. resorts under a legislative proposal set to be filed in the waning days of the legislative session, multiple sources say.

According to a draft of the bill obtained by The Cap Times, the proposal would create a “resort manufacturer permit” allowing a business that meets certain conditions to manufacture, bottle, store and sell up to 150,000 gallons of intoxicating liquor per year on the entity’s premises.

The measure would also allow the “resort manufacturer” to sell beer or intoxicating liquor that it does not produce on its premises without a retail license and sell its spirits to a related business, deemed a "secondary resort facility." 

The creation of a new permit would be an expansion of the state’s three-tier system, a series of laws that regulates how alcoholic beverages are manufactured, distributed and sold in the state. Under current law, those who manufacturer intoxicating liquor must sell it to a wholesaler, which then can sell it to a retailer for the general public to buy.

To be eligible for a “resort manufacturer permit” under the proposal, a business entity would have to be a hospitality or business operation involving multiple entities under the same ownership that includes at least 300 guest rooms and at least one spa, food and beverage services across at least five separate restaurants, and a championship golf course with at least 36 holes.

The bill draft defines a “secondary resort facility” as a separate business located in Wisconsin that is owned by the same “resort manufacturer,” provides lodging or a has a golf course and does business under the same brand.

The parameters of the permit align with Kohler Co.’s resort business, which includes two championship golf courses, a spa and five hotels. In 2016, the company got into the craft spirit business, launching two types of chocolate brandy in partnership with Central Standard Craft Brewery based in Milwaukee. If a bill is filed, clears the Legislature and is signed by Walker, the plan would take effect the first day of the third month beginning after publication.

Kohler Co. has lobbied extensively on distillery-related issues throughout the legislative session. It promoted two bills filed in the fall that would have created a "distillpub" permit, allowing distilleries to make, sell and distribute its spirits. Those bills have not moved out of committees in the Assembly and Senate.

Kohler spent $132,597 and more than 350 hours lobbying on liquor law issues in the first half of the 2017-18 legislative session, according to the Eye on Lobbying database.

Another piece of draft legislation that would create an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement may also be released this week. That proposal would create a separate entity within the state Department of Revenue to enforce the state's already existing liquor laws by adding six more enforcement agents and writing new administrative rules. The office would be headed by an appointee of the governor. That bill is similar to a draft proposal floated last year. 

Sources say the "resort manufacturer" proposal and Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement proposal could be introduced separately or together later this week. 


Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.