Alcohol laws of Wisconsin
Retail sale of alcohol
State law prohibits retail sale of liquor and wine between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., and beer between midnight and 6:00 a.m. State law allows local municipalities to further restrict retail sales of alcohol, or ban the issuance of retail liquor licenses altogether. Local laws often prohibit beer sale after 9:00 p.m.
At least two municipalities in Wisconsin prohibit the retail sale of alcohol: the city of Sparta, and the village of Ephraim. In the April 1, 2014 Wisconsin Spring Election, voters in Sparta narrowly passed the referendum to allow the sale of beer and wine in groceries and convenience stores in the city of Sparta. The ban of the sale of liquor within the city remains in effect.
Beverage sale of alcohol
State law requires that bars be closed between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Monday through Friday; 2:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Exceptions are made on New Years Eve, when no closing is required, and for changes in Daylight Saving Time. State law does not permit municipalities to further restrict when bars must be closed. Municipalities may elect, however, to prohibit the issuance of liquor licenses, making the municipality effectively dry.
The drinking age in Wisconsin is 21. Those under the legal drinking age may be served, possess, and/or consume alcohol if they are with a parent, legal guardian, or spouse who is of legal drinking age. People 18 to 20 may also possess (but not consume) alcohol as a part of their employment.
The 1983 Wisconsin Act 74, effective July 1, 1984 created a drinking age of 19. Meeting in special session at the call of the governor, the legislature enacted 1985 Wisconsin Act 337, which created a 21 drinking age and brought the state into compliance with the NMDA (National Minimum Drinking Age) on September 1, 1986.
The NMDA law was amended to permit an exception for those persons who were between ages 18 and 21 on the effective date of the law. (Wisconsin 19- and 20-year-olds were “grandfathered in” by this exception after enactment of Act 337. In effect, the state did not have a uniform age of 21 until September 1, 1988.)
Soon after Wisconsin became a state, settlers from the Eastern United States (known as Yankees) took issue with the consumption of alcohol by German immigrants on Sunday, as well as the prevalence of alcoholism. The Wisconsin legislature passed a law in 1849 which made liquor sellers liable for the costs incurred by local governments in supporting alcoholics. Ten years later, the state prohibited liquor sales on Sundays.
In 1872, alcohol regulation reached new heights in the state with the passage of the Graham Law. This legislation prohibited drunkenness, sale of alcohol to minors, and required all liquor sellers to post a $2000 bond (more than $30,000 in 2007 U.S. dollars). German-Americans fought the new law in the courts and at the ballot box. Although they lost challenges in the courts, they were able to elect a friendlier legislature. In 1874, the new lawmakers passed less restrictive laws which lowered the bond to $500, allowed Sunday liquor sales, and created certain safe havens for liquor sellers to escape liability for alcoholics.
Wisconsin, like the rest of the United States, prohibited alcohol consumption during Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. But even before Prohibition ended, Wisconsin created work-arounds. In 1926, voters approved a referendum allowing the manufacture of beer, if not its consumption. And the state repealed its law enforcing Prohibition in 1929. Wisconsin Senator John J. Blaine sponsored the Act which later became the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution, ending Prohibition. The state was the second to ratify the amendment on April 25, 1933.
- Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Wisconsin Alcohol Beverage and Tobacco Laws for Retailers. May 2008. http://revenue.wi.gov/pubs/pb302.pdf
- Wis. Stat. 125.05 http://www.legis.state.wi.us/statutes/Stat0125.pdf
- 'Referendum on beer, alcohol sales fails,' La Crosse Tribune, April 6, 2011, B2
- Chris Hubbuch, "Sparta again says no to alcohol sales," La Crosse Tribune, April 8, 2009.
- City of Oshkosh, Wisconsin Resolution, July 25, 2006 http://www.ci.oshkosh.wi.us/weblink8/0/doc/430545/Page1.aspx
- City of Sparta beer referendum narrowly passes
- "Wisconsin State Statues section 125.07(1)". Wisconsin State Statutes. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
- Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, Brief 95-3: The Minimum Drinking Age in Wisconsin
- Joseph A. Ranney, 'Aliens and "Real Americans": Law & Ethnic Assimilation in Wisconsin, 1846-1920', Wisconsin Lawyer.
- Consumer Price Index (CPI) Conversion Factors 1774 to estimated 2019 to Convert to Dollars of 2007 http://oregonstate.edu/cla/polisci/faculty-research/sahr/cv2007.pdf
- Joseph A. Ranney. "Demon rum and Sunday lager: The temperence movemenet (sic) in Wisconsin."
- Wisconsin Historical Society. Brewing and Prohibtion. http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp-051/?action=more_essay
- Amendments to the Constitution http://www.house.gov/house/Constitution/Amend.html