Wedding barn owners worry a liquor license requirement would put some venues out of business

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said barns used for weddings and events should be considered public spaces and be required to have a liquor license.

Some believe this would hurt many small businesses being run out of farms.

Schimel released his opinion in a letter to Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) earlier this month. Swearingen wanted to know Schimel’s opinion on a statute that says a public place must have a liquor license, but the statute doesn’t define public place.

In the letter, Schimel said, “The term “public” itself indicates that the place is generally open and available for public use, including through a contractual relationship such as a rental agreement or lease.”

“I’m kind of surprised,” said Dave Muehl, the owner of Badger Farms wedding barn in Deerfield. “The Department of Revenue has always held that if you have a private facility and only have private events and you do not sell liquor or any controlled substance like that, you do not need a liquor license.”

Muehl and his wife have been hosting 30-35 weddings per year in their converted dairy barn for the last 13 years.

The barn sits on their 350-acre canarygrass farm. They usually have events May through October and use the barn to house farming equipment for the rest of the year.

“This is really agritourism. When you’re at a working farm like you are with this one, this is agritourism. We bring people from all over the world to little Badger Farms,” said Muehl.

Wedding barn owners worry a liquor license requirement would put some venues out of business

Badger Farms supplies the location, but the wedding party must bring their own decorations, food and alcohol.

Because Badger Farms does not have a liquor license, about three to four times per year, the wedding party chooses to bring a beer or wine that is home-brewed.

None of the alcohol can be sold, but it can be served. Although it is not a requirement, Muehl has licensed bartenders serve the alcohol.

“They watch for underage drinking, they watch for overserving. So they know how to slow people down or cut them off,” he said.

Muehl does not want to get a liquor license, but he does want the state to properly discuss the issue “the right way.”

“A liquor license costs $10,000 up front and about $600 a year. And we are only open part of the year, so we don’t have the ability to make that back. We don’t want to do a lot of events,” he said.

Wedding barn owners worry a liquor license requirement would put some venues out of business

About a dozen miles away in Stoughton, Jon Jaeck and Luke Nelson are just over a year into running their venue, The Fields Reserve.

They recognized the popularity of the rustic wedding look and built a chapel and reception venue to fit the growing trend.

Unlike most of their competitors, The Fields Reserve has a liquor license.

“We wanted to do it, wanted it to be a part of our business, part of the convenience of getting married here,” said Jaeck.

Jaeck and Nelson agree they do not think other venues should be forced to take on the liability like they have decided to do.

“We don’t think it’s necessarily fair that a regular mom and pop who used to be farmers and are now running a wedding thing on the weekend, not even every weekend but on occasion, we don’t think it’s fair for them to have to go get their liquor licenses when they’re not really the ones dispensing the alcohol,” said Jaeck.

“Private citizens should be able to have a private party if they want to – bottom line,” he said.

Swearingen recently said, “It’s up to the new attorney general, Department of Revenue and secretary of the Department of Revenue to sort of re-interpret the law.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Revenue told News 3 Schimel’s opinion is “on our radar” and the department is “in the process of reviewing it.”

Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul did not immediately respond to News 3’s request for comment.

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