A northern Wisconsin brewery that has supported Democratic political figures and causes has been ordered to close its doors by a local zoning committee. The Minocqua Brewing Company, which operates a brewpub and a super PAC, had its permit revoked on Wednesday, August 4, 2023, after a heated public hearing. The committee members said the owner, Kirk Bangstad, violated prohibitions on outdoor sales and failed to comply with parking regulations.
Bangstad, who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2015 and for state Assembly in 2020, claimed that he was being targeted by a conservative board because of his liberal political views. He said he had been the subject of a political vendetta and that other local businesses were not subject to the same scrutiny as his. He also accused the committee of violating his due process rights and said he would appeal the decision and remain open as long as possible.
Brewpub known for marketing beers named after Democrats
The Minocqua Brewing Company, located in a Northwoods tourism destination, is known for marketing beers named after Democratic politicians and activists. Some of the beers advertised on its website include Evers Ale, named for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Tammy Shandy for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and RBG IPA for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The brewpub also sells WOKE Coffee and Democratic-themed T-shirts.
In addition to the brewpub, Bangstad operates the Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC, which has purchased billboard ads attacking Republican politicians and raised more than $1 million during the 2022 campaign cycle, according to federal campaign finance data on OpenSecrets.org. The super PAC’s mission is to “turn Wisconsin blue by using our beer as a platform to inspire people to vote for candidates who believe in science,” according to its website.
Supporters rally behind brewery owner
Bangstad’s supporters rallied behind him and protested outside the hearing on Wednesday. A succession of speakers read a lengthy statement ahead of the board’s decision, describing what they called an unfair application of local rules. They said Bangstad had been trying to work with the county to resolve the zoning issues for years, but was met with resistance and hostility.
They also praised Bangstad for his contributions to the community and his efforts to promote progressive values in a predominantly conservative area. They said he had created jobs, donated to local causes, and supported environmental initiatives. They urged the committee to reconsider its decision and allow the brewery to continue operating.
Committee chair denies political motivation
The committee chair, Scott Holewinski, denied that the decision was politically motivated or influenced by Bangstad’s views. He said the committee had been fair to Bangstad and had given him multiple opportunities to comply with the zoning rules. He said Bangstad was provoking the action with plans to file a lawsuit against the county.
“We have been fair to you,” Holewinski said. “There’s nothing political (between) me and you. … You keep (saying) we’re after you because you’re a liberal, because you’re a Democrat. You make this all up against us.”
Holewinski said the committee was acting in accordance with the law and the public interest. He said Bangstad’s outdoor sales posed a safety hazard and a nuisance to the neighbors. He also said Bangstad had failed to provide adequate parking spaces for his customers and staff.
Brewery faces potential closure during peak season
The decision by the committee means that the Minocqua Brewing Company could be forced to close its doors during one of the busiest months of the year for tourism. Bangstad said losing the ability to operate in August would be devastating to his business and his employees. He said he would fight the decision in court and hoped to get an injunction to stay open until the case is resolved.
He also thanked his supporters for their solidarity and encouragement. He said he was not going to give up on his brewery or his political activism.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’m going to keep fighting for what I believe in.”