Wisconsin Alcohol Laws: Learn about Them & Protect Yourself

This page will help you understand Wisconsin alcohol laws. This could avoid expensive fines or even jail. Not to mention time and embarrassment.

Wisconsin alcohol laws express the will of the state’s residents. But they also apply to visitors. Visitors may forget that Wisconsin drinking laws may be different from the ones they know.        

An example. Furnishing alcohol to someone under 21 could lead to life-long effects. Conviction might prevent a person from going into law enforcement, education, social work, law, or other professions. Nor knowing the law is not a legal defense.


I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Other Alcohol Laws
III. Resources
IV. Legal Advice

I. Minimum Age Laws

Many young people want part-time jobs. Many are in hospitality. People may want to know the ages needed for these jobs. Many involve working with alcohol. What are the required ages for bartenders, servers, and cashiers selling alcohol?

Wisconsin alcohol laws permit adults of any age to be servers or bartenders. That’s in any venue that sells alcohol for drinking on-site. The laws also permit adults of any age to sell alcohol in stores for off-site drinking. That means that those who are 18 or older my hold these jobs.

Those of any age under 21 may drink with a parent, guardian, or spouse present. They may do so in any location where drinking by persons age 21 or older may legally drink. This would include such venues as homes, restaurants, bars, etc.

Many parents model good drinking behavior and teach their offspring to drink in moderation.

But no one under 21 may buy alcohol. Under Wisconsin alcohol laws it is a crime to buy alcohol with a false ID. It is also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any alcohol in their system. Their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) must be 0.00%.

II. Other Wisconsin Alcohol Laws

A. Selling Alcohol

Grocery stores may sell beer, wine, and distilled spirits (liquor).

Alcohol-licensed businesses may sell beer from 6:00 a.m. until 12:00 a.m. any day of the week. Retailers may sell wine and spirits from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. daily.

But no one may sell alcohol at any time in Ephraim, Wisconsin. That’s because it’s totally dry. It has chosen this by local option.

Parents guardians may buy alcohol for their offspring of any age. And they can do so in any restaurant or other licensed venue. But the person under 21 must drink it in the presence of the parent or guardian. Or a spouse 21 or older may purchase for a younger partner. But service is at the discretion of the licensee.

B. Buying Alcohol

It’s illegal for anyone under 21, including adults, to buy alcohol. Or to try to buy it. This includes the use of a false ID.

Making false IDs is an even more severe crime. The penalty for making and selling a false ID is jail for up to three years. And the fine can be as high as $10,000.

Any drinking age conviction stays on the offender’s record for five years. This can have negative impact on education and career choices.

C. Driving and Alcohol

Wisconsin alcohol laws about driving are the most complicated of any state. Drivers are guilty of operating while intoxicated (OWI) under any of these conditions.

(1) Be under the influence of of an intoxicant so their ability to drive is impaired.

(2) Have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more. Wisconsin calls this the prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC). The PAC is 0.08% or more for first, second, and third offenders. But it drops to 0.02% for fourth and later offenses. It’s also that for all drivers forced to use an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicles.

(3) Have a detectable amount of any restricted controlled substance in their blood.

wisconsin alcohol lawsDrivers under age 21 may have no alcohol in their systems. The state penalizes conviction with a driver’s license suspension of three months. There are also fines and fees.

Most states set the limit at 0.02%. There are several reasons they do this. One reason is breath testers are unreliability. In fact, they don’t actually measure BAC. They only estimate it.

Another reason is that every person’s body produces alcohol 24/7. A third is that many meds as well as foods contain alcohol.

Therefore, setting the limit at 0.02% helps reduce chances of convicting innocent people.

About OWI Penalties

    • All convictions for those 21 and over carry a $435 OWI surcharge.
    • An Excessive BAC Escalator occurs for all third or subsequent OWI convictions. As a result, the state increases forfeitures and fines based on BAC (PAC) level.
    • They’e doubled if the BAC was between 0.17% and 0.199%. If the BAC was between 0.20% and 0.249%, they’re tripled. And if it was 0.25% or higher, they’re quadrupled.
    • The “Safe Street” option is a modified probation. It’s available for certain second, third, fourth OWI offenses. It may also be available for a first offense causing injury to another. The state reduces mandatory jail sentences if offenders complete probation. That includes alcohol and drug treatment. The “Safe Street” option  is available only once in a person’s life.
    • An ignition interlock device (IID) prevents a vehicle from starting if there is alcohol on the driver’s breath. The state imposes it for certain OWI offenses.

OWI Penalties

   First Offense

For a first OWI offense with a BAC of 0.08% to 0.149% the fine is $150 to $300. The state revokes the driver’s license for six to nine months. If the BAC is 0.15% or higher, there’s an additional penalty. It’s an IID or 24/7 sobriety program for one year.

Anyone age 15 or younger was in the vehicle? Then there’s a jail sentence of five days to six months. And the IID is for 12 to 18 months after jail.

   Second Offense

These are the penalties for a BAC ≥ 0.08 with no OWIs within ten years. And with no Great Bodily Harm or Homicide by Intoxicated Use offenses. That’s during the offender’s life. The state revokes the license for six to nine months and the fine is $150 to $300.

If the BAC was 0.15% or higher, there’s also an IID or 24/7 sobriety program for one year.

If anyone age 15 or younger was in the vehicle, jail is five days to six months. The Safe Streets option may be available. Fines increase to $350 – $1100. The state requires use on an IID for 12 to 18 months after release.

   Third Offense

For a third OWI offense with a BAC of 0.08% or over the fine is $600-2,000. Jail is 45 days to one year. The license revocation is for 12 to 18 months after release. The Safe Streets option might be available

If there was anyone age 15 or younger in the vehicle, jail is 90 days to two years. The fine increases to $1,200 – $4,000. And the state requires use of an IID for four to six years after release.

   Fourth Offense

A fourth conviction can result if a driver has a BAC over 0.02%. Jail is from 60 days to six years. The fine is $600 – $10,000. Safe Streets option might be available. License revocation is one to three years after release.

If anyone under age 16 was in the vehicle, jail is for at least 120 days. But it could be for up to 12 years. The fine is $1,200-20,000. Revocation is for two to three years after jail. After license re-issue, the state requires an IID or 24/7 sobriety program for one to three years. Of course, the offender pays all such costs.

Driver Rights

The U.S. Constitution grants drivers the right to decline taking breath tester. But Wisconsin punishes those who use their right. The state suspends their driving license, fines them, and sometimes jails them.

wisconsin alcohol lawsYet punishments do not apply to refusing a field sobriety test. These tests are highly unreliable. In fact, 30% of people with a BAC of 0.00% fail them under ideal indoor conditions. That is, about one of three completely sober people fail them.

But drivers stopped by police are not under ideal conditions. Far from it! They’re frightened. The test is usually done at night on an an uneven surface with cars rushing past. The police car’s lights are flashing. It’s very confusing. Of course the driver’s very nervous. That makes following directions even harder. But not following directions perfectly is seen as evidence of impairment!

Lawyers’ Advice

So OWI lawyers strongly recommend not taking them. They say to decline politely but firmly. And to do so as often as needed.

Doing that may take strong willpower. That’s because many police falsely say the law requires drivers to take the test. But that’s not true. In fact, not a single state in the US requires it.

Or officers tell drivers they can prove their innocence by taking the test. But drivers don’t need to prove their innocence. To the contrary. It’s the state that has the burden to prove that drivers are guilty.

Police love the tests. They pull drivers over if they suspect OWI. Then they use a highly subjective test to see if they were right to stop the driver. Surprise! Most drivers fail in the eyes of the police.

Police can legally lie while investigating. So don’t fall for it.

Learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say OWI Lawyers.

D. Boating and Alcohol

Wisconsin alcohol laws prohibit anyone from boating under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs. They may not operating a motorboat or ride water skis or similar devices.

“Under the influence” is having a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Or it’s being incapable of operating safely because of alcohol and/or drugs. But the latter is very subjective. It’s in the eyes of the officer.

wisconsin alcohol lawsA first BUI offense brings a fine of $150 to $300. A second within five years is a fine of at least $300. But it could be up to $1,000. A judge may also order jail. Note that any more BUI convictions increase penalties.

In addition, convictions require completion of an Alcohol and Drug Assessment. Also, a judge may order a boating safety course.

Operators may use their Constitutional right to refuse a BAC chemical test. But the state will punish them if they do. They face driving license suspension, fines, and possible jail.

III. Resources on Wisconsin Alcohol Laws

IV. Legal Advice

Laws can be hard to understand. For instance, here’s a clarification about a law summarized above.

“No person, including a member of the licensee’s or permittee’s immediate family, other than the licensee, permittee or agent may serve fermented malt or alcohol beverages in any place operated under a Class “A,” “Class A,” Class “B,” “Class B,” or “Class C” license or permit unless he or she has an operator’s license or is at least 18 years of age and is under the immediate supervision of the licensee, permittee, agent or a person holding an operator’s license, who is on the premises at the time of the service.”

Wisconsin alcohol laws can be dense. With law, the devil is in the details. Lawyers study for years in law school. Law isn’t a DIY project.

So do not rely on this site. Nor on any other site. Get facts and advice about Wisconsin alcohol laws from an expert. That is a lawyer who holds a license in the state.

Alcohol attitudes and enforcement vary across the state. S it’s a good idea to select a lawyer who practices in the locale of concern. It’s also wise tp pick one who practices many OWI cases.


At this point you know much more about Wisconsin alcohol laws by far than most residents. Kudos!