Originally published on May 11
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The Minnesota House on Wednesday approved a proposal that would mark the most significant change to the state’s liquor laws since allowing Sunday sales.
It would allow the state’s smaller breweries to sell four- and six-packs of beer to-go (currently, they can only sell 64 oz. growlers and 25.4 oz. crowlers) and distilleries to sell larger bottles of their spirits.
The bill also “frees the growler,” lifting a production cap from 20,000 barrels to 150,000 barrels so the state’s largest breweries, including Surly and Summit, can sell growlers on-site. Just five breweries hit the 20,000 barrel-limit and can’t sell beer to-go.
The bill passed 85-48 Wednesday night. The proposal needs to pass the Senate, where its fate is unclear. There is a liquor bill that passed that chamber but it did not include the changes approved in the House.
Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, spent months meeting with stakeholders —retailers, producers and distributors— to find a compromise everyone could agree on. Changes to state law have hit roadblocks in previous years because of disagreements among key alcohol-related industries.
“We finally got to a point where everyone can agree on how we modernize our state’s liquor laws and really give a shot in the arm to those craft breweries and craft distilleries that Minnesotans really love,” Stephenson said.
But the deal did not go as far as some in the industry hoped for: “No one got everything they wanted, but everyone is getting something they want,” Stephenson said.
Jamie MacFarlane, chief financial officer at Castle Danger Brewing in Two Harbors, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that she would be able to sell growlers once again at her taproom. Castle Danger surpassed the current production limit in October 2019.
That made weathering the pandemic, which shuttered the taproom for months, even more difficult, she said. She has been pushing the legislature to change the law.
“We’re talking about getting growlers ready to go as soon as we can. We’re excited,” MacFarlane said. “Customers expect to be able to get that and when they come in and they can’t, it’s hard for our bartenders to explain why they can’t.”
The legislation also allows any distillery to have a cocktail room so long as they produce in the state. Tattersall Distilling notably moved the majority of production to Wisconsin last year because it reached a current state production limit that would have required closure of its cocktail room in Minneapolis. It cited Minnesota’s “restrictive” liquor laws as forcing them out-of-state.
The proposal provides a way to grow business, said Jeremy Mathison, founder of Broken Clock Brewery in Northeast Minneapolis. He said customers often ask why they can’t purchase beer that isn’t in a growler or crowler.
“It’s great for us,” he said. “Having the ability to sell 12 and 16 oz cans in-house not only gives us the ability to make more money, but allows us to put it in a preferred package size to actually get some distribution out to liquor stores to make money that way as well.”
Disagreement Over The Council To Propose Future Changes
Another piece of the proposal would create a Liquor Regulation Advisory Council with nine members representing different stakeholder groups, including liquor stores, wholesalers, breweries, and distilleries.
The council would make recommendations to the legislature on future changes to state liquor law.
Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, criticized that provision and sought to remove it from the bill, though she acknowledged there are parts she supports.
She raised concern that there were no consumers represented on the council and pointed to a MPR News story that published a “cease-fire” agreement between the major players in the liquor debate to keep other proposals at bay for five years. She said the group would be self-serving.
“This council is set up to work in the best interest of itself,” Neu Brindley said. “This bill furthers the politicization of liquor regulations in Minnesota.”