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Local breweries happy with Sunday growler sales since law passed

Growlers filled with beer chill in a refigterator in Fitger’s Brewhouse waiting for any customer seeking beer to go. (2008 file / News Tribune)

Before Sunday growler sales became legal in Minnesota, it was part of the Sunday routine at Castle Danger Brewery’s taproom to explain the state’s liquor sales prohibition to customers unfamiliar with the law.

“People would turn around and walk out the door,” Castle Danger Brewery taproom manager Caitlin White recalled.

But over the past year, Sunday has gone from one of the Two Harbors brewery’s slowest days of the week to one of the busiest, White said. With more weekend traffic, the taproom can staff two more people on Sundays.

“It’s great for everyone involved,” White said.

A year after Sunday sales of beer growlers became legal in Minnesota, thanks to a change in state law, local breweries say they are happy with their Sunday sales.

Frank Kaszuba, head brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, said the increased Sunday traffic in its retail store has allowed the brewery to increase staff. Fitger’s

also has increased the number of stocked pre-filled growlers.

“Up to 20 percent of our growler sales occur on Sunday now,” Kaszuba said.

Sunday growler sales at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. in Duluth make up 13 percent of overall taproom sales, said co-founder Karen Tonnis. The brewery’s taproom is open a shorter number of hours on Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., compared to other days

it’s open — but before Sunday growler sales were legalized, it wasn’t open on Sundays at all. Tonnis said Sunday now is the second-busiest growler sale day of the week. 

Bent Paddle also added another weekend tour as a result of the Sunday growler law, Tonnis said.

Sunday growler sales at Castle Danger Brewery account for 24 percent of weekly growler sales, White said. Total sales at the taproom on Sundays went up 322 percent this May in comparison to May 2015.

White said the ability for tourists to grab local brew on their way out of town allows Castle Danger Brewery to spread its brand. That also helps drive traffic to other local businesses in downtown Two Harbors, she said. Sundays have become another opportunity for tourists and locals to drink local beer on the weekends and bring some home.

“Craft beer is an activity to go out and do with your friends,” White said. “Especially for us on the North Shore.”

Laura Mullen, a Bent Paddle co-founder, said the Minnesota craft brewery market is far from being saturated. She said Minnesota has about as many craft breweries as the city of Portland, Ore.

“Once a culture starts to enjoy craft beer, they stick with it,” Mullen said, citing Portland as an example. “The consumer is becoming more educated about what is good.”

Kaszuba and White agreed there is room to grow. Kaszuba said that when he got in the business 20 years ago, consumers generally were less educated about all the varieties they could experience with craft beer — IPAs, stouts and brown ales, for example. He said the popularity of craft beer has encouraged consumers to become more knowledgeable beer drinkers.

“Different flavors appeal to different people,” he said.

As the Minnesota craft beer industry grows, Mullen and Tonnis said they are concerned about monitoring the quality of beer being brewed — with a greater number of craft breweries comes greater responsibility to keep standards high, they said.

Tonnis said Bent Paddle practices what she calls “coopetition” — a mix of “competition” and “cooperation.” She said it is good business for other craft breweries to have quality beer because the more a consumer enjoys craft beer, the more likely it is they will try craft beers from other brands. It’s a win-win for everyone, Tonnis said.

Kaszuba said he hopes the Sunday growler sales law is the beginning of more progression in updating Minnesota’s alcohol sales laws. In addition to the law allowing Sunday growler sales, he said another piece of legislation that was good for business was the Surly bill, passed in 2011, which allowed Minnesota breweries to sell pints of beer on site. But the current rules — which still bar liquor stores from selling alcohol on Sundays — still are not up to speed, he said.

“It’s prohibition-era stuff that’s been around since the 1930s,” Kaszuba said of the current laws.

The Minnesota House this spring rejected another effort to allow liquor stores to remain open seven days a week. Forum News Service reported that the major argument against Sunday sales was that it would hurt small liquor stores, forcing them to remain open seven days to remain competitive.

Tonnis and Mullen said beer sale law changes are consumer-based, and Bent Paddle is neutral on the issue. However, if consumer interest results in a new sales law, Tonnis said Bent Paddle is willing to provide the beer.

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