Six Minnesota breweries, including Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors, are again pushing for a change at the Legislature to remove the current restrictions on selling growlers at their businesses.
Representatives from the Alliance of Minnesota Craft Breweries, which includes Indeed, Fulton, Castle Danger, Surly, Schell’s and Lift Bridge brewing companies, met with three Minnesota lawmakers in Two Harbors on Friday to promote the removal of the cap.
“We are working with lawmakers to make a common sense change to get rid of this growler cap,” said Lon Larson, co-owner of Castle Danger Brewery.
Minnesota law currently restricts growlers and crowlers being sold to-go from breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels of beer each year. Because of this law, Fulton, Surly, Schell’s, Castle Danger and Summit are currently the only five brewing companies in the country that cannot sell their beer to-go.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, a lobbying group representing liquor stores and other legacy alcohol retailers, has pushed to maintain the "three-tier system of distribution" of producer, distributor and retailer.
"Minnesota's small breweries and taprooms have existing incredible legal advantages and the industry is obviously booming," Tony Chesak, executive director of MLBA, said in 2019. "We don't think they need additional law changes at this time over existing bars and liquor stores."
The push to raise or remove the cap is a bipartisan issue. State Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, state Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and state Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said at the brewery on Friday that bills have been drafted for this legislative session, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the process for getting them on the floor has been significantly slowed.
Pappas wrote the first growler bill over a decade ago, and has seen pushback from members of the House and Senate for what she feels is a moral hesitancy to liquor in the state.
“Why is there so much resistance? It’s kind of anti-competition. Competition is supposed to be good for all of us. We live in America,” Pappas said with a laugh.
Nash said many of Minnesota’s liquor laws have not changed since the end of Prohibition and he brought along a copy of the 1948 liquor laws to prove it. Pappas believes the legalization of Sunday liquor sales was a breakthrough for Minnesota’s liquor laws, but the growler issue has been over-complicated and sees pushback year after year.
Nash said seeing the opposition to the removal of the cap from other legislators is surprising.
“That is the most un-Minnesotan thing I think I could possibly describe for you, to think that people want to constrain a set of businesses for being too successful,” Nash said.
While brewers are still able to sell their beer in liquor stores via distributors, the Alliance is pushing for growler sales for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that they want their customers to be able to take a part of their brewery experience home with them.
Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Janelle Jones said the brewery has solidified confidence in other local business owners. Customers from both near and far who come to town are willing to support Castle Danger Brewery by purchasing a growler to take with them, but they have to be told no.
The lack of growler sales has forced Castle Danger to dump excess beer down the drain when they can't sell it in time. Warehouse specialist Ethan Zimmerman estimated at least 40 kegs are dumped per day.
Growlers are also a way for breweries to experiment with new, small-batch brews without having to roll out branding and packaging to mass-produce and sell through distributors.
The three-tier system of brewers, distributors and retailers designates a specific function to each tier. It was established after Prohibition to discourage large breweries from monopolizing the industry. However, some Minnesota brewers, like Lift Bridge Brewery, now believe they are being forced to stop growing their businesses in order to stay below the cap.
Even if breweries are able to sell growlers after producing more than 20,000 barrels of beer each year, another cap still limits the amount of to-go sales from breweries to 750 barrels per year.
“We don’t want to be liquor stores, we simply want to provide the consumer what they’re looking for,” Larson said.