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'Free the Growler' plan picks up steam at the Minnesota Capitol, days before the legislative deadline

A conference committee on Thursday approved a compromise liquor bill and moved it forward.

File: Castle Danger growlers
Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors fills growlers in 2019. (Tyler Schank / 2019 file / News Tribune)
Photo by Tyler Schank
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Thursday, May 19, advanced a compromise proposal to raise the cap that Minnesota craft breweries can produce while still being allowed to sell to-go products like growlers from their taproom.

After weeks of uncertainty about the bill's prospects at the Capitol, members of a conference committee voted unanimously to approve the plan that would allow larger breweries that produced up to 150,000 barrels a year to offer growler sales, up from the current 20,000 barrel cap.

That restriction prevented the state's six largest craft breweries — Castle Danger, Fulton, Indeed, Lift Bridge, Schell's and Surly — from selling growlers. And the owners of Lift Bridge last year added a brewery in Wisconsin so they could produce more beer while not hitting Minnesota's barrel cap.

The plan would also let smaller breweries that produce up to 7,500 barrels a year sell four and six-packs from their taprooms. And it would allow micro-distilleries to increase the number of off-sale products they can offer and allow town ball baseball teams to sell alcoholic beverages. Resorts would also have the option to sell beer with an alcohol content higher than 3.2%. But 3.2% will remain than standard for grocery stores and convenience stores.

"This is a great bill and I think we can be really happy on it," the bill's author Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said.

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Lawmakers on the conference committee applauded on Thursday afternoon after they voted to send it to the House of Representatives to approve their amendments. From there it is expected to move to the Senate and then to the governor's desk.

The push for changes comes after years of gridlock between stakeholders in the distribution system and after craft breweries launched public pressure campaigns to convince lawmakers to lift caps on the barrels of beer they can produce each year while still offering to-go sale options in their taproom.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, on Thursday, credited members of the public who kept the pressure on lawmakers with getting the issue close to the finish line.

"We've been hearing from Minnesotans on some of these liquor-related items — 'Free the Growler' — we've been hearing about that for a number of years and I'm confident that this would not have happened without the strong grassroots efforts," Miller said.

The final agreement included pieces of more than 20 bills that came up for consideration this year. Stakeholders including craft beverage producers, wholesalers, liquor retailers and Teamsters met in private for months to hammer out an agreement.

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Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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