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What new Minnesota liquor laws mean for businesses — and consumers

But a law passed a few weeks ago that loosens some restrictions on what breweries and distilleries can sell from their cocktail rooms and taprooms is “a good start,” according to business owners.

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Growlers from members of the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild.
Courtesy / Castle Danger Brewery
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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota still has a long way to go before our liquor laws are caught up with those of other states.

But a law passed a few weeks ago that loosens some restrictions on what breweries and distilleries can sell from their cocktail rooms and taprooms is “a good start,” according to business owners.

What does this new law mean for you, the consumer?

It means that you’ll be able to buy one full-size bottle of spirits at your local distillery. It means you will finally be able to get that beer-hall-only beer you fell in love with in a to-go format.

It also means that smaller breweries, should they choose to do so, can sell you four-packs and six-packs of cans instead of larger format growlers or crowlers.

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Basically, it means more options. Not all the options that other states have, but more.

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Growlers are being filled at Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors, Minn., in this 2020 file photo.
Forum News Service file photo

We chatted with movers and shakers in the industry, who have a lot to say about how this will affect their bottom line, their capacity to grow and their ability to connect with consumers.

As for the timeline of increased options, stay tuned. Local ordinances need to change to reflect the new state law. Minneapolis and St. Paul have both fast-tracked those changes, but it still takes time for new city rules to be passed.

Success was punished

For Jamie MacFarlane, co-owner of Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors, Minn., it’s been a long two and a half years of telling customers that she couldn’t sell them growlers of beer to take home.

The brewery passed the previous 20,000-barrel-per-year threshold for being able to sell growlers in October 2019.

“I don’t know any other business out there that once you reach an arbitrary number you have to stop,” MacFarlane said. “Our businesses were definitely getting punished.”

That limit has now increased to 150,000 barrels, which means that every craft brewery — even the bigger players like Schell’s, Surly and Summit — can sell beer to-go from its taproom should it choose to do so.

“You know, the biggest thing for this is that our bartenders are finally able to say, yes, you can take our beer home with you,” MacFarlane said. “The last two summers have been brutal with people coming in and asking if they can get a growler and our bartenders having to explain Minnesota liquor law to tourists from other states.”

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But besides being a convenience for tourists, selling beer to go from the taproom contributes a significant amount to the brewery’s bottom line.

“Growlers had been 30% of our taproom revenue,” she said. “It’s a cash flow thing for our business.”

MacFarlane said that before this law was passed, there were five craft breweries in the country that weren’t allowed to sell beer to go — and all five were in Minnesota.

As for next steps, she and others would like to see the size of allowable crowlers (large cans) changed from 750 ml to whatever the breweries see fit. Apparently, when the law was originally made, there was a small brewery in the northern part of the state packaging his beer in 750-ml bottles, and he got that written into the law. But no other states have similar restrictions, and manufacturers mostly make 32-ounce crowlers.

Finding that legal size has gotten increasingly difficult with supply-chain issues surrounding aluminum. So much so that Castle Danger isn’t even attempting to add crowlers to its to-go lineup at the moment.

Handshake deal

It might be a while before MacFarlane and others can ask for more changes to liquor law in the state, though.

That’s because the craft brewers and distillers guilds made a handshake deal with distributors that they would not return to the legislature seeking new liquor rules for five years.

Bob Galligan, director of government and industry relations for the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, said that is about how long it usually takes to get major liquor bills any traction, anyway.

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“Part of it for us is that anyone who knows liquor laws in Minnesota knows it isn’t happening in a year,” he said. “It’s just a very slow process in Minnesota.”

He said that for the most part, guild members are very happy with the new law, even if there are things they still would like to see changed.

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Growlers are filled at Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors, Minn.
Courtesy / Castle Danger Brewery

“We met in the middle and negotiated this bill,” Galligan said. “Having all stakeholders happy is the goal, and if this law is really changing things for our membership, we will have no need.

“As things stand in the current environment, we’re willing to take some time and collect some data as to what this has brought into the state.”

That doesn’t mean the organization’s work is done. There are other changes that the group will be eyeing down the road.

Brewpubs, for instance, have been largely left out of the conversation. Brewpubs can serve wine and liquor, but they cannot distribute their product outside of selling growlers. Many of them would like to see that change. They’d like to be able to sell four- or six-packs of beer from their taprooms, but also in retail stores.

And eventually, Galligan said, everyone would like to see production caps lifted, so that no matter how successful a craft brewery is, they can still sell beer from their taprooms, in any container they see fit.

“We all knew what the laws were when we opened our businesses, but as businesses change the laws need to change,” Galligan said.

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

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