Minnesota House passes bill to relax laws on sales of craft beer, spirits

It’s a significant development for the state’s growing craft brewing and distilling industries, which have been pushing for years to expand what they can sell directly from their operations.

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 — The Minnesota House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 11, passed a large bill that would relax state liquor laws by lifting restrictions on growler sales by major craft breweries and allowing small distilleries to directly sell their spirits to customers.

It’s a significant development for the state’s growing craft brewing and distilling industries, which have been pushing for years to expand what they can sell directly from their operations. Distilleries want to be able to sell larger bottles, and the state’s biggest craft breweries have wanted fewer restrictions on the sale of growlers, the large glass bottles typically used to carry draft beer poured from taphouses.

Liquor retailers and wholesalers have historically opposed loosening the law, but bill sponsor Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, told fellow House members Wednesday that his proposal balanced the interests of the traditional and craft alcohol industries. The proposal includes the creation of a state liquor advisory council made up of industry representatives appointed by the governor.

“Over the last several years the landscape of the alcohol industry here in Minnesota has changed dramatically. The craft movement has introduced hundreds of new businesses in all corners of the state,” said Stephenson. “Minnesota’s liquor laws are not written in the stars; just because they are doesn’t mean they should forever be.”

Current state law bars breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels a year from selling growlers, but under the proposal the House passed Wednesday night, the growler cap would increase to 150,000 barrels.


Breweries currently affected by the growler cap include Two Harbors’ Castle Danger, St. Paul’s Summit, Fulton and Surly in Minneapolis and Schell’s in New Ulm. Those five are the only breweries of more than 8,000 in the U.S. that cannot directly sell beer to customers, according to the Alliance of Minnesota Craft Breweries, an industry group pushing for the state to lift the restriction.

A bipartisan mix of representatives voted 85-48 in favor of the proposal after an hour and a half of debate Wednesday night, with many Republican members voting against the bill after voicing concerns about a section of the bill that would create a new state liquor advisory council. Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, and other Republicans said the council, which would be made up of nine members from retail wholesale and craft sectors of the alcohol industry, would give the alcohol industry an undue voice in government.

The Senate has also passed a bill that changes the state’s liquor laws, but not nearly to the extent that the House bill calls for. It remains unclear what the Senate might be
willing to adopt from the House bill. Both chambers must pass the same bill before the governor can sign any legislation into law.

In addition to lifting growler sale restrictions, the House version of the liquor law reform bill would allow small distilleries to sell bottles of up to 750 milliliters of spirits per customer or up to 1.125 liters per customer of any approved size no larger than 375 milliliters. Smaller brewers who produce less than 7,500 barrels would be able to sell up to 128 ounces a day in approved containers, opening the possibility for six-pack sales.

A few other small changes included in the liquor bill include allowing liquor stores to sell citrus fruits and drinking glasses, and allowing drinking establishments to be open during live broadcasts of World Cup soccer matches — which often air at odd hours in the U.S. as the tournaments are held in different locations across the world.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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