Minnesota has some of the more restrictive liquor laws in the United States.  Out of 9,000 breweries in the US, only 5 cannot sell beer to go. They are all in Minnesota. The way the current laws are, any brewery that produces 20,000 or more barrels of beer in a year can no longer sell growlers at their location. With craft beer seeing a surge in recent years, that could mean if a brewery is doing well that it might end up hurting them.

I spoke with both Bent Paddle & Castle Danger about the new liquor omnibus bill that is working its way through the state legislature. In that bill is the free the growler movement laws, which would allow breweries to sell growlers to go even if they cross the threshold of 20,000 barrels.

Bent Paddle Weighs In

Bent Paddle
Bent Paddle

Laura Mullen, CO-Founder & VP Of Marketing & Outreach at Bent Paddle, shared some of the ways that the law is harmful to small breweries like Bent Paddle. Bent Paddle came close pre-pandemic to the 20,000 barrel mark that would prevent them from selling growlers to go. Laura says that they may approach that level again as the business continues to recover and grow. This last year they were at about the 15,000 barrel mark. If they get close to the 20,000 mark, they'll have to strategize and cut back on production if necessary to stay within the limit. Growlers are an important part of their business, it accounts for 30% of their taproom sales or roughly $350,000 annually.

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Craft Beer Is Big, But Not Nearly As Big As Some May Think In The Big Picture

Bent Paddle is big in the Northland, and it is among the top 12 breweries in Minnesota. However, Bent Paddle is 10 times smaller than Minnesota's Summit Brewing. To also put the whole beer market in perspective, Summit is 100 times smaller than Budweiser and in the United States craft beer just makes up 12% of all beer sold.

Castle Danger Cannot Sell Growlers Anymore With The Current Law

I also reached out to Castle Danger to discuss how the liquor law has affected them. Jamie McFarland, co-owner of Castle Danger says they haven't been able to sell a growler of beer since 2019. Not a day goes by that they don't have a customer asking for a growler. It's something that people just assume is available at all breweries. Castle Danger produces 28,000 barrels of beer each year. They would have to cut their production by a third to be able to sell growlers. Tourism is huge up the North Shore, and it's disappointing to both Castle Danger and their customers that they can't get growlers. Like Bent Paddle, Castle Danger had about 30% of its taproom revenue was growlers.

Castle Danger has introduced a new beer called "Free The Growler."  It's a citrusy hefeweizen that's a great bear for the spring & summer.

Castle Danger
Castle Danger

The goal of the beer is to raise awareness about this issue and get support from the community and patrons. Jamie points out that liquor laws are not easy to understand, and that most people are unaware that if their brewery goes over the 20,000 barrel mark they won't be able to get growlers.

Bill Goes Beyond Growlers

Laura Mullen from Bent Paddle highlighted some other cool stuff in the bill. It has to do with packaging laws for smaller breweries to have more flexibility in to-go packaging. Other states allow the flexibility to go from glass to aluminum or vice versa, so why can't Minnesota? With the current supply chain issues, flexibility is key for business. The new bill would allow 4 packs to be sold from the brewery as well.

Even If This Bill Passes, There Still Will Be A Growler Cap Limit, & That's OK

Both Castle Danger & Bent Paddle wanted to point out to me that there already is a cap limit on growler sales for breweries. They are only allowed to sell 750 barrels of growler beer in a year. To put that in perspective, Bent Paddle sells about 400 barrels in growlers.

Jamie at Castle Danger said they've done the math. Currently the top 5 breweries in Minnesota can't sell growlers. If they were allowed to, and all of them sold the maximum 750 barrels of beer in growlers, it would equate to 1/20th of 1% of all beer sold in Minnesota. She says that's a minimal impact on the big picture of liquor sales, but it is a huge impact on small breweries being able to succeed.

For The First Time, Everyone In The Industry Seems To Be Working For The Bill

Laura Mullen says everyone is coming together, "For the first time we have breweries, distributors, and retail stores all working together for this bill." The liquor omnibus bill has passed the House Commerce Committee, and is currently in the Ways and Means Committee. The hearing will take place after Easter Break. If it continues to progress it should be up for a vote on the house floor by the end of April.

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