Push to allow more growler sales at Minnesota breweries

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There's a new push to allow more growlers to be sold at Minnesota breweries. While some call the law surrounding the issue necessary, others call it outdated. 

The law started to get a lot of attention in the craft brew community when in Two Harbors, Castle Danger Brewery revealed they are – in a way – a victim of their own success.    

As of October 1, they won't be selling growlers because of their success in other areas. Now the founders of Lift Bridge Brewery are among those once again pushing for change. 

Lift Bridge is one of a handful of breweries across the state at or quickly approaching 20,000 barrels of beer sales so far this year. Lift Bridge CEO and co-founder Dan Schwarz says the downside is the Minnesota law, which states once breweries meet that threshold, they can no longer sell 64-ounce jugs of beer or growlers directly at their establishment. At Lift Bridge, about 30 percent of taproom sales come from growlers, which accounts for less than one percent of overall sales. 

"We are concerned about hitting growler cap," said Schwarz. "Kind of have to weigh what the ramifications are going to be not only from taproom side, but also from the marketing and exposure side."

Wednesday, state Senator Karin Housley (R-Stillwater) started a change.org petition, hoping to increase the cap to 250,000 overall barrels. The 750 barrels worth of growlers allowed to be sold would remain the same. 

"It's not any more growlers out on the market," said Sen. Housley.

The root of the argument stems back to the prohibition days when Minnesota liquor laws were set up on a three-tier system: suppliers, distributors and retails. Regulations prevent any one tier from owning interest in another in order to prevent a monopoly. 

"It does seem kind of silly a brewery like Lift Bridge can brew their beer here, but send it out to the distributor to have it come back to Stillwater," said Sen. Housley. "But that's the system that's been set up. We don't want to challenge that."

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association does not support changes in the growler proposal, saying in a statement it would "hurt" small, independent liquor retailers and "diminish the advantages that smaller breweries have for growth."

Senator Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) also pointed out in a statement, "This so-called growler cap only impacts a handful of the dozens of craft breweries across the state, which was set as part of a compromise between the various players involved."

"We don't see it as Lift Bridge vs. liquor stores," said Schwarz. "We should have a level playing field between with other breweries around the United States."

The limit was increased from 3,500 to 20,000 barrels about five years ago. For the third session in a row, Senator Housley introduced her proposal for another increase without success.