By Caroline Cummings

This article was originally published on March 19, 2021

MAPLE GROVE, Minn. (WCCO) — Craft breweries, distilleries and wineries have been fighting to change Minnesota’s alcohol laws for years, calling them restrictive and threatening to their growth in the state. A sweeping package at the legislature aims to change those laws at a time when the industry is taking a hit due to the pandemic.

“Even Utah has looser liquor laws than we do so I think that there’s a lot of ground to be made up,” said Lauren Bennet McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, during news conference last month promoting the legislative proposal, dubbed the “Drink Local Economic Recovery Package.”

Right now, breweries can’t sell 12 and 16-ounce cans, only growler and crowlers—even though the amount of total alcohol is roughly the same as all of the ounces in a four or six pack of beer. When larger craft breweries grow and sell 20,000 barrels of beer, they can no longer sell anything to-go.

“The laws do a really nice job of dividing our businesses and making us have difficult decisions about growth,” said Zack Ward, co-founder of OMNI Brewing in Maple Grove during a Friday interview.

For distilleries, they can only sell half bottles to customers, instead of a standard 750 ml size. State law says if they exceed production of 40,000 proof gallons, distilleries can no longer have a cocktail room or sell products directly to customers.

The production cap in Minnesota law is what drove Tattersall Distilling to expand its business just over the Wisconsin border and move the majority of its production there, founder Jon Kreidler announced Tuesday. Moving the production to Wisconsin will allow the company to keep its presence in northeast Minneapolis where customers can still enjoy their cocktails at that location.

“Because of Minnesota’s restrictive liquor laws, to maintain our presence in Minneapolis, we were forced to look outside of the state’s borders,” he said.

Businesses and groups pushing for changes to liquor laws say the Tattersall announcement underscores the urgency for action. A broader coalition that includes restaurants, distilleries, breweries and wineries is pushing the bill, which includes proposals that impact all of the sectors of the industry, instead of the piecemeal approach that’s been tried before.

READ MORE: Tattersall To Open Second Distillery In Wisconsin, Citing Minnesota’s ‘Restrictive’ Liquor Laws

Ward said he is not surprised by the decision, saying he has mulled a similar expansion to Wisconsin instead of adding more taprooms in Minnesota.

“I expect to see more of this if the laws don’t change,” he said. “The completely arbitrary vessel size restrictions that apply to both brewers and distillers are one of a kind in our country and restrictive to small, growing businesses.”

“The Drink Local Economic Recovery Package,” which has a DFL and Republican sponsors in both chambers, would make the pandemic-era policy of selling beer and wine to-go permanent, plus cocktails; eliminate the growler cap and allow limited sales of four and six packs of beer in taprooms; and allow distilleries to sell full-size bottles. It would also allow self-distribution for cideries and brewpubs and would rework the tax and registration fee structure for producers.

The proposal is by no means a slam dunk. Many of the policies put forward have been discussed for years but the laws remain unchanged.

It faces staunch opposition from a labor union representing 1,150 members in warehouse and wholesale distribution of alcohol products, as well as workers in municipal liquor stores.

“Controversial changes in alcohol policy that provide a substantial advantage to only a small group in the hospitality industry—at the direct expense of others—is neither appropriate or right,” said Edward Reynoso, political director Teamsters Joint Council 32, in a statement to WCCO.

Neither the House nor Senate bill have had a committee hearing yet.

Caroline Cummings