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Minnesota breweries and distilleries are attempting once more to loosen restrictions on alcohol sales.

A bill passed this week by the DFL-led Minnesota House of Representatives would relax state liquor laws by lifting the gatekeeping rules on growler sales for larger craft breweries, and would allow small distilleries to sell their spirits directly to customers. 

For years now, the two industries have pushed to expand what they can sell directly from the source. Minnesota's largest craft breweries — namely Surly, Summit, Schells, Fulton and Castle Danger — want fewer restrictions on growlers, which are 64-ounce glass bottles used to carry draft beer poured straight from the taphouses. 

Current state laws limits breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels a year from selling growlers. Other breweries can sell growlers, as long as they stay under that threshold. The bill passed in the House Wednesday would do the following:

  • Expand the growler cap to breweries producing 150,000 barrels a year.
  • Allow smaller breweries who produce less than 7,500 barrels "to sell up to 128 ounces per day in approved containers." This could result in six-pack sales coming to these breweries.
  • Allow smaller 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."
  • Allow bars, taprooms and other drinking establishments to open early for live broadcasts of World Cup soccer matches.
  • Increase the amount of wine people could have shipped to their home from two cases to 12, and would tax those sales.
  • Allow liquor stores to sell lemons, limes, oranges and other citrus fruits, along with drinking glasses.

The year of 2020 took the biggest toll on state craft breweries, with an overall drop of 18% in sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, during that time, studies show that Americans were drinking more often

The University of Minnesota's Extension report revealed that on-site sales are vital to breweries. Selling packaged beer simply wasn't an option for some smaller breweries during the first 12 months of the pandemic,

The restrictions on craft beer sales spawned the industry-led "free the growler" bipartisan effort, which culminated in the bill passing the House by an 85-48 tally on Wednesday.

Opposition likely in the Senate

The bill now returns to the Senate, which passed its version 66-0 on May 5. However, the Senate's version is very different from what the House has proposed.

The only item both versions shared was a nondiscriminatory sales clause, which prohibits wholesalers from having preferred retail customers involving spirits. The Senate bill doesn't contain elements that would loosen the rules on growlers and on breweries and distilleries selling directly to consumers.

Both need to pass the same bill before Gov. Tim Walz can sign it into legislation.

Out of over 8,000 breweries in the United States, the five aforementioned breweries are the only ones in the country that can't sell beer to-go directly to the consumer. This is according to the Alliance of Minnesota Craft Breweries, a group that has pushed for change in the industry.

Minnesota is listed as having the fourth strictest bottle sales limit for buying directly from craft alcohol producers in the United States, according to the Minnesota Distillers Guild.

A provision in the House bill suggests a 12-member advisory council to offer recommendations on liquor legislation for the state. Each of the three-tiered system of wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers would have equal representation on the council.

Some Senate Republicans believe that the council would be working "in the best interest of themselves," as Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) put it. 

Rep. Jordan Rasmusson (R-Fergus Falls) said all members of the proposed council are from the industry and "no one would be looking out for the public, including public health or public safety."

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