Lift Bridge Brewery is expanding across the St. Croix River, with plans to open a second taproom and production facility in Wisconsin this spring.
The Stillwater-based brewery is leasing space from Big Watt Beverage Co. at its facility at 1280 Madison Ave. in New Richmond, Wisconsin, about 19 miles from Lift Bridge's Minnesota taproom.
The tentative plan is to open the new 1,200-foot taproom on May 1, a news release says.
“As Lift Bridge continues to expand our presence in the Midwest, we’re excited to open up a new destination in Wisconsin alongside our friends at Big Watt,” Brad Glynn, Lift Bridge's co-founder and VP of marketing, said in a news release.
He added, "We’re looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunities and laws Wisconsin has to offer while remaining true to our roots in Stillwater."
Lift Bridge is among the Minnesota breweries pushing for a change in Minnesota liquor laws. It is a member of the Alliance of Minnesota Craft Breweries, which is seeking to repeal the part of state law that limits growler sales to breweries that produce fewer than 20,000 barrels a year.
Five breweries in Minnesota produce more than that, and Lift Bridge is getting close to that threshold. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the brewery recorded more than 10 years of consistent growth since it was founded in 2008.
Glynn told Bring Me The News Lift Bridge will likely be over the 20,000 barrel production cap in 2021 or for sure in 2022, at which point Minnesota law would prohibit them from selling beer to go.
The move to Wisconsin will allow Lift Bridge to "bolster its fermentation capacity" to brew up to 15,000 more barrels per year, the release says. This will allow the brewery to stay under Minnesota's growler cap so Lift Bridge can still sell growlers and crowlers to people who visit the Stillwater taproom.
"Being able to sell packaged beer direct to the consumer is critical to our ability to innovate and seek instant feedback. From the customer standpoint, being able to bring back home a little bit of the brewery experience creates a positive brand connection that is also critical to our long-term success," Glynn told BMTN. "It should be noted that over 98% of our beer produced does travel through the three-tier system. We have incredible relationships with our distribution network that have also allowed us to grow."
In Wisconsin, the cap is 300,000 barrels, Glynn said, noting Lift Bridge will still be able to sell to-go packages to customers at the New Richmond location too.
The move to Wisconsin will also allow Lift Bridge to "further develop" its 16-ounce canned beverages and "other takeout options," the release says.
The new taproom will have room to seat 60 people inside and 48 on the outdoor patio. The brewery plans to offer "expanded beverage offerings" to drink at the taproom, where there will be outdoor games. It will also offer alcoholic beverages to go.
Partnering with Big Watt
The reason to open a taproom in Big Watt's space is a strategic one. Lift Bridge has teamed up with Big Watt on some beers, including the Irish Coffee Stout. Big Watt was born under Twin Cities coffee shop Five Watt and opened its Wisconsin facility in early 2021.
Being under the same roof will "elevate their alliance in a shared space," which also includes potential collaborations with Lift Bridge's other new neighbors, 45th Parallel Distillery.
“As Big Watt grows from our Minneapolis roots to expand production and meet the needs of a rapidly-diversifying beverage market, we are thrilled to partner with Lift Bridge,” Big Watt CEO Alex Gese said in a release. “Our mission at Big Watt is to bring joyful energy to the communities that we serve, and we can’t wait to open the doors of the new Lift Bridge taproom as a welcoming gathering place and home for delicious beverage innovations.”
Lift Bridge opened as Stillwater's first brewery since prohibition. In addition to a variety of beers, Lift Bridge also makes hard seltzers and sodas, which can be found throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
MN's 'restrictive' liquor laws are tough to change
Lift Bridge isn't the only Minnesota-based alcoholic beverage maker that's expanding into Wisconsin due to Minnesota's "restrictive" liquor laws.
Earlier this month, Minneapolis-based Tattersall Distilling said it'll open a destination distillery in Wisconsin because of Minnesota's laws that are often seen as punishing beverage makers for being successful and growing.
Like the aforementioned growler cap, Minnesota's liquor laws prohibit microdistilleries from operating a cocktail room or selling products directly to customers if they produce more than 40,000 proof gallons a year.
Tattersall was on track to exceed that cap in 2019 (the pandemic forced it to close its cocktail room temporarily) and has been looking for more than two years to find a second location outside of Minnesota so it can keep its cocktail room open in Minneapolis as it grows.
Like the breweries, distilleries, winemakers and cidermakers have been unsuccessful for years in their effort to sway the Minnesota Legislature to change state law.
Minnesota is notorious for being slow to pass any major changes to state liquor laws despite having a lot of support from Minnesotans. That's because the liquor store lobby, distributors/Teamsters and cities with municipal liquor stores continue to retain support from enough Republicans and Democrats to prevent legislation from passing.
While the state eventually passed a Sunday liquor sales bill after years of trying, going into effect in 2017, more recent efforts to expand alcohol sales have been stymied.
In December, a pandemic-related bill that would have allowed restaurants to sell to-go cocktails and liquor and permitted all breweries to sell growlers failed in the Senate due to GOP opposition.
New bills proposed this year include a measure that would raise the cap on when breweries must stop selling growlers, and one that would allow smaller breweries to sell their products in 12-ounce or 16-ounce cans from their taprooms (currently they can only sell them in 'crowler' or 'growler' size for takeout).
But, despite these bills having bipartisan support, it's likely there will never be a hearing on them in the 2021 legislative session. This MinnPost story goes into detail about all the obstacles such legislation faces and why it doesn't matter that updating the state's Prohibition-era liquor laws has a lot of support.