Some MN breweries are too big to sell growlers – this bill would change that

Could Fulton's growler be resurrected?
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There are five breweries in Minnesota where you can't buy a growler. Why? Because they're too dang big.

Minnesota law prevents breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels of beer a year from selling the 64-ounce jugs. So if you walk into Surly, Third Street, Summit, Schell's or Fulton, you can't take home a growler.

That limit is penalizing these breweries for being successful, Rep. Drew Christensen, a Republican from Savage, explained in a news release. He is introducing a bill that would increase the production limit to 250,000 barrels, effectively giving every Minnesota brewery the opportunity to sell growlers.

To put that into perspective, Schell's – Minnesota's largest brewery – sold 136,200 barrels in 2015, according to the Brewers Association. Summit sold 128,770 barrels, while Surly had 62,432 barrels in sales that year, the association notes.

Also worth noting: 250,000 barrels is the maximum annual production for breweries if they want to have a taproom.

Brewers guild supports the bill

The bill has the support of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. The guild's president Tom Whisenand told GoMN it "eliminates an arbitrary production cap" that punishes breweries for being successful.

Back in September, Fulton in Minneapolis became the latest brewery to declare its growler dead because of size. Sales from the jugs of beer made up about 10-15 percent of the company's retail sales.

"Breweries are not asking to sell a greater quantity of growlers than they do currently, rather they just want the ability to continue selling them to their customers as they grow and prosper," Whisenand said. "Growlers are important to our state's craft breweries as a revenue stream and perhaps more important as a way to connect directly with their customers."

The guild's hope is that the Legislature will recognize how the bill will benefit Minnesota's craft breweries, which are small businesses that boost tourism and create jobs, Whisenand added.

Why is there a limit?

The 20,000 barrel annual limit was designed to help Minnesota's smaller breweries compete with larger ones.

Many small local breweries have limited distribution to bars or liquor stores (or don’t distribute at all), so being able to sell growlers for off-site consumption gives people the chance to bring the beer home and share it with others. Growlers are also a source of added revenue for breweries.

The annual production limit for growler sales has already been changed once before. Back in 2013, it was raised from 3,500 barrels to 20,000, The Growler reports.

The bill lifts other restrictions, too

Christensen's bill would also allow any properly licensed beer producer to sell beer in a container that's between 500 milliliters and 2 liters, and would lift restrictions on how much beer brew pubs can sell in growlers.

(Minnesota’s liquor laws are pretty confusing. If you want to know more, The Growler breaks down the different types of beer producers in this story).

Brew pubs are limited to only making 3,500 barrels of beer a year, and only 500 barrels of that beer can be sold in growlers. Christensen wants to remove the growler limit altogether.

The bill, which was introduced Feb. 13, has four other Republican authors, but doesn't have a companion bill in the Senate. It has been referred to a House committee, but a hearing hasn't been scheduled.

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