Owners of small craft breweries around the state are banding together in support of a bill that would allow them to sell their products in any package between 12 ounces and 64 ounces.
And, they are asking for the public’s help. The bill is currently making its way through both the Minnesota House and Senate, but brewers are asking their customers to contact their local legislators to help support the bill and get it passed.
Currently, Minnesota is the only state that does not allow craft brewers to sell their products in either the 12-ounce or 16-ounce cans from their taprooms. The only way customers can purchase either of these sizes is from a liquor store.
Small brewers (those producing 7,500 barrels or less per year) are restricted to only selling their beer in either 750 milliliter/25.36 ounce containers (crowlers) or 64-ounce containers (growlers).
Alexandria brewers Adam Graf and Dave Gibbons from Copper Trail Brewing Company in Alexandria have partnered with several other small Minnesota brewery owners to form the Small Craft Brewers Coalition.
The members of the coalition are dedicated to representing the interests of the more than 160 small craft brewing operations throughout Minnesota. They have even started a website, freebeerbill.com, where they have information about the bill – Minnesota House file 121 and Minnesota Senate file 50 – along with how to find local legislators and tips of what to say or send to legislators.
The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, Rep. Jerry Hertaus, R-Greenfield and Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake. The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound.
Franson said that small breweries, such as Copper Trail, have struggled during the COVID shutdowns the past year. And under current law, these brewers, she said, are limited to only selling crowlers or growlers directly to their customers.
“Adam, owner of Copper Trail, asked me to support HF 121, which would allow small breweries to expand their beer sales to 12- to 64-ounce sizes. It’s important that we help small businesses, including breweries, survive during this economic crisis due to the Walz shutdowns,” said Franson. “By removing the current regulation and allowing them to sell cans of their great Minnesota beer, we can help brewers, and Copper Trail, expand their businesses to get through this period of uncertainty.”
Last week, seven brewers from the Small Craft Brewers Coalition sat in on a virtual interview with the newspaper to share more about the bill and why it is important for the bill to pass. Attendees included Graf and Gibbons from Copper Trail, along with Brett Doebbeling from Drastic Measures in Wadena, Nick Patton from Talking Waters in Montevideo, Tylden Kossan from Revelation Ale Works in Hallock, Pugs Hayes from Hayes Public House in Buffalo and Josh Leddy from Back Channel in Spring Park.
“The state of the brewing community has changed so much in the last few years,” said Graf. “But the laws have not. They are very outdated.”
Graf also said the goal of getting the bill passed isn’t to take business away from liquor stores, but it’s to help small business owners, the brewery owners, grow and retain their businesses. And it is giving their customers what they want, added Gibbons.
Leddy said the coalition of brewers are working with a team of lobbyists who are working with legislators to get the bill, which is a clean bill and not attached or part of any other bill, passed. He said there has been a lot of support, but that there needs to be more and that legislators need to hear from their constituents.
“It is similar to when the Sunday liquor sales bill was passed,” said Leddy. “We need phone calls and emails to legislators. The website provides an easy pathway for our customers to contact their legislators. And they can start now.”
Leddy also said the breweries banding together make for a large and mighty group of people who support the bill.
Hayes said that although there is some competition between breweries, there is more of a camaraderie between owners, which is what inspired him to open Hayes Public House.
“There is a competition, but that’s what makes it fun,” said Hayes. “It’s what makes us the best in the state to represent the beer industry.”
The restrictive law, according to Hayes, and the others, is archaic and in need of updating as what worked 70 years ago doesn’t work today.
“It doesn’t allow us to be as free,” said Hayes.
The small craft beer industry has grown so much in the last 10 years, according to the brewery owners, who feel the laws, along with the rules and regulations need to change to go along with the current industry.
Besides giving consumers more options to purchase their products, the brewery owners said there are other reasons to get this bill passed.
Only selling beer in the growler or crowler sizes isn’t very efficient and is also not very cost effective as there tends to be a lot of waste filling these containers. In addition, 12-ounce or 16-ounce cans are a more shelf-stable product and can be produced more consistently.
Graf explained that growlers and crowlers are filled right from the beer tap, whereas the 12- or 16-ounce cans are filled using a canning process that lends itself to a more shelf-stable product.
Doebbeling said labeling would be easier if his brewery was able to do the 12- and 16-ounce cans. He would only have to order one label and packaging would be a lot easier. Doebbeling also said that buying beer in those smaller vessels makes a huge difference to his customers as they don’t have to be committed to drinking a whole growler or crowler. Once opened, beer in crowlers and growlers should be consumed almost immediately or it is not as fresh tasting, the brewers said.
Patton said consistency, quality of his products along with time management are just some of the reasons he is behind the bill passing. He also said the labor involved in using a canning system is way more cost efficient.
Kossan agreed and said the bill passing would be a big win for his brewery as it would open it up to more options for his customers.
The brewery owners said the bill is a big call to action, but know the support is out there. By not allowing their products to be sold in the 12- and 16-ounce containers, it hinders their business and does not allow for an easy pathway to growth in a competitive industry.
They all feel the old law is just not logical and hope that by banning together, they can help to pass the new bill, which simply seeks to modify packing requirements for small brewers.
Members of the coalition
- Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative
- Back Channel Brewing
- Dual Citizen Brewing
- Sylvan Brewing
- Stacked Deck Brewing
- 10K Brewing
- Revelation Ale Works
- Fergus Brewing Company
- Outstate Brewing Company
- Wild Mind
- Copper Trail Brewing Company
- Hayes Public House
- Garphish Brewing Company
- Portage Brewing
- Pantown Brewing Company
- Birch’s on the Lake
- Drastic Measures Brewing
- Spilled Grain Brewhouse
- Under Pressure Brewing Company
- Talking Waters Brewing Company
- Shakopee Brewhall
- La Dona Cerveceria
- Badger Hill
- Fat Pants Brewing
- Starry Eyed Brewing
- Alloy Brewing
- Invictus Brewing