Minnesota Considers Freeing Up Growlers for Larger Breweries

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Minnesota is angling to alleviate restrictions associated with a state law that prohibits brewers of a certain size from selling beer in growlers. Filed by State Rep. Drew Christensen, HF 1078 would enable any brewery that produces up to 250,000 barrels per year to sell beer in the popular packaging format, effectively granting the right to every brewery in the state. Currently, only breweries that produce less than 20,000 barrels per year are allowed to sell growlers.

WHY IT MATTERS
Essentially, the bill’s aim is to rectify the regulatory status quo, which supporters say “punishes breweries for growing.” In Minnesota specifically, the growler issue made waves this past September, when Fulton Brewery of Minneapolis hosted a “Death of the Growler” party at its taproom to commemorate cresting the 20,000-barrel threshold. At the time, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported growler sales accounted for 10-15% of the company’s overall retail sales—a not insignificant figure.

“It's always been kind of a cornerstone of our business, and it's really too bad that it's going to be going away,” co-owner Jim Diley told the website in September. “It contributes overall to our bottom line for sure, and you know it employs people at the end of the day.”

Fulton’s plight seems to have directly inspired State Rep. Christensen, who cited the brewery by name in a press release detailing the bill this week. “Rather than penalizing successful small businesses like Fulton,” he said, “we should be encouraging their success and welcoming more of it.”

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has also voiced support of the bill. “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,” Tom Whisenand, Guild president, told Go MN. “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.”

But that alone won’t be enough to clear the bill's path to the governor’s desk. Indeed, the last time the state tried to push the cap to 250,000 barrels, it instead settled on a compromise bill that lifted it to the 20,000-barrel figure it finds itself fighting today. Prior to that bill’s passage in 2013, the cap was a stringent 3,500 barrels.

At the time, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) opposed lifting the cap, arguing that doing so would rupture the three-tier system, according to the Journal. GBH left a message with the MLBA that was not returned as of press time, though the growler cap isn’t currently listed on its compilation of legislative issues it opposes.

Currently, there are only five breweries in the state that are too large to sell growlers: Fulton, Surly, Summit, Schell’s, and Third Street. Lifting the cap to 250,000 barrels would enable all five of them to sell growlers, should they so choose.

It’s also worth noting that a second aspect of the bill aims to do away with a law that prohibits brewpubs from selling more than 500 barrels of beer a year for off-premise consumption.

Furthermore, this isn’t the only brewery-relevant legislative issue going on in Minnesota right now. The state’s House will vote Monday on a bill that would repeal a ban on Sunday liquor store sales. Sunday sales are explicitly listed as one of the MLBA’s points of opposition.

—Dave Eisenberg

READ MORE
Some MN breweries are too big to sell growlers – this bill would change that [Go MN]