Lawmakers resume debate over Sunday growler sales

A long running debate resumed at the Capitol Wednesday over whether Minnesota craft breweries should be allowed to sell 64 ounce bottles of beer on Sundays.

State law currently forbids craft brewers from selling what are called  growlers on Sundays.

The House Commerce Committee discussed the bill in a hearing that focused on several alcohol related bills.

Supporters say loosening the law to allow the Sunday sales of growlers will increase a niche market of people looking to take home specialized beer.

“We are missing out on a huge opportunity for tourism to our state,” said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth. “This is not just limited to Minnesota. The craft brewery industry is booming, and we happen to be a magnet right now.”

Craft brewers have been lobbying for passage of the law for two years. They say the Sunday sales would be a natural extension of their business, since tap rooms are open on Sunday and they already sell beer that they make on the premises.

“We have a lot of tourists in town, and we are open on Sundays and we do tours,” said Dan Schwarz who owns the Lift Bridge Brewing Company in Stillwater. “Many times customers ask to take growlers home and we cannot do that.”

The Legislature has been at an impasse over Sunday growler sales.

Some worry any change to the law would open up a larger debate over whether all alcohol products could be sold on Sunday. Others, including Joel Carlson with the Minnesota Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association, say it isn’t fair to open the market to craft brewers alone.

“Because some favored industries got that exemption doesn’t mean that we need to continue going down that slippery slope and make it even worse,” he said.

A change to the law could affect liquor store owners, restaurants, craft brewers, distributors and unions. And it could shake up a system that has been in place for decades.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, and Teamsters lobbyist Edward Reynoso testified before the House Commerce Committee. Tom Scheck|MPR News

Edward Reynoso, the legislative director for Teamsters Union Joint Council 32, said changing the law to allow growlers to be sold on Sundays could reopen the labor contracts for 850 of his members who work in the liquor industry.

Reynoso said an employer, whom he declined to identify, has already threatened to reopen the union contract, which would mean pay, insurance and other items would be have to be renegotiated. Reynoso said his union disagrees with the employer but won’t support the bill until the issue is settled.

“We’re continuing the discussion with the employer, and we’re optimistic and hopeful to reach a compromise sometime soon,” Reynoso said. “Until such time, I can tell you that we continue to be opposed to any expansion of Sunday liquor sales in the state of Minnesota which would also include Sunday growler sales.”

Other people told the committee not to stop with Sunday growler sales. Several said changing the law to allow the sale of beer is unfair to wine drinkers.

“It does not feel equitable to me as someone who does not enjoy beer that those who drink beer would now be able to purchase beer on Sunday to take with them to their events, to take with them to enjoy with family, while I would not be able to do the same with wine,” said Kristen Merritt from Buffalo, Minn.

The House Commerce Committee didn't vote on the bill. Committee chair Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, said he may include the issue in a larger liquor bill.

The growler bill faces a tougher test in the Minnesota Senate, especially since it died there last year. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the Senate will consider the bill.

“I think I’m open to the conversation. I don’t know how widely this opens the whole Sunday sales issue, but I’m open to learning more about what kind of expansion it would create,” Bakk said.

Bakk said, however, that he doesn't support allowing the sale of alcohol on Sundays because it could hurt liquor store owners who say they don’t want to be open on Sunday.

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