Liquor interests ponder 'cease-fire' as part of growler, distiller deal

Growlers and pints
Growlers and pints at Bemidji Brewing Company beers (File / John Heller for MPR)
Olson, Michael

contract-style agreement is circulating among eight groups with a big say in Minnesota liquor production, distribution and sales around law changes before the Legislature this year. The prospective deal would be accompanied by a pact to head off other proposals for five years.

A liquor bill that has cleared one House committee would permit broader sales of 64-ounce growlers and, to a lesser degree, six packs at breweries as well as bottles of alcohol at distilleries. It would also establish an industry-represented Liquor Regulation Advisory Committee.

The potential side arrangement among breweries, liquor stores and distributors stands out for its written specificity about how all the major players will operate at the Capitol. A draft that took shape in late March has yet to be signed amid ongoing negotiations.

A few of the groups confirmed Thursday the existence of the five-page pact, with some casting it as akin to handshake agreements that often accompany major deals in the Legislature.

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“Our association is in the process of reviewing the document. It’s my understanding that the other associations are doing so as well,” said Brandt Erwin, president of the Minnesota Beer Wholesalers Association.

Clauses would require the organizations to oppose all but local licensing measures through the 2027-28 legislative session. That would require them to actively oppose and lobby against alcohol sales in groceries or convenience stores, for instance.

Nothing would be binding on the Legislature itself, which is due for heavy turnover in the 2022 election based on retirements and swirling political winds.

House Commerce Committee Chair Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said he has worked for a year to bring the differing industry factions together for what would be some of the biggest liquor law changes in a decade. He said he had no hand in what he called a “cease-fire” written agreement.

“They're agreeing to stop fighting with each other for a period of time. And that's not bad either. And that's not saying the Legislature can't do something whenever they want it,” Stephenson said. “It’s saying that these groups are going to stop fighting with one another.”

The fate of the proposed law changes in the Senate is more uncertain.