Craft breweries, distilleries rejoice over change to state liquor laws

People work in a brewery.
Emily Gleisner pours a glass of beer at the Schell's Brewery tap room in New Ulm, Minn. on March 31.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Beer drinkers can take home their favorite brews to-go in growlers from the state’s largest craft brewers starting Monday after lawmakers made the most significant changes to the state’s liquor laws since allowing Sunday sales.  

Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill Sunday that raises a limit on on-site sales, which affects six brewers in Minnesota—Surly, Summit, Lift Bridge, Fulton, Schell’s and Castle Danger. 

“I am proud to live in a state with so many locally owned breweries and distilleries,” Walz said in a statement. “Every Minnesota business—big or small—deserves the opportunity to succeed. The pandemic has pushed us to think creatively when it comes to the food and beverage industry, and this bill provides more opportunities for these businesses to thrive. This bill is one way we can support Minnesota’s local breweries and distilleries.”

The new law raises a cap on growler sales and allows breweries that make 150,000 barrels annually, which under old rules were too big to offer growlers, to offer the 64-ounce jugs for sale. 

The bill also permits craft distilleries to sell 750 milliliter bottles on-site and allows for special permits that’ll let establishments serve alcohol for extended hours during World Cup soccer games. 

Supporters of the “Free the Growler” movement said that the bill passing at the state level allows breweries at all levels to compete and to be able to offer their products to guests who contribute to the craft beer tourism in Minnesota. 

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It was great news for Ted Marti, Schell’s president, who said that the law change is a step in the right direction and that Schell’s looks forward to getting new products to guests once the brewery gets the equipment and the capacity to offer growlers and crowlers. 

“I think maybe the most important thing is that the Legislature is finally looking at small breweries, small wineries, small distillers as a very important part, and they do need help,” Marti said. “We all need help as a small businesses and when other businesses get bigger, sometimes there’s less opportunities. So, I think this expands everybody’s opportunity to grow and promote their business.”

Similar sentiments were widely shared via social media and among members of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.

“A lot of people, especially on the North Shore for Castle Danger and whatnot, they’re super excited to actually visit the brewery and walkout with growlers,” said Bob Galligan, the director of government and industry relations for the guild. “You’re hearing a lot more people that are excited to return as summer kind of comes into play and spring blossoms, to get back outside and head to their favorite local [brewery] and then head home with their favorite beer from that place.”

Galligan said that while the bill is now law, members still have to make sure they’re checking with individual municipalities and update licensing before being able to sell growlers. He said the guild is navigating what’s next for its members. 

“You’re not going to see members selling right out of the gate, just because we need to make sure we’re not breaking a law that we just passed,” Galligan said. “Having said that, it feels absolutely great. This has been one of the most hectic days of my job. There’s a very nice energy of actual almost giddiness of beginning to explore what this means for all of our membership.”

Galligan said breweries hope to be ready to offer growlers for sale by the start of Memorial Day weekend, though it “might not be a guarantee.” Overall, he said many breweries are looking forward to a boost in sales and in tourism for their communities, especially after the pandemic shuttered tap rooms for more than two years. 

Galligan said that the craft beer industry is entering into a new frontier. 

“I'm just excited to keep my fridge full with local craft beer this summer,” Galligan said. “I think I'm going to make it a point to visit as many as I can, and I'm going to make it a point to  take home as many as I can.”