Update: Omnibus Liquor Bill passed in senate without Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild-supported amendments

Minnesota State Capitol // Photo by Kevin Kramer

Minnesota State Capitol // Photo by Kevin Kramer

Updated on April 4, 2019 at 2:00pm: The Omnibus Liquor Bill was passed by the Minnesota State Senate without two amendments supported by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild (MCBG). The Growler Cap Bill (S.F. 1737) was offered for debate by Sen. Housley, who altered the amendment by dropping the cap for breweries to sell growlers from those producing 250,000 barrels of beer per year to 40,000 barrels of beer per year—a compromise meant to assuage the concerns of the bill’s critics. Currently, growler sales are limited to breweries making less than 20,000 barrels per year.

After a debate between Sen. Dahms, who voiced his opposition to the amendment to his Omnibus Liquor Bill, and senators Housley, Pappas, and Osmek, who spoke in favor of the amendment, Sen. Housley withdrew the amendment. The Vessel Size Expansion Bill (S.F. 1849) was not offered as an amendment to the Omnibus Liquor Bill, though it’s possible that one or both bills could be brought to the floor for a vote as standalone legislation later this legislative session.

“We will continue to negotiate with other players in the three-tier system to establish a reasonable compromise that supports craft breweries along with the rest of the craft beer industry in Minnesota,” says Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the MCBG. “Hopefully, we can work together to pass a solution by the end of the session.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild (MCBG), a nonprofit representing 130 craft brewery members throughout the state of Minnesota, is voicing its support of two bipartisan amendments to the Omnibus Liquor Bill (S. F. 2130), which is expected to be introduced on the Senate floor on Thursday, April 4.

Both amendments address off-sale restrictions at breweries, more specifically growler sales and vessel size limits. Under the current law, breweries that annually produce more than 20,000 barrels of beer cannot sell 64-ounce growlers or 750-milliliter bottles out of their taprooms. Additionally, breweries of all sizes are not currently allowed to sell products out of the taproom in vessels smaller than 750-milliliters.

If passed, these amendments would virtually remove said restrictions. The Vessel Size Expansion Bill (S.F. 1849), authored by Minnesota State Senator David J. Osmek, would allow Minnesota craft breweries to sell beer from their taprooms in vessels ranging from 350 milliliters to 2 liters—or, a standard 12-ounce can to a 67-ounce European growler.

“We believe that breweries who can sell smaller vessels from their taprooms will be able to invest in new packaging, therefore creating products that will be able to enter distribution and retail locations,” says Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the MCBG. “As it stands, without the opportunity to sell 12- or 16-ounce bottles or cans from a taproom, a small Minnesota brewery may not have the capital to expand their packaging or brewing operations to fill the demand of distribution or retail accounts. Smaller vessel sizes also allow a brewery to sell their beer in a package size that is most appropriate for the style and more shelf stable.”

The Growler Cap Bill (S.F. 1737), authored by Minnesota State Senator Karin Housley, would allow growler sales at breweries producing up to 250,000 barrels of beer annually—a change from the current cap of 20,000 barrels annually. That would open growler sales for the state’s current top five brewers—Summit Brewing Company, August Schell Brewing Company, Surly Brewing, Fulton Brewing, and Third Street Brewhouse—if they so choose.

While these amendments lift some restrictions on off-sales at breweries, one key limit would remain in place: breweries would be limited to an off-sales volume cap of 750 barrels of beer per year.

“The existing off-sale cap of 750 barrels annually would not be affected, therefore you would only see a maximum of 3,750 barrels entering the market in growlers. That is less than 0.6% of all production in the state of Minnesota,” explains Bennett McGinty.

The MCBG sees these amendments as critical to improving a brewery’s ability to meet consumer demand, provide more shelf-stable beer, and eliminate restrictions that inhibit their growth.

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents licensed beverage retailers in the state, and the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, a statewide association of municipally owned and operated on-sale and off-sale alcohol beverage facilities, did not respond to requests for comment on the amendments. The MLBA’s website, however, outlines “limiting what micro-breweries and micro-distillers can sell directly to the public” as an official stance on its Legislative Agenda page.

Other retailers have voiced their opposition to the amendments. Heritage Liquor in Maplewood took to Facebook Thursday morning to push back against the MCBG’s support of the amendments.

Stay tuned to this post for updates on today’s voting results.

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