Omnibus 2014: Distillers React

By John Garland

Vikre Distillery Still & Gins

So the Sunday growler sales provision died a sudden, Teamster-related death, but Governor Dayton signed the rest of the bill back on Tuesday the 13th. And while the Sunday sales (sorry, #sundaysales) fight will continue into the next session, S.F. 2336 will affect other local beverage operations, most notably ushering in a nice step forward for local booze:

Microdistillery Cocktail Room License

“…authorizes on-sale of distilled liquor produced by the distiller for consumption on the premises of or adjacent to one distillery location owned by the distiller.

Several of Minnesota’s small distillers have already begun building cocktail rooms, and we asked them to react to the passage of this key provision:

“At the end of the day this bill was about small businesses and economic development,” says Shanelle Montana of Du Nord Craft Spirits and president of the Minnesota Distillers Guild. “Distilleries are now putting additional capital into their businesses, building out a public space, and hiring additional employees.  In the future we look forward to an honest and open conversation about Minnesota liquor laws. Much of the opposition to this bill didn’t come out publicly until the very end of the process. That makes it difficult to have a constructive debate. We want to thank all of the legislators who worked hard for our industry and pushed for this bill until the very end.” STP CAPITOL 2

The rules stipulate that no entity can hold both a cocktail room license and a brewery taproom license, or that the two licenses cannot be co-located. So dreams of a Steel Toe Brewing / Millers & Saints Distillery drinking den are sadly not to be. Millers & Saints President Joe Muggli also told us they were disappointed that the language allowing for off-sale of spirits at distilleries didn’t make the final bill, noting it keeps them at a disadvantage to breweries and distilleries in surrounding states.

Emily Vikre, of Vikre Distillery in Duluth, agrees. “Cocktail rooms, as well as allowing bottle sales at microdistilleries, can actually benefit other alcohol retailers in addition to the distilleries themselves, which is what we have seen in a number of other states,” she says. “But, we really hope that people will make their voices heard, because it feels like the overall sentiment in the state is toward allowing us to have similar exemptions to the three-tier system as craft brewers do.” She plans to begin serving happy hour cocktails in her Canal Park distillery by late summer.

Bob McManus, of 11 Wells, stressed who this really stands to benefit. “The cocktail room is certainly great for Minnesota distillers, but lets not forget that it is great for the people who want it, which is anyone asking for a cocktail made with an innovative local liquor.”

His business partner Lee Egbert, also of Dashfire Bitters, concurred, stressing the importance of the cocktail room to the distillery’s identity. “Being able to produce spirits but then develop cocktails that are designed just to highlight the spirit is the pinnacle of what we’re trying to do. We’ll be able to create cocktails that are just not possible any place else. We’ll not only be able to create the base spirits but a litany of other complimenting spirits – some of which don’t even exist. I can’t wait to show everyone these truly unique ideas.”

Small Batch Distilling

Also in this year’s omnibus:

Brewery Taprooms Sunday Operations

“…a taproom may be open and may conduct on-sale business on Sundays if authorized by the municipality.”

So they can’t sell growlers, but they can at least apply for Sunday on-sale permits and sell some pints. Steel Toe Brewing has already taken advantage.

Fill Any Growler

“A brewer may, but is not required to, refill any growler with malt liquor for off-sale at the request of a customer. A brewer refilling a growler must do so at its licensed premises and the growler must be filled at the tap at the time of sale.”

On the one hand, it’s an increased opportunity for a brewer to sell their beer. On the other, they can’t control the cleanliness of the growler (and therefore the quality of the beer) and lose an opportunity to brand their product in the marketplace. What do you think, readers? Do you think brewers will go for this? And is the idea of the universal growler a pipe dream, or does this bring it one step closer?

All Star Game Hours

“…special permits for service of alcohol through extended hours lasting until 4:00 a.m. each day…during the period from 12:00 p.m. on July 15, 2014, through 4:00 a.m. on July 16, 2014.”

So, get ready to rage on a Tuesday night.

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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