Omnibus 2014: How Minnesota’s new laws affect craft brewers

By John Garland
Flight at 612Brew // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Flight at 612Brew // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

The state’s newest liquor laws have been in effect for two weeks. Previously, we talked to local distillers about their plans for cocktail rooms. This week, we decided to dig a little deeper into the provisions that affect brewers—namely, the ability for brewery taprooms to operate on Sundays and fill any growler at their discretion.

Sunday Taproom Operations

The amendment to the brewery taproom license reads: Notwithstanding section 340A.504, subdivision 3, a taproom may be open and may conduct on-sale business on Sundays if authorized by the municipality.

Basically, it’s an exemption to the statute (below) concerning Sunday on-sale of liquor which normally requires food sales:

(a) [An operation] which holds an on-sale intoxicating liquor license may sell…on the premises in conjunction with the sale of food between the hours of 10:00 a.m. on Sundays and 2:00 a.m. on Mondays.

Every liquor license in Minnesota is granted by the individual municipalities. So the new rule offers municipalities the leeway to amend their own statutes, if they so choose, to allow their breweries’ taprooms to operate on Sundays despite not serving food.

What looks to be the first (and possibly, only) Metro-area taproom regularly operating on Sundays is Steel Toe Brewing. As the only brewery in St. Louis Park, they’ve been able to take advantage thanks to the way the city coded their brewery rules in the first place.

STP CAPITOL 2“I’m trying not to make a big deal about how we were able to be open so quickly,” Steel Toe owner/brewer Jason Schoneman tells us. “It is perfectly legal for us to be open on Sunday because the city ordinance was originally written with Sunday sales allowed. This was because there was no language in the taproom bill about when we could or could not be open other than basically regular bar hours.”

So instead of having the St. Louis Park city council rewrite city statutes to reflect the new state law, the conditions were already in place for Steel Toe’s Sunday operations, should state law allow for it. In Minneapolis, however, the prohibiting language does exist. As of now, it’s unclear what the process will be for the city council to allow it or what the timeframe will be to make the change.

Jim Diley, COO at Fulton Beer, has been in contact with the mayor’s office and city council to get the process moving along. “We don’t expect things to happen overnight,” he says, “but we think the city council will, or should, ultimately adopt new language consistent with state law. What’s really exciting is that it’s a huge way to increase awareness of the industry. Every time we can introduce someone else to craft beer, it’s a great opportunity. And Sunday is the day when people are out of work and out around town. It’s huge for the industry and the local economy.”

612Brew opened briefly for Sunday taproom sales on May 18th, but on a special-use permit that they received to host Art-A-Whirl celebrations. “I don’t think it’s an issue of the city not wanting to do it, I think they just may not know what it is they have to do,” says 612Brew’s Robert Kasak, on the process to allow Sunday operations. “Us, as brewers, are ready to go. And it’s confusing to people, that they can go three blocks to the Vegas Lounge and get a pint on Sunday, but not here. It’s like, just let us be like any other bar. It’s another day for food trucks, another day for my bartenders to pull shifts, another day to grow my business. Everything about it works out.”

Fill Any Growler

The majority consensus from brewers we’ve spoken to is that they haven’t decided one way or another if they’ll be filling random growlers. “The thing that’s driving what we’ll ultimately decide on, is offering the highest quality beer to consumers,” says Daley. “If you’ve ever done a brew on premise, like Vine Park, they’ll only take back bottles that are super clean. You never know what was in there last. And we’ve invested in processes that make for the highest quality fill, which can’t always be achieved in the heat of a bar rush.”

pint-law

Obviously, they want to protect the reputation of their product, and filling random growlers could compromise those efforts. But brewers remain sympathetic to consumers who have amassed huge stockpiles of growlers, and know that it’s another opportunity to sell their product. It seems most likely that brewers will instruct their bartenders to make the decision to fill a growler on a case-by-case basis.

“I personally love that they did that, because I take care of my growlers, and I don’t want brewers to have to bust their ass to clean it,” says Kasak, who says 612Brew has made no decisions regarding growler fills. “But I’ve probably got four Fulton growlers in my office right now. As a consumer, I’d love to have one growler I could take anywhere. I just hope consumers know to take good care of their growlers, keep them sanitary.”

Brewers remain receptive to the idea of a single, universal growler – one that could be filled anywhere and would perhaps be co-branded to include all members of a city or brewer’s guild. It would be a logistical nightmare to coordinate, but one that could potentially save brewers and consumers time and money.

Updates

We’ve send out multiple requests for information to key city officials, regarding the process whereby Sunday taproom operations will be allowed. We intend to update this page with more information as we receive it.

Correction: The post was originally published with Jim Diley’s name misspelled.

 
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John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Senior Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in real life at various bar patios in South Minneapolis.