Chris Kolve is co-founder of Wabasha Brewing Company in St. Paul. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.
There has been a lot of talk about the “growler cap” in Minnesota recently and while it’s good for everyone to know about the regulations that affect them, I think it’s important to have all of the information.
There are approximately 160 breweries in the state of Minnesota (not including the 40 licensed brewpubs), the majority of which are well under the 20,000 barrel mark of annual production, which is the cap at which you can no longer sell growlers and 750-milliliter bottles from your taproom. The cap has been in the news lately, with a bill introduced this week to increase the cap to 40,000 barrels and Surly Brewing Company’s recent announcement that Darkness Day would go hiatus until the time they could sell the 750-milliliter bottles straight from the Destination Brewery.
But this cap really only affects a small number of breweries in the state (as of 2018, only five breweries were over the threshold, with two more getting close.) The 20,000 barrel mark is pretty big when it comes to brewing—it’s the equivalent of producing 40,000 kegs worth of beer and is a good indicator that a brewery has become very successful.
I believe there are many more important laws we could be talking about that would have a greater impact on the majority of breweries in the state of Minnesota.
The first and foremost concerns the size of vessels craft breweries can sell from their taproom. Currently, breweries under the growler cap are only allowed to sell growlers, Crowlers, and 750-milliliter bottles. All of these vessels are not the preferred size for consumers. We are asked by every out-of-state visitor why they can’t buy four-packs or six-packs from our taproom and all we can say is: it’s the Minnesota law.
I have traveled extensively over the last several years to many breweries throughout the country, and I was able to buy four-packs, six-packs, or even single bottles at all of them. Not only was it nice for me to be able to bring a few home, but it also helps the smaller brewery grow and achieve success in their marketplace.
We know that 12- or 16-ounces are the preferred sizes by talking to our customers and to liquor stores—many liquor stores tell us that even 22-ounce bottle sales are down due to smaller size preference. The smaller sizes store better in the refrigerator and stay fresher far longer than a growler. Changing the vessel size would be a win for everyone. Customers get beer in the vessels they want. Breweries can grow their businesses, which creates more tax dollars for the city and state. Growth also allows breweries to create more styles for liquor stores, which will increase their bottom line. And eventually, this growth will also create the need for more breweries to use distributors as they will be unable to keep up with self-distribution on their own.
There are other laws on the books we could look to change that would benefit small breweries more than raising the growler cap. One would be allowing breweries to serve “guest taps,” which would give a brewery the opportunity to serve a beer made in collaboration with brewers at a different facility, as well as serve beverages made by other breweries or cideries.
You can travel to every state around Minnesota and buy small vessels. I believe it is the most important law that affects the most breweries and I believe it is far past time to get it in place here. It is time to help the smaller breweries grow and succeed while giving our customers what they want.
This law will almost certainly be talked about again during this legislative session; people can call their state representatives and ask for small vessels in brewery taprooms to help it get done.