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'Free the growler' provision advances at the Minnesota Capitol

A House committee approved a set of compromise changes to the state's liquor laws on Friday, March 25.

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News Tribune sports reporter Matt Wellens collected these growlers from his travels covering college hockey the past two seasons.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Friday, March 25, advanced a plan to raise the state's cap on beer growler sales for craft breweries after a years-long campaign to "free the growler."

The House Commerce Committee on Friday voted 14-1 to push forward what sponsors called a compromise liquor law re-write that would allow breweries that produced up to 150,000 barrels a year to offer growler sales, up from the current 20,000 barrel cap.

That cap prevented the state's six largest craft breweries — Castle Danger, Fulton, Indeed, Lift Bridge, Schell's and Surly — from selling growlers. And the owners of Lift Bridge last year added a brewery in Wisconsin so they could produce more beer while not hitting Minnesota's barrel cap.

The push for changes comes after years of gridlock between stakeholders in the distribution system and after craft breweries launched public pressure campaigns to convince lawmakers to lift caps on the barrels of beer they can produce each year while still offering to-go sale options in their taproom.

"On balance, this is a bill that gets a lot done that people have been trying to do for a very long time in a way that has spectacularly broad buy-in from stakeholders," the bill's author Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said. "This presents the opportunity to have a stable liquor regulatory regime in Minnesota that everyone can live with for the next five years."

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The plan would also let smaller breweries that produce up to 7,500 barrels a year sell four and six-packs from their taprooms. And it would allow microdistilleries to increase the number of off-sale products they can offer and allow town ball baseball teams to sell alcoholic beverages.

It included pieces of more than 20 bills that came up for consideration this year. Stakeholders including craft beverage producers, wholesalers, liquor retailers and Teamsters met in private for months to hammer out an agreement.

"It appears we may have ... peace in the valley," Rep. Tim O'Driscoll, R-Sartell, said. "I appreciate your willingness and this team's willingness to try to work together to try to find a solution as we try to reopen Minnesota."

The bill moves next to the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration. And while it cleared a key deadline Friday, its path forward in the Capitol is not certain.

Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, chairs the Senate Commerce Committee and has said he'll only consider liquor law reforms that have support from all stakeholders they affect. A Senate GOP spokeswoman said Dahms had not yet read the bill but would consider it.

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Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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