What You Need to Know: Minnesota Brewpubs are Fighting for Their Right to Brew

No one can deny it: Minnesota is in the midst of a fantastic and delightful beer renaissance. Things are changing and they’re changing fast. Part of why I’m here is to keep you updated on all things beer, especially as they relate to Minnesota. You may remember from an earlier post that there are many, although not a TON of brewpubs in the Twin Cities (unless you count Granite City, in which case, shame on you). The ones that are out there are really great, there’s no denying that, but I mean, what is there that ISN’T great about a brewpub? Craft beer brewed on a small scale? Check. You can visit the brewery? Check. You’re SITTING in it looking at the brewing equipment. You can eat there too WHILE you drink their beers? Double check (and sometimes they even PAIR the food for you! Swoon). You can support a local business while supporting your local brewery and local appetite with local friends? Check. Check. Annnnd… Check.

So what’s the deal? Well, you’ve heard about the Surly Bill, right? You know, the one that passed that allow Surly to build their destination brewery (still in the works)? Well that was great, but it didn’t do anything for our fabulous brewpubs and now they want a piece of the legislation-change pie too. If you’ve ever been to the Town Hall Brewery, and I hope you have, or if you haven’t, you have plans to go there in the very near future, you leave thinking ‘Damn. I want more of this beer.’ And it’s your right, as a consumer, to demand it. That’s what the new legislation is doing, making a strong push for brewpubs to be able to sell their beer offsite (bottles, growlers, on tap, whatever). Read more here, it’s not all sunshine and roses.

It’s a little complicated because there’s actually two parts to this. Not only is it legislation to allow brewpubs to sell their beer not just for consumption on-site, but it would also allow local breweries that do not currently sell their wares in cans/bottles in the state to sell them in growlers off-site (at liquor stores). That’s great news for breweries like Harriet (you have to go there to get your growler filled. It’s not a bad thing, but why just stop there? They want their beer OUT THERE to get more people IN THERE if you know what I mean), but Surly could care less (their cans are everywhere and they have a huge waiting list of other liquor stores that want some of that distribution).

I mean, I’m sure Surly cares, because for the beer scene right now it’s about helping others and creating a SCENE and not necessarily competition, but Surly already cans and is sold locally in said cans, so it’s all good. But wouldn’t it be sweet to be able to buy growlers in liquor stores? I mean not on Sunday because that would be sinful, but any other day of the week before 10pm?! Yes, please. Then I wouldn’t have to go to Duluth anymore for my growlers of the Big Boat Oatmeal Stout (or make my friends bring it back for me, thanks guys!), I could just pick it out of a growler line-up at the liquore store and come back for more.

Recently Herkimer hired a new head brewer to mix things ups and start making awesome beer again; Town Hall has one of the best brewers around; I’ve never been to Barley John’s but I want to and when I do I’m sure I’ll have a positive opinion about it. In general, a brewpub is easier to open than a brewery (you don’t have to slope all of the floors for drainage, you can use less space, you put less into it right away because you have restaurant revenue, etc.) but why are there so few? Probably because there isn’t that much growth opportunity, another reason for this legislation change. And there’s nothing worse than a brewer limited. Why hire a new brewmaster if you’re just going to tell them to ‘change things’ and then tell them ‘oh but don’t get too crazy.’ Brewpubs are putting in the effort to make good beer, restaurant-goers are putting in the time trying and loving brewpubs’ good beers, so why shouldn’t it be available at other places too (liquor stores, bars, etc.)?

Perhaps the title of my post is a little too apocalyptic, but if you know me at all, you know I stand by the things I say (never stand down!), and I stand by this. Even though this is legislation that’s fighting for brewpubs to expand and be able to make more beer and make more money on the beer they’re selling off-site, it’s really for the right to continue to brew, and not just be the sideshow to a restaurant. And let them brew, I say! If the legislation doesn’t pass and brewpubs can’t sell growlers of their beer, I guess they’ll still be able to brew, but it’s not the same, knowing that they are being denied something that, quite frankly, the people want.

This weekend I was in New Jersey visiting my friend Laura and we went to a local brewpub called Harvest Moon and I was chatting about the new Minnesota laws with one of her friends and it occurred to me: Minnesota DOES have antiquated liquor/beer laws, and it makes me sad and excited at the same time. To me it’s just a constant reminder that we’re behind everyone else (a fact which is sometimes thrown in my face by my East Coast friends about the Midwest in general). Just LOOK at Colorado or Oregon and their killer beer scene. They’ve been doing it for years, they’re pros. And here we are, weak little Midwesterners trying to get our shit together to be anywhere CLOSE to what they are. But we still continue to try.

I may sound angry, but I’m not. It’s more motivating than anything. It’s inspiring to know that things can still change and we’re making it happen, and that ultimately, it can happen for other states too if they want it to and they’re wiling to fight for it. We’re making waves and people are noticing. It’s just a bummer that we have to make the stupid waves to get what we want—why do these laws still exist? Then again, if it all came easy and we all drank wonderful craft beer all the time like we were from Portland (#RCTID) or something, our beer wouldn’t taste as sweet, the literal fruit of our labor.

So, support your local brewpub and smile because you’re from Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, legislation changes, and hopefully in the future: 10,000 brews.

A little Minnesota Beer nostalgia for you. The Grain Belt Beer sign in NE, a reminder of what NE used to mean for beers and brewing, and a taste of what it could be.

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One thought on “What You Need to Know: Minnesota Brewpubs are Fighting for Their Right to Brew

  1. Thanks for this. It’s a tough battle, but it’s one that I think will eventually come to fruition. Keep supporting your local brewpubs, I know they appreciate it!

    As for Barley John’s, you owe it to yourself to make your way to New Brighton. They brew very good beer and rank number one in my world for food at brewpubs.

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