Could Law Changes Lead to a Brewery Boom in Minnesota?

Minnesota has enjoyed a long history of brewing beer.  Hamm’s, Stroh’s, Schmidt and Grain Belt are the most prominent of brands to have been brewed here in the “Land of Sky Blue Waters” (as the Hamm’s jingle went).  Unfortunately, changing economic times ultimately forced all of these breweries to close their doors.

Twenty-five years ago this September, a little brewing operation known as Summit Brewing Company  opened for business in St. Paul and set out to join the pantheon of great Minnesota brewing traditions.  Bolstered by the popularity of its “Extra Pale Ale”, Summit is perhaps the top local beer in Minnesota, although 150 year old Schell’s Brewery  in New Ulm, Minnesota (which resurrected the Grain Belt brand years after its demise) has its share of fans as well.

The success of Summit and Schell’s has spawned a new generation of Twin Cities breweries on the craft/microbrewery level, with brands such as SurlyLift Bridge and Flat Earth all on the verge of becoming household names and seeking to become “the next Summit.”

Surly, for example, recently announced a major expansion plan involving the construction of a second production site.  The proposed new complex is intended to be a complete destination for Minnesota and national beer lovers which includes a $20 million, 60,000 square feet Surly Brewery complete with a bar, 250-seat restaurant, roof deck and an event center.

One little problem exists:  Surly Brewing needs a change in the state law. Currently, Minnesota liquor licensing laws only allow “brewpubs” to brew and serve their beer on the premises. Surly Brewing is classified differently than brewpubs because it brews more beer than is allowed under a brewpub license, making it impossible for it to build a bar or restaurant within any brewery it runs.  Fortunately for Surly, some at the State Legislature see the benefit of having a $20 million brewery on the tax rolls and are pushing for the needed law change.  For more information on that effort, you can visit Surly’s blog.

This would not be the first time in recent history that a law was changed in Minnesota to further the expansion of beer brewing.  Just last fall, the Minneapolis City Council amended its liquor ordinances to allow microbreweries located within the City to sell “growlers” – 64 ounce jugs of beer – on site.  The City of St. Paul has allowed its craft breweries to sell growlers for some time now, and Minneapolis’ actions were due in part to their concern that burgeoning microbreweries would head across the Mississippi River in order to tap into this sales opportunity. 

While Minnesota’s neighbor to the east has long been home to Miller and Leinenkugel’s, with a little help from lawmakers, it would seem that the Land of Sky Blue Waters is poised for a beer renaissance.