Surly’s Beer Law Request OK’d by Senate Panel

The bill, which would allow larger breweries like Surly to sell beer on-site, will now advance to a vote in the full Minnesota Senate, and a similar bill will be heard in the House next week.

A bill that would allow large breweries in Minnesota to sell beer on-site was unanimously approved by a Minnesota Senate panel on Wednesday.

Brooklyn Center-based Surly Brewing Company in February announced plans to build a new $20 million “destination brewery” featuring a beer garden, bar, restaurant, rooftop deck, and event center. But a state liquor law currently prohibits brewers that produce more than 3,500 barrels annually from selling pints of beer at their breweries.

Omar Ansari, founder and president of Surly, told Twin Cities Business in February that the proposed brewery would create as many as 150 permanent jobs and up to 85 construction jobs.

According to MPR, Ansari gave the following testimony before the Senate panel: “With this expansion, we'd be able to distribute more widely in Minnesota and nationally. That means more jobs and more revenue. And it sure would be nice for Minnesota to enjoy the tax revenues from people enjoying our beer in other states.”

The owners of several small breweries reportedly voiced their support for the bill, as well. Fulton Beer, which plans to open a brewery in downtown Minneapolis in September, recently told Twin Cities Business that it strongly supports the bill and doesn't want to be punished for exceeding the 3,500-barrel mark.

The bill's author, Senator Linda Scheid, a Democrat from Brooklyn Park, echoed Ansari's argument that a change in the law would help attract tourists.

“This is a real big deal in California, Oregon, and Colorado,” Scheid testified on Wednesday, according to MPR. “They become destinations for people who are interested in beer. Just like wineries have generated interested in wine across the country, craft breweries have also generated enormous interest.”

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), a lobbying group, in February told Twin Cities Business that it opposed a change in the existing law and said that it would erode the state's “three-tier system”-which comprises manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

MPR reports that Scheid has worked to create a bill that addresses many of the MLBA's concerns. For example, brewers would only be allowed to have one tap room in the state, regardless of the number of breweries they operate. And companies that produce more than 250,000 barrels annually-like Miller or Coors-would still be prohibited from selling beer on-site.

The MLBA reportedly changed its position and no longer opposes the bill, although it “still has concerns.”

The bill will now advance to a vote in the full Senate, and a similar bill will be heard in the Minnesota House next week.