The Growler Cap’s The Limit: How Minnesota Restricts Local Breweries

The CEO of Indeed Brewing Co. makes the case for eliminating Minnesota's growler cap, which blocks craft breweries from growing too large.

I remember the day we opened Indeed’s taproom in Northeast Minneapolis. We had about 200 Facebook followers, two beers on tap, and I wasn’t even sure if anyone would show up. After six months in business, we needed a doorman. It wasn’t very long until another brewery opened up in the neighborhood, then another one. Now, there’s a handful within a 15-minute walk of Indeed. The whole neighborhood has shifted. Blocks that sat abandoned now have active energy. We’ve seen the positive impact craft brewing can have on a community like Northeast Minneapolis, and similar storylines have played out across Minnesota.

But growing breweries face a daunting and outdated limitation: Minnesota’s growler cap. It creates a huge disincentive to grow a brewery in our state, especially when you can go to surrounding states that don’t have the same restrictions. Currently, there are five craft breweries in our state that can’t sell growlers. In fact, they’re the only five breweries in the entire country that can’t sell any type of packaged beer directly to their customers. Craft beer is one of the only industries that is seemingly punished for growth in Minnesota.

Tom Whisenand

After losing my job as a photojournalist during the 2008 recession, I found a different culture waiting tables at a local brewery. I saw the deep connection these businesses formed with customers, but taprooms hadn’t really been established yet. At the time, there were so many great beers from the west coast and Colorado coming into our state, and, I thought, there was no reason why more beer as good and appealing couldn’t be made here. I knew people would gravitate to local beer if we had a brewery that was made to grow, invested in the right equipment, ingredients and people who really knew what they were doing. In 2011, my business partner and I set out to create a brand and a story that connected our community with good beer.

The growler cap prevents any Minnesota brewery producing more than 20,000 barrels of beer in a year from selling growlers. Sitting just shy of that mark, Indeed is in a really tough position as a small business. This arbitrary cap will deem us a “big brewer” like Coors or Anheuser-Busch, hurl us into distribution with greater production demands and smaller profit margins and remove one of the most crucial touch points that helped build our business: the growler. It forces me to consider staying small and ask myself, “Have we hit our peak? Do we stop growing our business?”

Growlers also provide an irreplaceable opportunity to test new products that will eventually make their way into bars and liquor stores. Some of Minnesota’s favorite beers, and Indeed’s most popular, wouldn’t exist today without that small-batch innovation and the ability to let customers test new recipes. People want to feel connected to their favorite local brewery, and growlers are part of the craft beer experience that customers deserve. They’re what helped build our whole brand. Without the growler cap, all breweries would have the freedom to continue innovating new brews, connecting with customers and doing what we all do best, which is make good beer for Minnesota.

So, together with Fulton, Lift Bridge, Surly, Castle Danger and Schell’s, Indeed has helped form the Alliance of Minnesota Craft Breweries. We’re calling on lawmakers to remove the growler cap so all breweries in our state can provide this experience to their customers and have the opportunity to grow their business without this restriction. We want long-term change so all the breweries that will eventually hit this cap won’t have to be in the same position as I am now — questioning the growth of my business in Minnesota.

Whether you’re Schell’s with a 160-year history, or Indeed with a decade under your belt, we believe all breweries in the state should have the opportunity to sell growlers and continue innovating. No small business should be forced to choose between customer connection and the ability to grow. Beer fans, we need you to help us make this happen. Visit SupportMNBreweries.com to tell your lawmaker why you want to #FreeTheGrowler.

 

Tom Whisenand was born and raised in the Twin Cities area and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2006. When laid-off from the Star Tribune in 2008 he took a job waiting tables at Town Hall Brewery to make ends meet. It was there that Tom’s passion for home brewing was kicked into high gear as he came to know the culture in craft beer. An idea was born and that idea eventually became Indeed Brewing Company. Today, Tom is a leader inside and outside of the brewery, working in and on the business as the company’s CEO. Tom was a proud board member and President of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild for four years. Outside of the brewery, Tom is an avid world traveler, commercial pilot and outdoor enthusiast.

 

Alliance of Minnesota Craft Breweries members