While a push to allow Sunday alcohol sales, including 64-ounce “growlers” at craft beer taprooms, died following a heated debate this legislative session, the omnibus liquor bill that ultimately reached Governor Mark Dayton’s desk does include some changes to Minnesota’s liquor laws.
One such change will benefit craft distilleries, a burgeoning industry that some speculate is poised to fuel Minnesota’s next alcohol-related business boom.
The craft beer industry—which by one estimate adds $742 million to Minnesota’s economy—received a major boost by the 2011 passage of the so-called “Surly Bill,” which added a new license that allows brewers to sell pints of their beer at on-site taprooms.
The new liquor bill that Dayton recently signed allows for “cocktail rooms,” which are essentially the craft distillers’ version of a taproom. State law previously allowed micro-distilleries to dole out free samples of their liquor products to customers—up to three 15-milliliter pours per visitor, per day. Under the new law, municipalities may grant a new license to craft distillers that allows them to sell their products on the premises where they produce them, for on-site consumption.
Groups such as the Minnesota Distillers Guild hadadvocated for the passage of a cocktail room license.
As is the case with craft beer taprooms, the cocktail room license does not preclude the business from also operating an on-site restaurant. (Brau Brothers Brewing Company, for example, has taken advantage of that opportunity, opening a restaurant at its taproom in Marshall.) The law does, however, prohibit businesses from holding both taproom and cocktail room licenses.
Updated rules for craft beer taprooms
Craft brewers banded together in an effort to begin selling growlers of beer on Sunday, and despite a 43-22 vote in the Senate to restore that stripped-out provision, it did not ultimately make it into the final bill.
The new law does, however, allow taprooms to be open on Sundays, selling beer to the public that day the same way Minnesota bars and brewpubs do, provided municipal consent. Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park appears to be among the first to take advantage of the change; it announced on Facebook that it was open this past Sunday.
Clint Roberts, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, characterized the change as “an advancement for Minnesota craft beer,” adding that is “furthers the evolution of the craft beer economy in this state.”
“There’s certainly more work to do, including allowing our Minnesota craft brewers the opportunity to sell their own growlers at their breweries and brewpubs on Sunday, but the consumer interest and excitement we’ve seen in the last few years, especially since the Surly Bill, showcases what’s on tap for our brewing industry and those that support it,” Roberts said in an email to Twin Cities Business.
The final bill also includes language that permits but does not require breweries to refill any growler, including those from other breweries, at the request of customers.
Home brewers, farm wineries, and wine licenses for restaurants
Another provision pertains to home brewers. It allows unlicensed home brewers to offer tastings of their products at contests and other gatherings “provided that the beverage is made and transported in containers and equipment that shall not allow the migration of toxic substances,” and assuming that they clearly disclose the fact that the product they’re offering is homemade and not subject to state inspection. The disclosure must also denote the name and address of the person who processed and bottled the beverage.
Minnesota farm wineries, meanwhile, are allowed under the new law to store their finished products in off-site warehouses. The bill also allows farm wineries in the state to sell up to 75,000 gallons annually, up from the previous 50,000-gallon cap.
Rules surrounding the issuance of wine licenses to restaurants were also revised. Licensed restaurants will now be allowed to sell wine containing up to 24 percent alcohol by volume, up from an earlier 14 percent limit. And previous language that required restaurants with wine licenses to make up 60 percent of their gross receipts through food sales was struck from the latest bill.
Late-night All-Star Game sales and other special allowances
The bill also provides special liquor licenses for specific uses. It allows Brooklyn Park to issue an on-sale license to a wedding center and Richfield to issue one for Richfield Ice Arena. Golden Valley, meanwhile, can issue an on-sale license for a city-owned golf course, and the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, along with the Minneapolis Institute for the Arts, may also receive on-sale licenses.
In addition, the new law allows bars in Hennepin County to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. on July 15 and 16, in conjunction with Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game being held at Target Field. Local licensing jurisdictions can charge a fee of up to $2,500 for a permit to stay open for those extended hours.
View the complete text of the omnibus liquor bill that Dayton recently signed into law—which also contains new language regarding sacramental wine and defines “mixed drinks” for legal purposes, among other things—here.
This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.