Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Minnesota beer laws........??

On the same trip that introduced me to Lake Superior at around age 7, I also had my first encounter with Minnesota beer laws. In Wisconsin, when the Old Man ran his errands after work he took my sister and I along and he invariably stopped at one of his favorite taverns for a couple 7 oz. taps of Walters or Leinies beer. We usually got a Coke and a dime to play pinball, bowling, or the ultra cool rifle arcade game. When we took our trip to Minnesota's North Shore we impressionable youth were not allowed in the bar, an ordinance that had me very puzzled at the time. Even though Minnesota had a large German population, as did Wisconsin, perhaps all those Scandanavian Lutherans banded together to put 'the kibosh' on too much beer related fun. When I moved to the state in 1978, on the cold January weekend when the Happy Warrior was buried, I discovered a person could not buy a six pack, other than the insipid '3.2 beer', on Sunday. How that contributes to the public good is a puzzle to me. I guess if I was Jewish I'd be offended that you could buy beer on Saturday, and if I was Muslim I'd be offended that you could buy beer at all. Religion and beer shouldn't mix but a person still can't buy beer on Sunday in Minnesota and I don't think a kid can accompany the folks into a bar. A couple things have changed in the state however, and there is some pondering about changing a couple more.

Back in 1996 Vine Park Brewing, a shop where people could produce their own homebrew, opened after a law allowing such radical behavior slipped through the legislature. This was a pretty big step in the State Where Nothing Is Allowed and Vine Park has done well over the years. Minneapolis, a city where opening a new business is like extended hemorrhoid surgery (and where I'm pretty sure they have inspectors to inspect the inspectors), the city council recently passed a law allowing small breweries to sell growlers, refillable glass half gallon containers, out of their facility. I've racked my brain attempting to figure out how not selling growlers would advance the public good but I'm at a loss. Fulton Brewing will open a brewery in the city (good luck with the myriad of inspectiors boys!) in part because of the ordinance change.

Just north of the city Surly Brewing can no longer sell growlers. Why you ask? Because they made too much beer. Think of the blow to the public good if a brewery that made more than 3500 barrels of beer was allowed to indiscriminately sell growlers! My guess is that it would make the mess in Madison look like a kindergarten roundup. Oh, the humanity! The state is also protecting us from the horrors of a brewery owned restaurant that sells.....gasp....pints of its own beer on tap. Omar Ansari, the owner of Surly Brewing, wants to build a new brewery with a restaurant, beer garden, and pub where Surly beer and only Surly beer is served. No wine, martinis, or Bud Lite, just Surly beers. This is against the law in this state because of the 'three tiered' distribution system. Breweries need to sell their beer to the distributor and the distributor needs to sell it to the bar or liquor store so they can sell it to you. Of course brewpubs can sell their beer directly to the thirsty beer lover but none of them cross that pesky 3500 barrel threshold.

I'm struggling to see the damage to the brewing industry if breweries could sell a pint at their facility. I've had many a free pint at both the Summit and Schells tap rooms and would not mind a bit if I could plunk down a few bucks for my said tasty pint. Yet two guys that I know, respect, and have consumed pints with, Mark Stutrud from Summit and Ted Marti from Schells, have expressed reservations about any change in the three tiered system. I guess I'd better do a bit more research on the topic. An extensive state brewery and brewpub fact finding tour may be in order during the 'tweener month of March.

One thing is for sure, we have some fine breweries and brewpubs here in the state. It would be nice if we had the reputation of a Colorado, Wisconsin, or Oregon because we brew a number of beers that are equal to or better than beers brewed in those states. I sat in the Deschutes brewpub in Portland and the significantly less plush Double Mountain brewery in Hood River, and sensed no impending doom from their public desecration of the three tiered system as I sipped my pints. Portland airport is the least stressful airport I've ever encountered. The agents seem more friendly, the TSA personnel more human, and there is a general vibe of low key accommodation. I attribute this in part to the presence of a Rogue Brewery pub in the concourse. They serve only Rogue Brewing products and its very hard to be pissed at the air travel experience if you have a pint of Dead Guy Ale or Brutal IPA in your hand. Minnesota should give some serious thought to loosening up. It seems to have worked well in other states.

(image above of Eric hand pulling a pint of Surly Cask Mild at Grumpys NE.....mmmmm!)

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