Brewery hits limit on growlers, spotlight liquor law

Published 11:30 am Saturday, July 13, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — A popular North Shore brewery will soon have to stop selling growlers, and it’s shining a light on Minnesota liquor laws.

Castle Danger Brewery will have to stop selling the refillable jugs known as growlers in October. That’s because state law blocks breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels per year from selling growlers.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that some distributors say the law protects them from being wiped out by protecting retailers. But brewers like Castle Danger say it hurts them financially — growler sales make up nearly one-third of taproom revenue.

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“We’re losing something that’s been a part of our taproom since day one,” said Maddy Stewart, Castle Danger’s marketing and events manager.

Stewart said the reusable bottles help spread the brewery’s brand around the state, which eventually boosts business for retail stores that sell Castle Danger beers.

Sen. Karin Housley introduced a bill this year to raise the threshold to 250,000 barrels, but it didn’t make it out of committee.

“I think it’s a sad thing when government wants to stop our small businesses from growing,” Housley, a Republican from St. Mary’s Point, said. She tried a second time with a more modest 40,000-barrel cap, but backed off after Commerce Committee Chairman Gary Dahms objected.

Dahms, a Republican from Redwood Falls, said the cap affects only a handful of craft breweries.

Mike Larson, operations manager for St. Anthony Village Wine and Spirits, said the state’s largest brewers — like Summit, August Schell and Surly — have for years outstripped the 20,000-barrel limit, “and they’re doing just fine and dandy.”

Castle Danger isn’t the only brewer bumping against the cap. Indeed Brewing Co. of Minneapolis and Bent Paddle both produced more than 15,000 barrels in 2018.

Housley made clear this week that she’ll try again to raise the limit, launching a petition to build support for next year’s session.