Breweries backing bill to reduce limits on growler sales

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March 22, 2013
By: Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

Fulton and Indeed growlers may soon transform from 64-ounce beer containers into household ornaments if the Save the Growler bill does not pass this year. 

The bill originally would allow rapidly expanding Minnesota breweries to continue selling growlers after they exceed the current 3,500 barrel per year production limit by raising that limit to 250,000 barrels per year. It's currently in both the preliminary House and Senate omnibus liquor bill, but now it raises the production limit to 20,000 barrels instead of 250,000.

The bill does not propose to raise the current 500 barrel limit for growler sales.

“Generally a brewery doesn't sell more growlers as it expands, the market for them tends to be locals who ride their bike to brewery, have a pint, and then take a growler home to share with their friends,” said Indeed Brewing co-founder Tom Whisenand. “It just seems so silly to have to stop growler sales not for selling more growlers, or too many of them, but for selling more beer in general.”

Indeed opted to sell 750 ml bottles in lieu of the more expensive growler (which typically require a deposit from the customer) when they opened because anticipated exceeding the 3,500 barrel limit and didn't want their growlers to become obsolete so quickly.

“We didn't want to buy all of these growlers, have them screen printed, take deposits on them and then tell our customers a year later 'sorry, but now you just have a nice thing to put flowers in,'” said Whisenand. Indeed will sell about 100 barrels worth of 750 ml bottles out of their projected 6,000 barrel overall production.

Surly Brewing has already exceeded the limit and no longer offers growlers, and Fulton and Indeed will pass the 3,500 barrel limit next year. One barrel is equivalent to two 16-gallon kegs, which fills approximately 60 growlers.

The Minnesota Brewers Association, which counts 18 breweries as members, hired the Preston Kelly PR firm to run the Save the Growler campaign. The campaign has over 1,800 likes on Facebook and over 200 followers on Twitter, including beer-loving Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak, who tweeted his support of the campaign early this month.

Not all Minneapolis microbreweries are concerned about the law. Rob Miller, founder of Dangerous Man, said that the production limit wasn't really a concern of his, and that he'd be “really psyched to get to 1,000 barrels” this year.

Adam Sjorgen of Northgate Brewing didn't anticipate being affected in the short-term, but down the road he thought it may become a big issue for Northgate. He also expressed sympathy for his fellow brewers that have been affected already, citing the close-knit nature of the brewing community.

“The guys that are going to be affected are going to lose a lot of that customer facing, which is really important when you're an up-and-coming industry – to have that face-to-face contact with your customers,” said Sjorgen. Northgate is on pace to produce 500 barrels this year, 75-80 of which come from growler sales.

Liquor store owners argue that allowing breweries to sell their beer directly to consumers in take-home containers circumvents the three-tiered alcohol sales system. There are producers, which brew and distill the alcohol, distributors, which buy booze from the producers and sell to the retailers, which in turn sell to the public.

The Minnesota Brewers Association worked closely with the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association to find a compromise in raising the growler production limit, and Minneapolis brewery employees seemed generally optimistic that some form of the Save the Growler bill would be included in a successful liquor omnibus bill.

A proposal to allow liquor stores to sell growlers off-sale – which is allowed in Wisconsin – was not included in the House or Senate liquor omnibus bill.