Bent Paddle beer banned from Silver Bay liquor store over PolyMet mine stance

Bent Paddle Brewing says it opened in Duluth because of its proximity to the "clean, amazing" Lake Superior water.

Bent Paddle Brewing says it opened in Duluth because of its proximity to the "clean, amazing" Lake Superior water.

Bent Paddle Brewing Company thinks good water means good beer. Owners there have joined with a group of other businesses called the Downstream Business Coalition, which has warned Gov. Mark Dayton against approval of the Polymet copper-nickel mine on the Iron Range.

The Duluth brewery says the state might come to rue what that mine project does to Minnesota's cherished bodies of water. At the moment, it's Bent Paddle that's paying the price. 

The city council of Silver Bay voted 3-2 last week to pull Bent Paddle from the shelves of its municipal liquor store — the only one operating in the town of about 1,900 people. The council's action was inspired by an angry constituent letter from resident Kevin Berglund, according to the Lake County News Chronicle

Berglund accused Bent Paddle of being "opposed to the survival of our communities," and said it should be replaced by local brews that would support mining projects, which have traditionally been the backbone of the northland's economy. 

A meeting of the Silver Bay liquor commission last month recommended that the council not take the dramatic step, which sets an odd precedent of punishing a business for the political positions of its owners. Bent Paddle has already been pulled from some other liquor stores angry about its anti-PolyMet campaign; but those were all privately owned liquor stores, free to sell or not sell what they want.

Silver Bay is the first publicly managed store to make this move. Councilors explained their votes as preemptive: They're kicking Bent Paddle out to prevent a possible boycott of the liquor store by miners or mine supporters, which could prove disastrous for the small store. (The Silver Bay liquor business did about $900,000 worth of business in 2014, the most recent year with numbers available, and had a profit margin of about 3.7 percent, according to a state auditor's report.) 

Interestingly, the council — and its angry letter writer — apparently missed another anti-mining advocate in its purge. Vikre Distillery, also based in Duluth, is another member of the Downstream Business Coalition, but its products will still be sold in Silver Bay... for now, anyway.

In response to the news, Bent Paddle co-founder Laura Mullen tried arguing by giving the area a compliment: They only started in that region to take advantage of the "clean, amazing water of Lake Superior," Mullen said, and the contamination of that water would ruin their brand and business.