Home brewers rejoice... er, not so much

Did you hear the glorious news a week ago about Governor Pawlenty signing legislation making it legal for home brewers to sell their suds commercially?

A widely syndicated Associated Press story that ran in several Minnesota papers and news websites last week declared "Home drink brewers in Minnesota can now sell their concoctions to the public. ... Early laws made it OK to make home brews for personal use but prohibited people from selling the drinks."

Not so fast, says Heyward Gualandi, the store manager at Northern Brewer, a home brew shop in St. Paul.

"All it really did was increase the spaces that [breweries] could have inspected into their
basements," Gualandi says. "There was a restriction in terms of location. No matter what, if you were in the basement you couldn't sell."

While Gualandi says brewing hobbyists commonly use basement spaces to create and bottle
their beer, established breweries were subject to outdated laws barring basement production due to fear of mold. The new law, in essence, doesn't have any effect on home brewers.

"There was some misinformation going around. If you're a home brewer, there are a lot of things you would need to do [to sell commercially]," Gualandi says.

Mike Schommer, director of communications for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, agrees. He clarifies that, while home brewers might want a law that allows them to sell their concoctions to the masses, this is not it.

Although his department does have to inspect basement areas before companies can produce beverages there, the average home brewer shouldn't bother setting up an inspection.

"This actually addresses a minor part of a rule that has been on the books for decades. You
could not produce beverages below grade," Schommer says."What this basically does is removes a restriction on what kind of room beverages can be produced in. This takes care of that, but it leaves everything else"--including federal permits and local zoning restrictions--"in place."

For now, basement brew barons are left crying in their handcrafted, not commercially available beer.

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