When Surly Brewing Company announced plans for a new $20-million brewery complex last week the Twin Cities beer world exploded with excitement. This wasn't going to be just any brewery; this was going to be a "destination brewery" complete with a restaurant, bar, rooftop beer garden, and an event center for concerts, weddings, and other kinds of get-togethers. It would enable the brewery to expand production five-fold. Surly fans could hardly contain themselves. Twitters tweeted, bloggers blogged, and Facebook fans shared regular updates from the brewery's fan page. Although the project was only just a plan, the celebration had already begun. But there's a catch. What Surly wants to do is currently illegal.
Surly wants to sell pints of its beer in the planned restaurant and beer garden. Minnesota statute doesn't allow breweries with an annual production above 3500 barrels to sell beer directly to consumers. Sales for on-site consumption are prohibited for all non-brewpub breweries. In order for Surly to fulfill its dream, the statute has to be amended. The brewery is working with state lawmakers to do just that, and it's asking fans to help.
In a recent statement Surly outlined what it wants to do:
WE ARE A SMALL BUSINESS WITH A BIG IDEA: We want to build a brewery that includes a restaurant, bar, beer garden, and event center, which will make it a destination for craft beer fans in Minnesota and across the country. The destination brewery will be another Twin Cities amenity. WE ARE NOT LOOKING TO TEAR DOWN THE "THREE-TIER SYSTEM": Right now we self-distribute our beer, but with the new brewery we are going to give that up and will therefore hire a Minnesota distributor. WE ONLY WANT TO SELL OUR GLASSES OF BEER AND ONLY AT THE BREWERY: We don't want to sell liquor, wine, or another brewery's beer. And we aren't looking to have multiple locations - just one location, at the brewery. WE DON'T WANT TO SELL OUR PACKAGED BEERS: We don't want to sell growlers, cans, or bottles at the new brewery. WE ARE A PROUD MINNESOTA COMPANY: Some in the opposition have suggested that we build our destination brewery in another state, where the laws are more accommodating. While it's true that we could get this brewery built in many other states, we don't see that as an option right now. We want to build it in Minnesota-we are a Minnesota company and would like to keep it that way. Some of the country's hottest craft beer brands have breweries in their states similar to the one we are proposing. WE ARE WORKING TO FIND A SOLUTION: This a whole new world for us and it has proven to be an uphill climb to update the law so we can continue to grow our business the way we want to. But we DO want to meet with the opposition to find a resolution. Our destination brewery will benefit Minnesota in many ways.
Changing the law won't be easy for Surly. Interest groups opposed to the change are already launching campaigns to stop them. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), a trade group that represents retailers like restaurants and liquor stores, has issued a public statement claiming that Surly's plan amounts to a dismantling of the "three-tier system" of alcohol distribution in which producers sell to distributors, who in turn sell to retailers. This system, put in place after prohibition, is intended to prevent anti-competitive practices by maintaining separation between those that manufacture alcoholic beverages and those that sell them to consumers. The MLBA's contention is that by selling directly to consumers, Surly will be acting in an anti-competitive manner, taking business away from the retailers that the organization represents.
Surly is asking its fans to help with their efforts at the state capital. In a note on their Facebook fanpage, they had this to say:
WE NEED YOUR HELP! Now is the time to contact your STATE legislator to voice your support of small business, Minnesota jobs and tourism, and Surly's Destination Brewery project. Here's how you can help: 1. Follow this link (or cut and paste it into your browser) and enter your address to find your state Representative and state Senator: http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/ 2. Email/Call your state Representative and state Senator (contact only YOUR district's legislators) Tell them you're a Surly fan and you support the proposal to allow Surly to sell glasses of THEIR beer at THEIR brewery. Ask your legislators to join you in support of Surly and Minnesota's other craft breweries! If you call, it's likely you'll get voicemail or be asked to leave a message with your legislator's assistant, which is just fine. And it's ok to be passionate but remember to mind your manners. We're trying to win these folks over to the Surly cause!It should be an interesting fight.
Cheers, Michael Agnew Certified Cicerone A Perfect Pint