Surly Brewing Co. bill clears House committee [VIDEO]

Omar Ansari's dad Naseem and Rep. Jenifer Loon outside the House committee hearing.
Omar Ansari's dad Naseem and Rep. Jenifer Loon outside the House committee hearing.

The Surly Brewing Co. bill got a slightly different treatment in the House Commerce committee's basement hearing this afternoon. A new onetime opponent's voice was heard, and Surly owner Omar Ansari got a bit of a grilling from members of the committee, but ultimately, it was another step forward for the popular bill.

"It passed, so I'm happy," Ansari said afterward.

Last week, a Senate commerce committee gave the bill its stamp of approval, the first legislative step in making the so-called taproom license legal. The license would allow brewers to sell pints of their own beer on-site, freeing Ansari to build the $20 million brewery, restaurant, and beer garden he's been touting for months.

Just as with the Senate bill, the House version was amended by chief author Rep. Jenifer Loon to only allow brewers to hold one such license, and exclude companies that crank out more than 250,000 barrels a year, thus eliminating competition from the Millers and Buds of the brewing world.

Dan Campo, representing the Tavern League of Minnesota, acknowledged his initial misgivings about the potential for unfair competition but said they'd been addressed by the amended language.

"When this bill first came out it left open a lot of questions," he said. "We support the bill now in its current form. Look, Surly's doing a great job with their beer."

Joe Bagnoli spoke again on behalf of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, saying he'd probably never be totally happy with the bill but was amenable to the compromise that was reached.

During Ansari's comments, he received the same beer-related ribbing he got in the Senate, until one of the committee members asked about a diagram of the brewery.

"Those are fermenters, that's where the beer gets made," said Ansari.

"Are those made up on the Iron Range?" she asked.

No, Ansari answered, they are not. A little "oooh" noise rushed around the room, inciting Rep. Tom Anzelc, chair of the Iron Range Delegation to jump in.

"Are the fermenters made in the good old United States of America?" he asked.

"They are not," Ansari admitted. "They are made in China."

Another round of murmurs. But then it was the rest of the microbrewing contingency to the rescue. Dan Schwarz of Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater mentioned in his testimony that if Surly opened the doors for other brewers to expand, more tanks mean more business could drift the Iron Range way.

"There's opportunities for other businesses surrounding craft brewing," he said.

Grumblings aside, the HF703 remained as popular as ever among the committee, who voted to pass it unanimously. The bill will now be held over for possible inclusion in the annual omnibus liquor bill. The Senate version is already headed for a floor vote.

We grabbed a bit of reaction from Ansari and his parents below:

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