Surly Brewing Co. bill unveiled

Today, the language of a bill that will enable Surly Brewing Co. to build a huge $20 million destination brewery was revealed. The concept now has authors, a bill number and -- possibly -- a chance of becoming law.

"He obviously has a gem of a product that has enormous public appeal," says Senator Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park), one of the principle authors. "This could be one of those bills that people are really enchanted by."

The bill would allow municipalities to give brewers a special license which allows them to sell their beer on-location. Here is the language:

A bill for an act relating to liquor; allowing the holder of certain brewer's license to operate an on-sale facility; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 1.4340A.


1.6 Section 1. [340A.4042] BREWER ON-SALE LICENSE. The holder of a brewer's license under section 340A.301, subdivision 6, clauses (c), (i), and (j), may be issued an on-sale license by a local government for service of beers brewed by the brewer, for a location at or adjacent to the premises where brewing occurs. The license fee shall not be more than $100. All provisions of this chapter not in conflict with this subdivision shall apply to this license. EFFECTIVE DATE.This section is effective the day following final enactment.

The bill, SF 416, will allow Surly Brewing Co. owner Omar Ansari to build his $20 million dream brewery. The vision includes an event center, a restaurant, a beer garden and, of course, a bigger brewery. He estimates the project would create 150 jobs. The current Surly location in Brooklyn Center will be at capacity by next year. Mayors are already vying for Ansari's attention, including Minneapolis's R.T. Rybak.

Surly's current Brooklyn Center location brewed 11,500 barrels last year and will soon be at capacity.
Surly's current Brooklyn Center location brewed 11,500 barrels last year and will soon be at capacity.

However, under current Minnesota liquor laws, Surly is too large to be considered a brewpub and cannot sell its own beer. The announcement of the concept came with a call to tweak the law. That brought instantaneous controversy and condemnation from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. The MLBA said changing the law will damage Minnesota's three-tier alcohol distribution system.

MLBA representative Frank Ball infuriated Surly fans when he was quoted saying, "Nothing is preventing him from going out and opening up a brewery in another state." (The brew-pub concept would be legal in Wisconsin, New York and California.)

On Friday afternoon, Ball had not yet read the bill but backed way off of his earlier condemnation of the project. He says the earlier announcement lead him to believe that Surly wanted to sell its famous four-pack out of the brewery, undercutting distributors and store owners. The actual language of the bill only allows the new brewery to sell pints on location.

"We do think it's a great idea," he says now.   Scheid will be introducing the bill in the Senate on Monday and Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) is introducing it into the House on Thursday.

Empty cans wait to get "Furious."
Empty cans wait to get "Furious."

Meanwhile, support Surly parties are popping up all over town (including one tomorrow at Stanley's Northeast Bar Room) and Scheid says legislators have been getting calls on Surly's behalf even before they knew which bill to ask for.

Scheid has never had a Surly herself, though she says she's going to buy her first four pack of Coffee Bender over the weekend.

"I'm not doing it because of my love of beer," she says of her support for Surly's law. "People would throng to it. I think it would be a really popular destination."

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