This year in Minnesota beer: Combination brewery-distillery taprooms?


Bent Brewstillery attempts to #freethecocktails. Jeff Cleveland Photography

Bartley Blume just wants to fix you a damn cocktail.

The Bent Brewstillery founder and head distiller always hoped his Roseville taproom would be a place where customers could sip both craft brews and small-batch spirits. Brewstillery, you've no doubt noticed, is a portmanteau of brewery and distillery, and Blume views himself equal parts suds and spirits. “We are a microbrewer," he tells City Pages. "And we are a microdistillery.”

The problem is that Blume would like to show off Bent's distilled creations and continue pouring beers for you, too. And right now? Minnesota law doesn’t let him do both. So at the end of last year, Bent launched an Indiegogo campaign to fundraise for the lobbying help they'll need to get an ordinance of their own -- a Bent Bill? -- through the State House.

Once the so-called "Surly Bill" passed in 2011, Blume figured it wouldn’t be long before a similar cocktail room law became a reality. He was right: All it really took was a good push from the Minnesota Distillers Guild -- which Blume helped form and where he currently serves on the board -- to make that happen a little over two years ago.

But he says there are a few things that "slipped through the cracks" in creating these laws. Specifically, when the cocktail room ordinance went into effect, legislators added a line about how no one business could hold both a brewer's taproom license and a microdistiller's cocktail room licence.

Which is fine... unless you're Blume, who runs the state's only part-distillery, part-brewery hybrid (one of only about 20 in the country, by his estimate).

“That language was added by the liquor lobby, distributors, retailers, teamsters,” Blume says. In other words, it got in there thanks to the same people who fought against the Surly Bill and Sunday sales. “It’s like those laws on the books that say you can’t ride a goat down the street with your hat on backwards on a Sunday,” he adds, chuckling. “There’s a reason it’s there, there’s history behind it, but it doesn’t make any sense.” 

To be clear, it’s not a matter of revenue. Most of Bent’s volume has been and would continue to be in outside sales.

But holding both licenses under one company -- and being able to serve everything Bent makes under one roof instead of just half of it -- would, of course, be more convenient. It would help spread the word about Bent's dual purpose, and it could make it easier to get their brews and spirits in more stores.

And yes, there are a series of cumbersome workarounds Blume could do right now. He could start two separate companies. He could build a glass wall down the middle of the room -- beer on one side, liquor on the other. “And then install a phone, just like in prison.” he quips. “Yes, there are ways [around it], but they’re not really all that functional.”

This isn't the first time Bent's tried to fundraise for a bill of their own. It follows an unsuccessful 2017 Kickstarter -- and Kickstarter is an all or nothing game. This time around, with two days left in their Indiegogo campaign, Bent's raised a little over $5,000, which is money they'll get to keep even if they don't reach their goal.

Still, it's the last chance for constituents to show their support. Financially, anyway. There will, of course, be the next push -- the grassroots organizing, the representative-calling. 

Blume knows there are concerns that Big Beer could come in and do what Bent Brewstillery is doing on a macro level. It's a fear he shares; he certainly doesn't want to see A-B InBev infiltrating the state with a behemoth brewing and distilling operation of their own.

But there are laws limiting what certain sized microbreweries can do, and since having a taproom means producing less than 250,000 barrels a year, it seems unlikely that Anheuser would pop into town any time soon. Besides -- not that he's bitter about it, he thinks Sunday sales are a good thing -- but Bent's weekend traffic dropped after that law went into effect last year, when people no longer needed to rely on his Roseville taproom on Sundays. 

“This is what they fail to see, is that this is helping the little guys,” Blume says. “I’m not trying to change the world, I’m just trying to change Minnesota.”

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