The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 26, 2013

It's time to roll out the beer bills

— Beer dominated the agenda of a state Senate committee Monday, and south-central Minnesota lawmakers bellied up to the hearing table with several proposed changes to Minnesota alcohol law Monday afternoon.

Sen. Kevin Dahle? Legislation creating the position of "licensed beer educator" -- someone who would be authorized to serve beer to a pre-registered group of beer students "for educational purposes."

Sen. Julie Rosen? Legislation to make sure Winnebago's inaugural Craft Brew Fest continues for another year.

Sen. Gary Dahms? A bill that would allow Schell's brewery in New Ulm to benefit from a state tax credit aimed at helping smaller brewers compete with the big boys of beer.

The local bills were part of a 12-pack of proposals before the Senate Commerce Committee Monday afternoon to change state law governing the production and sale of alcohol in Minnesota.

Official beer educator

Dahle, a Democrat whose district includes most of Le Sueur County, is sponsoring a bill that would put beer on the same standing as wine. Last year, lawmakers authorized the issuance of "wine educator licenses" so that certified sommeliers could legally serve different wines to participants taking a class in wine appreciation and etiquette or attending a wine tasting.

"We're just kind of including beer in something that was put in statute for wine," said Dahle, a Northfield school teacher.

Some might think there isn't that much to know about savoring or serving beer, other than it should be presented cold and -- for fancy occasions -- in a glass. A cicerone (beer drinking expert) knows that it's way more complicated than that.

Michael Agnew, owner of the Minneapolis-based business A Perfect Pint, offers full-service beer-tasting and beer-education events for corporations, private parties and the food industry. But under current state law, it's not entirely clear that Agnew can legally charge people for the beer they're tasting and being educated in.

"(The legislation) eliminates some difficulties in pursuing this career," Agnew said. "This just clarifies all of that."

Dahle said craft beers are becoming as original and unique as the wide variety of wines, and Agnew's website -- which provides reviews of dozens of beers -- demonstrates the way an educated beer drinker can learn to praise beer in as sophisticated a manner as the most snooty wine sipper.

About one German lager, Agnew writes of flavors including "luxurious caramel malt with hints of chocolate and raisin," whereas a certain Wisconsin wheat beer has "a lemony fruitiness (that) melds with cinnamon, bubblegum, and powdered sugar."

The committee didn't vote on the bill but will consider it for inclusion in a large omnibus alcohol bill later in the session.

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