Minnesota lawmakers should not be in the business of making it tough for Minnesotans to get their favorite beer.
But that’s just what’s happening with the road blocks put up by Minnesota liquor laws, which are are outdated, anti-competitive and unnecessarily restrictive.
A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers is likely to introduce a liquor law reform bill next year that will reduce barriers to craft breweries selling growlers and make beer and wine available in grocery stores and convenience stores.
Both changes are long overdue. Minnesota four years ago finally overcame roadblocks to allow the sale of liquor from liquor stores on Sundays. Now it’s time to move ahead with other changes.
The House Commerce Committee last month held a four-hour meeting to discuss Minnesota’s liquor laws. At the top of the list should be repealing a prohibition on craft brewers that produce more than 20,000 barrels a year selling growlers and crowlers from their taprooms.
The law penalizes craft brewers for being successful. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association opposed the proposal saying it somehow gives craft brewers and advantage that liquor stores and other retailers do not. The Minnesota Beer Wholesalers also opposed removing the limit, saying craft breweries have “significant competitive advantage” over wholesalers and retailers.
It’s difficult to detect an unfairness here. Competition is competition. Only six craft brewers in the entire country cannot sell to-go growlers and crowlers, and they’re all in Minnesota. They include New Ulm-based Schell’s; Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors; Fulton; Indeed; Surly; and Lift Bridge.
If liquor store owners believe they are at a disadvantage to craft breweries, they should open a craft brewery.
Some Minnesota liquor laws date back to the end of Prohibition where a system of separate producers, distributors and retailers was set up. The beverage dealers and wholesales seem stuck in the old way of doing things as it limits competition and keeps prices artificially high.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, favors allowing grocery and convenience stores being able to sell wine and beer, noting that border towns like Duluth lose out to Wisconsin grocery stores that can sell beer and wine.
House Commerce Committee Zach Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said he favors a significant liquor law reform bill. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, authored the original bill allowing growlers years ago, and said the opposition may be rooted in some moral imperative.
Perhaps lawmakers opposing these free-market changes still want to pay homage to former Minnesota Congressman Andrew Volstead, the godfather of Prohibition. But it’s time let Volstead rest in peace nearly 90 years after Prohibition ended and allow the free market determine where and how alcohol is sold in Minnesota.