Fighting over beer? What’s new?

by James Nord

Surly Brewing Company says it has expanded its five-year-old brewery in Brooklyn Center as much as possible.

Now the craft beer company is looking for a state law change that would allow it to build a new $20 million, 60,000 foot brewery-restaurant. The plans envision a two story destination with a beer garden, 250 seat restaurant and a 30 foot bar. 

Photo Courtesy: Gear Patrol

Current Minnesota law prohibits brewers as large as Surly to sell directly to consumers. That’s something the beermeisters are planning to fight at the Legislature with social media (it says so in their blog) and lobbyists (Tom Scheck from Minnesota Public Radio says so here).

“With the support of our fans and the great state of Minnesota, we can build this destination brewery and start cranking out 100,000 more barrels of Surly beer every year—more than 850 percent more beer brewed than last year,” whichever PR company the brewery hired wrote in the blog. “Getting thirsty yet? Hell yeah you are!”

The company also contends that constructing the complex would create 85 jobs and would employ 150 Minnesotans permanently.

Counter-lobbyists (the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association) are planning to oppose any change in the state’s current three-pronged approach to selling alcohol.

Here’s a statement Scheck obtainted from Frank ball of the MLBA:

“It’s pretty simple within the parameters of the three-tier structure we have in Minnesota. The manufactures make the product, the wholesalers distribute the product and we, the retailers, sell the product to the consumer. It’s even more simple if you say it the way my retailers say it: “you make it, we’ll sell it”…you make it ‘and’ sell it, we won’t buy from you”.

The reason for the three-tier structure was to keep the integrity of the distribution of a controlled, highly regulated, commodity. Alcohol — like prescription drugs or firearms — is no ordinary commodity. In fact, alcoholic beverages are the only commercial products specifically named in the United States Constitution. Because our society recognizes the importance of controlling alcohol use and access, alcohol has always been treated differently under the law than most other products.

The manufacturers (breweries, vineyards and distilleries) supply distributors. Under the laws which created the three-tier system, each level of the system is independent of the others, ensuring accountability to the public as well as the benefits of healthy competition. By preventing tied houses (i.e. Retailers that sell the products of only one supplier), the three-tier system limits the number of retail outlets and therefore promotes moderate consumption, hence our position with the Surly matter. We want the Surly product to sell in our stores, we don’t want the manufacturer of a great beer to sell to the public, we’ll do that enthusiastically as possible.”