Block the brewery?

The MLBA wants to block construction of a new brewery — Surly they can’t be serious.

Mike Munzenrider

Picture this: You emerge from that final final of the semester on a warm, beautiful May afternoon. Once stress-stricken, youâÄôre now giddy with anticipation of the coming summer, a little hungry and you could really use a couple of cold ones.

Of course, there are all the usual suspects near campus, but this glorious afternoon deserves something special, a bit different, more inherently cool. You crew up with friends, hop on your bikes and cross the Stone Arch Bridge to downtown Minneapolis. Once there, you settle in for a late lunch and a pint or two at the brand new Surly Brewery/Restaurant on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.

Surly Co. âÄî with the help of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak âÄî is trying to make this daydream a reality.

Back on Feb. 7, Surly announced their intention to build a $20 million, 60,000 square foot brewery in Minnesota that would include a 250-seat restaurant, a 30-foot bar and beer gardens. The proposal amounts to 85 jobs in construction, along with the creation of 150 permanent jobs.

Rybak is on board with Surly and pressing hard to get the brewery built in downtown Minneapolis on the Mississippi riverfront. He discussed such a move with Surly owner Omar Ansari a year and a half ago.

In his State of the City address March 7, Rybak reiterated his support for the brewery, saying, “Beer is part of our history. Beer is part of our future.” This columnist couldnâÄôt agree more.

A slight change to MinnesotaâÄôs liquor laws is all that stands in the way of making this dreamy brewery scenario come true.

The law in question, passed in 1933, states that breweries that produce more than 3,500 barrels of beer per year are required to have a different party distribute the beer.

To recap: As weâÄôre coming out of a recession, a local business announces a plan to invest $20 million locally, to create 250 or so jobs and âÄî to top it all off âÄî theyâÄôre going to be making a ton of really tasty beer. Simply tweak a 78-year-old law and weâÄôre good.

Of course thereâÄôs a catch.

Enter the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA). They represent liquor and beer retailers like bars and liquor stores.

The MLBA is asserting its lobbying heft to fight the law change in order to protect retailers and the three-tiered distribution structure, which draws distinction between producers, distributors and retailers.

They argue that such a law change would give Surly an “unfair advantage” in the beer business, according to MLBA Executive Director Frank Ball.

ItâÄôs a dubious argument. Surly has said they donâÄôt intend to dismantle the three-tiered system, and there is no plan to sell beer anywhere outside of the proposed brewery.

One must only assume that such a brewery would increase SurlyâÄôs brand recognition, leading to more sales of the product in liquor stores and bars, which would erase whatever losses they suffer due to one new place to purchase the beer.

In this instance, the MLBAâÄôs pseudo pro-business stance is actually anti-business, anti-consumer and anti-big picture.

To stay intellectually honest, the MLBA has lobbied for both good and bad things from a consumerâÄôs point of view. They helped to extend bar hours to 2 a.m. and are pressing for gambling in bars. TheyâÄôve also defeated measures to sell wine in grocery stores. However, theyâÄôre on the wrong side of the brewery issue.

At this moment, we donâÄôt need continued rules and regulations. We need economic investment, new jobs and more beer with new, innovative places to drink it.


Mike Munzenrider welcomes comments at [email protected].