Despite not working in the beverage industry, Andrew Schmitt has had a hand in changing it for every citizen in the state. As a result of his efforts, Minnesotans will experience a brand new phenomenon this weekend—buying alcohol on a Sunday.
Schmitt (or “Schmitty” as he’s often affectionately referred to in the industry) was there, sitting in the gallery, the day the state senate passed their version of the Sunday Sales bill, which went on to be signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton. For Schmitt the moment was the culmination of years spent spreading awareness of the issue, garnering signatures from citizens, and calling legislators on behalf of the consumer advocacy group that he founded, Minnesota Beer Activists. But Schmitt didn’t feel fist-pumping elation, which I learned really isn’t his style.
“It was more a sense of relief than anything,” Schmitt says. “It had been such a long haul. Finally. It’s nice to get that payoff. It also shouldn’t take as long as it should for common sense and the will of the people to be carried out.”
The long haul Andrew is referring to started right after the “Surly bill” was passed in 2011, allowing brewery taprooms to sell their beer onsite. Though most of his time was dedicated to his day job and spending time with his family at home, Schmitt set aside his extra time to start advocating for the craft beer industry.
“Minnesota Beer Activists coalesced around the pint law, or ‘Surly bill,’” Schmitt explains. “After that was changed, a bunch of folks who were energized by the change said, ‘that was good, what else could do with changes.’”
Brian Grondin was one of the original members of the advocacy group. When talking about Schmitt, he brings up this sort of dichotomy between Schmitt at home and when he’s out and about advocating.
“He is kind of a bit of an introvert, a private person to some extent, even though he puts himself out there,” Grondin explains, and I realize he’s right. With how ubiquitous a figure Schmitt is in the beer community—attending countless festivals, beer releases, and brewery openings—he could be easily mistaken as an extrovert. But it hits me that we’ve never really had a conversation before this interview.
Despite his private personality, Schmitt was out front in the Sunday sales effort, making calls to legislators and engaging with strangers to drum up public support. Grondin says Schmitt became encyclopedic on the topic, remembering every important detail to the Sunday sales crusade.
“He constantly surprised me when he knows someone’s position from some weird or small district out in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “He knew who was on our side and who wasn’t.”
Representative Jenifer Loon (R–Eden Prairie) was one of the people Schmitt knew to be on the side of consumers, and they worked together quite a bit. As one of the authors of the Sunday sales bill that was passed into law, Loon knows how crucial Schmitt and his drive were to making this all possible.
“Andrew was my go-to person,” she says. “He was sort of the engine driving the effort and keeping the issue on the forefront.” She says he always willing to put in some sweat equity. If there was a need for liquor store owners to speak on the issue, Schmitt had people who would show up, no problem at all.
“An interested, passionate, concerned citizen can make a change at the Capitol,” she says. “Andrew is that kind of citizen. This is something he cared about.”
In spite of that passion, there were times—a lot of them—when Schmitt nearly threw in the towel. Before I even finish asking him if he ever just gave up, he exhaustedly exhales the answer.
“Yeah, pretty much every year,” Schmitt says. Looking back on all the starts and stops over the years, he wonders if someone better equipped could have fixed the issue sooner. But what kept him going was his belief that the law banning alcohol sales on Sunday just didn’t make sense. It just wasn’t right.
Daniel Mays, the owner of Stinson Wine, Beer, and Spirits, says that Schmitt has a resiliency and resolve that few people have.
“I was amazed,” Mays says. “We would be at beer festivals having fun, and he would be manning the booth, getting signatures, drumming up support, getting people to call legislators. I was amazed because this is a side project. He put in a lot of work into something he was very passionate about.”
While praise for Schmitt comes easy, he’s humble and self-deprecating. He’s never boastful, just matter-of-fact, and says he’s not a “very interesting guy.” He was just doing what he thought was right for beer consumers, himself included.
And that’s exactly why Rep. Loon, who also describes Schmitt as a regular guy, loves this story so much and how it unfolded. Schmitt has proven an individual citizen has the power to change their community.
Whether or not Schmitt will pursue other changes in the beer world remains to be seen. He isn’t sure what his next mission is, which doesn’t surprise me. This one took a lot of time and energy, and he would like to produce more Minnesota BeerCast episodes, spend time with his wife and son, or just buy a beer on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t say never. At this point I’m kind of enjoying not doing anything,” he explains. “I do think that brewpubs need to be treated more equitably in Minnesota. It’s not how you want to treat a Minnesota business. Hopefully the brewpubs, brewers, and folks in the industry can treat them with some parity.”
It’s hard to imagine Schmitt not pursuing another cause. As much as he deserves a bit of relaxation, you can’t help but wonder what else he can do.
After all, Andrew Schmitt is the kind of guy who asks, “what else could do with changes?”