Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild pushing temporary changes to liquor laws for struggling breweries, bars, and restaurants

Minnesota State Capitol // Photo by Tony Saunders

Minnesota State Capitol // Photo by Tony Saunders

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild (MCBG) is pushing for temporary amendments to the state’s alcohol sales laws in order to help breweries, bars, and restaurants weather the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The multi-pronged legislative proposal asks state lawmakers to modify rules regulating what establishments can sell alcohol and in what types of packaging alcohol can be sold for off-premise consumption. 

While many breweries are able to sell beer for off-premise consumption under current rules and have transitioned to online ordering of growler and Crowler for pick-up at the brewery, MCBG’s proposal includes a provision that would authorize all breweries to sell growlers, cans, and/or bottles for off-premise consumption regardless of whether they currently hold a retailers license from their municipality. 

The proposal also includes a provision aimed at giving Minnesota’s smaller breweries that rely on on-premise beer sales an avenue to distribute their product to liquor stores. The provision would allow those breweries that meet the statutory requirements for self-distribution to commence distributing, even if they don’t currently hold a wholesalers license. 

The proposal seeks to give Minnesota’s bars and restaurants, which cannot sell beer for off-premise consumption under current law, the same opportunities as brewers to conduct beer sales in growlers, can, or bottles to-go or for delivery. 

Here is the full list of amendments and other relief measures being proposed by the MCBG: 

  • Modification of rules pertaining to craft beer sales:
    • Suspension of enforcement actions against breweries, bars, and restaurants unless based on a violation of the criminal code or food safety risk.
    • Authorization for any brewery that meets the statutory requirements for self-distribution to commence distributing even if they have not applied and/or yet been granted a wholesalers license.
    • Authorization for any brewery to retail beer in growlers, cans, or bottles for off-premise consumption regardless of whether they have applied for or received a retailers license from their municipality
    • Authorization for any brewery to remotely sell and deliver beer in growlers, cans, or bottles directly to consumers regardless of local municipal rules and ordinances
    • Authorization for bars and restaurants to sell growlers and growler refills for off-premise consumption
    • Authorization for bars and restaurants to sell beer in growlers, cans, or bottles to-go or for delivery.
    • Ability to direct ship to consumers 
  • Other relief measures:
    • Suspend state excise taxes on beer
    • Suspend state payroll taxes
    • Help obtaining no interest loans + deferred payments and small business grants
    • Release of lease/rent and utility payments for a minimum of 2 months
      • Prohibition on business evictions until three months after the end of the crisis
      • Suspension of property tax to help landlords assist tenants; requirement that such savings be passed on to businesses.
    • Creation of a small business crisis fund to issue stabilization grants

“We are asking State and Local officials to advocate for these immediate and necessary changes to the current rules,” says Lauren Bennett McGinty, the MCBG’s executive director. “Breweries and brewpubs, which rely on foot traffic, are in an unprecedented time. Many employees are currently furloughed without any timeline of when they may be able to return.”

Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild executive director Lauren Bennett McGinty speaks the Brewers Day at the Capitol rally in early March 2020 // Photo by Tony Saunders

Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild executive director Lauren Bennett McGinty speaks the Brewers Day at the Capitol rally in early March 2020 // Photo by Tony Saunders

Similar temporary legislative measures have been adopted by local governments in states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Texas, and Maryland, as well as Washington, D.C., where executive orders have closed restaurants, bars, and breweries and thrown the hospitality industry into economic tumult. 

The nationwide economic impact of the coronavirus on the industry is not yet fully known; however, a recent impact survey conducted by the Brewers Association (BA) showed the 98.9% of businesses have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and that 24% of breweries have stopped production altogether, while 64.1% have slowed production due to the pandemic. What’s more, over half of the breweries surveyed said they anticipate layoffs as a result of ongoing events. 

“The numbers aren’t pretty,” wrote BA economist Bart Watson in his analysis. “Because so many breweries sell a high percentage of their beer through their taproom or brewpub, and draught sales make up roughly a third of craft production, the rapid shuttering or restriction of breweries, bars, and restaurants has drastically cut short-term cash flow as well as production in the medium-term.”

Things aren’t any better for restaurants. According to the National Restaurant Association, “The coronavirus epidemic is the greatest crisis our industry has ever faced. Economic forecasts indicate that restaurants and the foodservice industry could sustain $225 billion in losses and eliminate 5–7 million jobs over the next three months.”

While the legislative amendments being proposed by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild won’t offset all of the economic losses in Minnesota, the measures may give some breweries, bars, and restaurants an avenue to survive the closure and remain in business. “Allowing breweries and brewpubs to maintain any revenues during this time is critical to their continued operations in the future,” says Bennett McGinty. “We are urging our legislators to help our communities by advocating for these small businesses in their time of need.”

 
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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.