Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trouble Brewing for Surly

Last week local Surly Brewing announced that it had plans to expand their brewery into a new, nicer, larger location. The new brewery plans include an on-site beer garden and restaurant. Right now it's illegal for a brewery to sell you a pint of beer in this state. It's also illegal for them to own or have any financial interest in a business which has on-site alcohol sales. To anyone with an ounce of reason, I think it's pretty obvious that a beer garden on the site of a brewery is not unusual or out of place. Breweries from Bell's to Sierra Nevada to Weihenstephan have beer gardens on the brewery grounds. This is a win-win as far as anyone could be concerned. It brings jobs to the area (to build and staff the new brewery) and if MN could become even a humble beer-destination, like the New York Times indicated, plenty of local industries would also stand to benefit.

Unfortunately, the outdated and absurd liquor laws are standing in the way. Laws that restrict local businesses, "outlaw" beer gardens, make it impossible for brewpubs to sell bottles of their beer, and all while doing nothing to limit over consumption. If anything, the three-tier system encourages irresponsible serving by on-sale businesses as they are forced to buy liquor indirectly and as a result, pay a higher price for it. Breweries and manufacturers likewise see less profit per barrel if they have to lower their prices to stay competitive with distributors taking their piece of the action. As such, both manufacturers and on-sale businesses have to sell more alcohol at a lower margin just to break even. It's not hard to see how counter-productive this is.

As the voice of all things counter productive, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association has also come out against Surly's expansion plan. The MLBA is a delightful little organization who combines the ignorant, heads-up-their-asses attitude of prohibition with the thuggish mentality of the mob. They claim to work on behalf of the beverage industry, but continue to resist alcohol sales on Sunday, beer and wine sales in grocery stores, and the right of breweries to serve the beer they make to customers. This is what they recently said about Surly's new plan 
"Nothing is preventing him from going out and opening up a brewery in another state... this is Minnesota. These are the rules. If you want to come in and work within the parameters of this rule we will embrace him." 
Brilliant. The MLBA's solution is to try to drive successful businesses out of the state, essentially just because. If the MLBA isn't really protecting breweries or people who do/want to sell alcohol, they aren't taking the interests of the state and the economy, and they certainly aren't protecting consumers, who are they protecting? Aside from existing as a corrupt arm of special interests in the state, what reason do they have for existing?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that people need to get behind the plan. Surly is not trying to scrap the entire three-tier system (which personally, I think needs being done away with) they're simply asking for a rewording of the law to allow them to serve pints of beer to customers in their beer garden. Yesterday Surly issued the call for people to contact their legislators to voice their support. If you're local, or you happened upon this from google, please go here and find your state representative and let them know how you feel:

It's an important beer issue, and one that's going to need vocal support from as many people as possible to have a chance.

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