Mayor R.T. Rybak calls for changing beer law

Categories: BEER

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R.T. Rybak is slinging guns so Surly can sling suds.
In his state of the city speech, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak made his strongest endorsement yet of a change to local liquor laws proposed by Surly Brewing Co.

"Beer is a part of our history, beer is a part of our future," he said. "We need to change the laws."

His audience was about 300 people seated in the Hoversten Chapel at Augsberg College, but he was really talking to state legislators.

The mayor has already been a vocal supporter of the so-called Surly bill, which was proposed by Surly Brewing Co. owner Omar Ansari. The language would allow beer brewers to sell their own pints on site, which is currently only legal for brewpubs below a certain size. Surly's huge growth spurt over the past five years has made it ineligible.

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Stanley's Northeast Bar Room
Rybak (far left) with Ansari (far right) at a "Support Surly" event.
Rybak is stumping for Surly because he likely wants the fruits of that bill's passage to land in Minneapolis. Ansari is pushing the change in order to build a huge $20 million destination brewery where he can have a restaurant, beer garden, and event space. He thinks it will create 150 jobs.

While instant opposition from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association seemed to indicate Ansari could have trouble even finding a legislator to author such a bill, that has not been the case. In the Senate, Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park) introduced the bill with support from Sens. Sandy Pappas, Dave Thompson, Linda Higgins, and Mike Parry. The house version has even more people lined up behind it--Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) is lead author, with coauthors Reps. Debra Hilstrom, Kirk Stenstrud, Kurt Daudt, Jim Davnie, Ryan Winkler, Diane Loeffler, Tara Mack, Tim Kelly, and Paul Torkleson.

"I have members almost every day that come up to me on the House floor and say, 'Oh, I just signed on to your Surly bill," says Rep. Loon.

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The proposed Surly destination brewery.
Ansari says initially he was concerned that the opposition's political strength could squash the idea before it ever reached legislators. He's been spending a lot less time at the brewery and a lot more hustling at the Capitol over the past several weeks.

"The big challenge was to get those bills authored and get them introduced," he says. "The active work is done, a little bit."

MLBA president Frank Ball has also been to the Capitol on the matter, though he seems to have flip-flopped a bit as to whether he will eventually support the idea. Initially he said the change would weaken the three-tier liquor distribution system, then later said he thought the new Surly brewery was a great idea. Loon says she met with MLBA just last week.

"I said I was open to making changes," says Loon. "The agreement was they would go back, talk about it, and come back with some suggestions."

The two sides will have a few weeks to compromise--the bill is not on the Commerce Committee's calendar yet, mostly because the Legislature has this pesky budget thing to attend to. After March 25, the date legislators will attempt to have budget proposals ready, the committee might have a spare moment give the Surly bill a concrete date for discussion.

"People are more focused on the budget deficit right now," says Sen. Pappas. "This is just one small issue."

Tell that to the legion of Surly fans foaming at the mouth to mobilize. Ansari is still encouraging them to contact the legislators in support, but says for the most part they can kick back with a Bender until after March 25.

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3 comments
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End the MLBA
End the MLBA

Can the CityPages do some investigative journalism and figure out who are the members of the MLBA? Seems like that list is under wraps...

If I knew who the actual MLBA membership was I'd make sure I wasn't spending any money at their establishments.

Please City Pages... uncover the rock these "Mom and Pop" businesses are hiding under that keep us from enjoying Wine in Grocery Stores and picking up a Growler or Beer for home or lake consumption on a Sunday.

rick
rick

Bipartisan support? I thought that went the way of the Dodo bird. Great job, Surly. You have my support!

AG
AG

Thanks to Jason Sowards, we can get growlers in Mpls now. Thanks to Surly, we have an outstanding regional beer to brag about (let's face it, we can't brag about the weather or too much else here...), but can't get it in growlers because of a ridiculous statute (that Brooklyn Center is losing TONS of revenue on, by the way). Thanks to Mayor Rybak, this could all change, and we could be taking our out-of-town guests to their new building for a tour and a pint, or for a reception.

Apparently Ball's balls dropped about this because they have their own distribution, but once he found out Omar is willing to align with a distribution company, they backed off. That lobbying group is completely fucked, seriously. To minimize larger problems, alcohol should be more accessible (more neighborhood bars, liquor stores open on Sundays), which this group fights against tooth and nail in the name of politics. They represent retail locations, but if their consumer base dries up, so will their business.

Our elected officials need to get their heads out of their asses, and it's nice to see that some already have.

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