Frustrated with Minn. law, brewery to open in Wisconsin

Bottle of beer being poured into glass
File photo (WLUK)

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. (AP) – The owner of a brewpub in New Brighton is frustrated with a Minnesota law that says he can’t sell his craft beer on store shelves – so he’s decided to build a new brewery across the border in Wisconsin.

John Moore, owner of Barley John’s Brew Pub, plans to break ground this spring on a new 10,000-barrel brewery in New Richmond, Wis., and hopes to start selling beer in the fall. His brewpub has been making beer for 14 years and has won awards, yet some craft beer aficionados have never heard of Barley John’s because it’s not on tap in other bars or sold in liquor and beer stores, he said.

“I think we make really, really good beer here, but few people have an opportunity to get at it because of the limitations in the state’s requirements,” Moore told the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/M2hh9g .

Minnesota’s limits on brewpubs are part of a three-tiered system of alcohol sales in the state, said Dan Schwarz, president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. The system separates producers, distributors and retailers, and was meant to prevent large-scale breweries from having too much power over the retail market.

Minnesota’s laws on alcohol sales saw some loosening in 2011, when legislation known as the “Surly Bill” allowed breweries to open taprooms to serve beer on site. But Moore said the legislation didn’t help brewpubs, which could already serve beer on site.

Still, brewpubs have some advantages over taprooms. Taprooms are limited to selling the beer made on site, while brewpubs can serve liquor, wine and beer made elsewhere. Brewpub owners can also open multiple locations, but breweries are limited to one taproom, said Schwarz, who is chief executive and co-owner of Lift Bridge Brewing Co. in Stillwater.

Brewpubs face some of the same restrictions in Wisconsin, but they can sell a limited amount of beer in stores.

“We have the same stupid laws that drive businesses out of state instead of encouraging them to stay in,” said Jeff Hamilton, an officer with the Wisconsin Brewers Guild. “We have some brewpub companies that will probably end up expanding in Illinois.”

Hamilton said his group wants to change the law on retail sales but hasn’t yet found a sponsor in the Legislature.

Moore, who will continue to operate his New Brighton brewpub, also has plans for a taproom at Barley John’s Brewing Co. in Wisconsin. But he doesn’t know when it would open to visitors.

“The focus of this place is a production brewery; that’s the No. 1 goal,” he said. “The taproom is icing on the cake.”

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