It’s a crazy world and we’re all just drinking in it. But Andrew Schmitt is doing a lot more than idly throwing back pints.
The self-described cynic behind the blog and consumer advocacy group Minnesota Beer Activists is one of the local beer scene’s staunchest supporters and an ardent fighter to remove Sunday alcohol-sales restrictions.
“The voice of the people and common sense should prevail,” he said, finishing a black IPA at Day Block Brewing Co. “That’s where my cynicism comes in. I hope it does, but the world’s a complicated place.”
Irked by the inability to buy beer on Sunday, the craft-beer crusader made Sunday sales his primary objective when he launched Minnesota Beer Activists in 2011. Schmitt was inspired by the Surly bill, which opened the taproom floodgates by allowing Minnesota breweries to sell their beer on-site. Though he favored the bill, he questioned why consumers were not a part of the discussion alongside breweries and wholesalers.
So, the red-bearded beer geek did what anyone looking for a pulpit in the Internet age would do: He started a blog. Besides pumping out pro-Sunday sales material, his blog promotes new beers, breweries and local brew-centric events.
“Essentially, we’ve created our own audience; made a spot to engage consumers where we can activate that audience,” he said. “Otherwise you’re just shouting into the ether.”
Allowing a seventh day of liquor sales comes up annually at the State Capitol. But building momentum for Sabbath six-packs has been harder than rolling a keg up Ramsey Hill. However, between Gov. Mark Dayton’s expressed willingness to sign a Sunday booze bill, public support and a compromise bill that would give municipalities the option, Schmitt hopes for a stronger push when Minnesota’s legislative session begins Tuesday.
“He’s an unsung hero,” said Jason Alvey, owner of St. Louis Park craft-beer emporium the Four Firkins. “If we do repeal this, Andrew Schmitt deserves the gratitude of the entire state.”
A close ally of Schmitt, Alvey is among the minority of liquor-store owners who favor Sunday sales. He credits Schmitt with rallying consumer support and making it easier for them to e-mail their legislators via his petition at SundaysalesMN.org.
Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, sponsor of a bill that would give municipalities the option to allow Sunday sales, said Minnesota Beer Activists have led the first organized effort she’s seen to mobilize consumers. That voice is something she and other legislators say has been missing in the past.
“They clearly have a strong and growing number of people that are willing to be active and communicate with legislators about the issue,” the third-term Republican said.
Frank Ball, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which has argued against Sunday sales, declined to comment for this story.
South Lyndale Liquors owner Dan Campo has heard from customers on both sides. But last year his mother, Maryann Campo — a lobbyist and former owner of the south Minneapolis store — sparked an outpouring of “belligerent messages” from the pro-Sunday camp when she testified against Sunday sales.
Campo, a sometimes lobbyist who says he’s now neutral on the issue, was surprised by the abrasive tone.
“It’s OK, man, relax. Tell me you support it, it’s cool,” he said. “But you don’t have to be so angry about it.”
A family man
While Schmitt has wedged himself into the statewide debate, the 34-year-old homebrewer cops to being an unlikely activist. “I’ve got my sights set on it, but I have no idea what I’m doing,” he laughs. “I’m just doing it because nobody else was.”
Aside from phoning legislators, Twitter-pimping his online petition and hosting his Midweek Beer Geek event Wednesdays at the Nomad World Pub, Schmitt stays busy between his second-shift security gig and hanging out with his wife, Jennifer, and their 3-year-old son, Albert Carl. Schmitt said his wife supports his beer ventures, but family time often tops the priority list and he spends most mornings reading or wrestling with his son in their St. Paul home.
“You’ve got to know where your bread is buttered,” Schmitt said. “There’s stuff I’d like to get to that I just can’t because it’s family time, you know?”
If he succeeds in lifting the Sunday sales ban, Schmitt plans to fight for brewpub distribution rights and a universal growler law allowing breweries and brewpubs to refill growlers purchased elsewhere. But Schmitt’s suds life doesn’t end at the Capitol. He belongs to multiple homebrew clubs and last year he founded south Minneapolis’ Longfellow Community Hop Garden, which hopes to plant its first crop this spring. If all goes well, he’d like to start cooperative hop gardens in other cities and urban neighborhoods.
Today, Minnesota Beer Activists is primarily a four-person operation (plus countless volunteers) that runs on a bootstrap budget funded by T-shirt sales and whatever Schmitt can set aside without his wife noticing, he jokes. On paper, he and his band of devoted beer drinkers are overmatched by the better organized and bankrolled liquor lobby. Nevertheless, he’s convinced that he’ll be on the prevailing side of history — whether or not it happens this year.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he declared. “I intend to live in Minnesota my whole life and the beer scene here is only going to get stronger, so it’ll happen one way or another.”
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.
A Minnesota Poll on the Sunday liquor law, and a preview of the legislative agenda.