Looser rules give Minneapolis brews a lift

Mark Friday down as a red-letter day in the revival of the brewing industry in Minneapolis.

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Mayor R. T. Rybak waved to the crowd waiting in line Friday at Fulton Brewery's grand opening of them selling growlers at their location in Minneapolis.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Mark Friday down as a red-letter day in the revival of the brewing industry in Minneapolis.

Hours after the City Council voted overwhelmingly to loosen local liquor laws that separate church and spirits, a microbrewery took advantage of a separate measure passed last year to begin selling growlers from its new Warehouse District brew house.

"Drink up! You're brewing jobs," Mayor R.T. Rybak, hoisting a pint of ale, exhorted a crowd of more than 100 people who awaited the sale of the 64-ounce containers at Fulton Brewery.

The growler sales were made possible 15 months ago, when Council Member Gary Schiff led the effort to change city ordinances so that small brewers could sell growlers themselves rather than through distributors. Harriet was the first brand to open, in Schiff's ward in the Hiawatha-Lake area. Fulton was next, and Dangerous Man Brewing aims to follow suit soon.

The latest liquor law change will be crucial to the hopes of Rob Miller, the brewer behind Dangerous Man. He wants to open a microbrewery with a taproom near St. Cyril Church in northeast Minneapolis.

Previous restrictions kept microbreweries from selling growlers within 300 feet of a place of worship. That was erased on an 11-2 vote Friday, with Diane Hofstede and Barbara Johnson opposing the change. Hofstede tried unsuccessfully to keep a 100-foot zone around churches, while Johnson thought easing the 300-foot rule needed deeper consideration.

At the church, Parish Council president Duane Gagnon expressed disappointment at the outcome and predicted that Dangerous Man will cause traffic and parking problems. Miller called the loosened law exciting and said he's been amazed by the support for his plans. He plans to meet with his landlord to discuss a lease and eventually apply for licenses.

"We can live out our dream of opening a brewery in Minneapolis," Miller said. He said he spoke with church officials Thursday and may move his entrance to a corner facing away from the church.

The new brewery is a few blocks from the former home of Grain Belt Beer, a massive brewery complex that anchored northeast Minneapolis until production there ended in 1975. Gluek beer was brewed a few blocks up the river.

Rybak and other city officials hope to entice Surly Brewing to open a production and entertainment complex in Minneapolis. Surly is looking at various metro-area sites for a facility made possible when the Legislature earlier this year authorized microbrewers to open taprooms.

The City Council also on Friday voted 12-1 to loosen another liquor license restriction, allowing restaurants within 300 feet of a place of worship to gross up to 40 percent of sales from alcohol, rather than the previous 30 percent. They may not operate a bar.

Schiff said the change is needed because restaurants have shied away from locations near churches, leaving storefronts vacant that otherwise could be rented. Cam Gordon, the only member to vote against the change, said he thought the change needs more analysis and opportunity for neighborhood reaction.

Schiff said some of the laws being re-examined are holdovers from Prohibition.

The crowd that lined up around the block at Fulton on Friday welcomed the fresh approach.

Mark Bjornstad of Moorhead, who attended college in Minneapolis, returned with wife Alyson for the weekend, with the Fulton fest one of their aims. He tours breweries, and was in a crowd of peers outside Fulton, located a Justin Morneau clout from Target Field. "They're making a local beer for the region and that's what people want," Bjornstad said.

All four Fulton styles are produced in Minneapolis, but bottling is done in Stevens Point, Wis. Fulton has nine workers at its Minneapolis brewery; its beers are available at about 150 bars and restaurants.

Council Member Don Samuels, who showed up at Fulton with Rybak and Schiff, said during the council debate that he was dropping his opposition to the growlers-near-churches provision.

He said he's learned that microbrewery geeks are different from a typical bar crowd, saying, "You don't go there to pick up chicks, apparently."

sbrandt@startribune.com 612-673-4438

eroper@startribune.com 612-673-1732

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