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"Surly bill" becomes law

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: May 24, 2011 - 6:31 PM

It's a happy day for hoppy beer fans in Minnesota.

Hours after the Legislature adjourned without a budget agreement, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law what has been dubbed the "Surly bill" around Capitol hallways. The legislation allows the Brooklyn Center-based Surly Brewing Co. to serve pints of their beer at a proposed $20 million "destination brewery."

Minnesota breweries were not allowed to serve pints of their beer on site because of a "three-tier" system that strictly separated the roles of alcohol manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Soon brewers can apply for a license to do just that, as long as their municipality decides to offer it.

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, the state's most powerful liquor lobby, initially fought the proposal to protect that three-tier system. Surly hired its own lobbyists to advocate on their behalf and mobilized a grassroots network of supporters known as "Surly nation."

"That's really what made the difference I think, is that people contacted their legislators and they listened," said Omar Ansari, owner of Surly Brewing Co.

The MLBA eventually softened their stance after lawmakers agreed to limit the law only to brewers producing less than 250,000 barrels a year, essentially excluding major national brands.

The proposed brewery will include a restaurant, beer garden, bar, events center and rooftop terrace. The company has not decided where it will be located, though it will likely be in the metro area.

Ansari said he was holding off on most of the planning until the law passed. He met with an architect for the first time on Monday. 

For Ansari, what began as a straightforward proposal morphed into the three-month effort that opened his eyes to the inner workings of politics.

"What I've really learned is I really don't want to go back up there and ask for anything else anytime soon," Ansari said with a laugh.

 

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