At the Bent Brewstillery taproom in Roseville, Bartley Blume can sell pints of all the IPAs, blonde ales, stouts and craft beer his crew can make. But unlike other small distilleries in Minnesota, Bent can’t sell mixed drinks made from the liquor it produces.
That’s because the 2014 state law that allows micro-distilleries to open “cocktail rooms” to showcase and sell their liquor — much in the same way that microbreweries can operate taprooms — forbids one site from offering both. No venue that sells its own beer on-site can get a permit to sell its own liquor there.
To Blume, the law seems singularly aimed at Bent Brewstillery, which may be the only joint microbrewery and distillery in the state.
“Every small distillery in the state of Minnesota can have this cocktail license, except for me,” Blume said. “We do all the work to do both and be both, but it turns into a disadvantage. It’s like if the state decided a bakery selling cinnamon buns couldn’t also sell bear claws. Ridiculous.”
Blume has been trying to get lawmakers to strip the language from the statute since it was written. Already armed with a lobbying firm, he will have the added support of the Roseville City Council and state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, in the legislative session opening next month.
It’s hard to say exactly why the language forbidding a site from operating both a cocktail and a taproom was included in the first place, Becker-Finn said. It could have been a way to ensure that a microbrewery couldn’t be turned into what essentially would be a full-service bar.
“Anytime you’re looking at changing a liquor law, there is always the concern that one thing leads to another and could bring about unintended consequences,” she said. “But nobody else is really fighting for or against this because it’s so unique to Roseville. Most people aren’t willing or able to take on both a brewery and distillery. I think we just have to assure everyone that any change won’t have these far-reaching consequences.”
On-site sales can make a “profound” difference in demand, Blume said.
Bent has been brewing beer since 2013 and distilling spirits since 2014 at its location just west of Snelling Avenue and County Road C. In the year between the time he began brewing and the date he could open a taproom under the new state law, it was a challenge to persuade an off-sale store or bar to sell Bent’s beer, Blume said.
“They’d say, ‘Who are you? We never heard of you,’ ” he said. “People need to sample it, to try it before they’ll risk their dollars on a six-pack. It’s the same for spirits. Once we had the taproom open, people started calling us about how they could get our product.”
The Roseville City Council has made changing the law one of its top priorities for the Legislature come January.
“This is a great local business,” said Mayor Dan Roe. “It brings people to Roseville. We want to make sure they are able to fully take advantage of their business model without being hurt by what seems like a quirk in the law.”