In their beer-laden dreams, Ryan Petz and the rest of the group of owners at Fulton Brewing always hoped they’d flourish to be as big and successful as they are now, seven years after first starting the operation in a south Minneapolis garage.
Petz credits one Minnesota law – the so-called “Surly bill” that in 2011 ruled that breweries could also have tap rooms – as a major reason for their exponential growth.
But another Minnesota mandate -- one of the state’s off-sale liquor laws – dictates that the expansion comes with a cost: no more growlers.
Only breweries that sell fewer than 20,000 barrels can sell containers of beer for patrons to bring home, a limit designed to help small micro breweries compete with larger companies. This year, Fulton surpassed that threshold for the first time, so beginning Saturday, Fulton will no longer be able to sell growlers,
Petz agreed the marker is a catch-22.
“It means we’ve been able to grow a lot and we’re happy about that,” he said. “It is definitely bittersweet that it has to come at the expense of the ability to sell growlers.
“In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be the case, but there is not much we can do about it.”
Fulton is acknowledging the milestone with a light-hearted “Death of the Growler” celebration on Friday (Sept. 30) at the brewery. Patrons will be treated to live music, access to food trucks and for-sale commemorative posters and t-shirts and will, of course, have the opportunity to purchase a growler from the brewery for the last time. Fulton and Co. will also be showcasing their fall seasonal beer the Libertine – an imperial red ale that is aged in bourbon barrels.
Petz said the company wanted to “honor” what growlers have done for the business. While he said the take-home jugs now account for less than 5 percent of the company’s sales, he says the growlers played a big role in taking Fulton to the next level.
“We sold our first growler in November 2011, and at that point, it was a much larger percentage [of our sales],” Petz said. “The three of us were still working at our day jobs – one partner Peter [Grande], the brewmaster, worked full time for the brewery – and the legalization of growlers and the tap room bill were what allowed us to quit our day jobs, start bringing in more revenue to the company and start growing sales to actually become a legitimate company, not just a time-consuming hobby.”
Fulton reaching this 20,000 barrel mark could be just the start of a stream of micro-breweries that came of age in the post-“Surly bill” era hitting the threshold.
That is, unless the law changes. Petz said he wasn’t aware of any serious campaign to remove the piece of law he calls “odd,” or up the threshold, but that plenty in the business are frustrated with what could be on the horizon.
“I have heard grumblings about it, and not just by Fulton by any means,” he said. “It comes up from time to time and I think there’s interest, because it’s not just Fulton that will lose growlers. You can look at the list of Minnesota breweries, ranked by production level – I don’t know when the next one will be or who it will be, but I can think of a handful that will get there someday for sure.”
(Photo above is of co-owner Brian Hoffman at Fulton; photo credit: Marlin Levison)