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‘Outdated’ alcohol laws push brewery expansion to Wisconsin

(The Center Square) – Twenty miles means a world of difference for Minnesota breweries that’ve grown as much as state law allows.

Minnesota’s alcohol laws are pushing breweries to expand in other states, Brad Glynn, Lift Bridge Brewing Co cofounder and vice president of marketing told The Center Square in a phone interview.

In May, Lift Bridge Brewing Co plans to expand to a New Richmond, Wisconsin, location.

The expansion is a joint venture with Midwest specialty coffee and energy drink producer Big Watt Beverage Co.

Currently, Minnesota law prohibits breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels a year from selling to-go beer if a brewery produces more than 20,000 barrels a year. Once a brewer hits that cap, they can no longer sell beer in 64-ounce growlers, crowlers, or 750-milliliter bottles directly to customers. State law prohibits breweries having multiple taprooms in the state, even though about 98% of Lift Bridge’s alcohol is sold through the three-tier alcohol distribution system.

Meanwhile, just five miles away, Wisconsin’s limit is 300,000 barrels per year before banning direct-customer sales, allows multiple taprooms, and allows any format of canned beer or kegs directly out of the taproom.

Glynn said Lift Bridge and five other breweries are on pace to meet or have exceeded that this year.

The 1,200-square foot-taproom will seat 60 guests inside and 48 guests on the outdoor patio with expanded beverage offerings for on-site consumption, to-go orders, and outdoor games.

“As Lift Bridge continues to expand our presence in the Midwest, we’re excited to open up a new destination in Wisconsin alongside our friends at Big Watt,” Glynn said in a statement. “After more than a decade of producing quality craft beverages to help everyone celebrate life’s moments, we’re looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunities and laws Wisconsin has to offer while remaining true to our roots in Stillwater.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lift Bridge has grown for 10 years since it’s founding in a garage in 2008, but they’ve reached about as much growth as state law will allow.

“As Big Watt grows from our Minneapolis roots to expand production and meet the needs of a rapidly diversifying beverage market, we are thrilled to partner with Lift Bridge,” Big Watt CEO Alex Gese said in a statement. “Our mission at Big Watt is to bring joyful energy to the communities that we serve, and we can’t wait to open the doors of the new Lift Bridge taproom as a welcoming gathering place and home for delicious beverage innovations.”

Lift Bridge beers, hard seltzers, and sodas can be found throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas.

Legislation aims to raise the Minnesota limit to 250,000 barrels, something the industry has been advocating for years but hasn’t yet succeeded in achieving.

Even if Minnesota’s cap was raised to 200,000 barrels, it would still be only roughly .01% of beer sold in the state, Glynn said.

“[The 20,000-barrel cap] isn’t good for the consumers and it’s not good for the breweries trying to compete with neighboring states,” Glynn said.

Minnesota is surrounded by states with more lax alcohol laws — North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.


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