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Walz visits Rochester brewery to celebrate 'Free the Growler' bill

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan held a press conference at Little Thistle Brewing to celebrate the signing of the "Free the Growler" bill that allows larger breweries in the state to sell 64 oz. growlers and smaller breweries now have the option to sell 12 or 16 oz. canned beers and seltzers in their taprooms.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Visit Little Thistle
Governor Tim Walz serves a beer to Lauren Bennett McGinty, left, state tourism director with Explore Minnesota, and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, right, on Thursday, May 26, 2022, while visiting Little Thistle Brewing in Rochester. The three were visiting Little Thistle to celebrate the "Free the Growler" bill.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER, Minnesota — Gov. Tim Walz served up some beer along with a political win Thursday, May 26, 2022, in Rochester.

Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan stopped by Little Thistle Brewing on Thursday to not only get a drink from the popular Rochester brewery but also to celebrate with owner Dawn Finnie.

On Sunday, May 22, 2022, Walz signed what is known as the “Free the Growler” bill, which increases a production cap from 20,000 barrels to 150,000 barrels so the state’s largest breweries can sell 64 oz. growlers on-site and still operate a taproom.

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The bill also gave smaller breweries in the state more options for selling to-go products like standard-size bottles of liquor and four- and six-packs of 12- or 16-oz. cans of beer or hard seltzers.

“A lot of work went into this,” Walz said during the press conference held at the brewery. “Minnesota's laws around liquor, of course, have been around basically since statehood and on, but the industry has changed dramatically. … This was a smart piece of legislation.

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“We hope now is that breweries who choose to take advantage of the opportunity to either use their canning lines, and make sure they’re doing some of their off-sale or some of the innovative things we just mentioned.”

For Finnie, who along with co-owning Little Thistle is also the president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, the law is something she and other brewers in the state have been working to have changed for the past eight years.

Finnie said the bill will now “open up opportunity and growth for the rest of our taprooms as well.”

“I think for those midsize breweries who are already packaging 12- and 16-oz. containers, and for those larger breweries who have been looking to sell growlers, it just opens up a lot of opportunities,” Finnie said. “We would have never considered buying a canning machine to package that size. Now, we will consider it.”

In the short term, Finnie said the law won’t have any effect on what Little Thistle sells, noting how expensive purchasing the packaging equipment would be, and how the brewery is still finding its footing coming out of the pandemic. However, this bill may lead to long-term changes for Little Thistle products.

“Would we love to be able to package like a 12-oz. or a 16-oz. can? Absolutely. So, we still have those details to sort out,” she said.

A Rochester brewery that’ll be able to immediately take advantage of the bill is Kinney Creek Brewery, owner Donovan Seitz said.

Kinney Creek has been packaging and selling its beers and seltzers in 12- and 16-oz. cans for the past two years, selling wholesale to liquor stores, restaurants and local bars. Seitz said the brewery is ready to start selling those vessel sizes in its own taproom.

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“I think a lot of breweries are going to be a little held back just because of equipment, and with COVID equipment is really in delay,” Seitz said. “For us, it’s available to our customers and we’re ready for it.”

Seitz said it’s going to be hard to tell right away how this will affect the brewery’s revenue, but he does believe this change will increase it.

“I think ultimately it will add to our revenue stream because people are in our taproom, and growlers might not have been their thing. Now they can get a 12- or 16-oz. can to go. What percentage that is, that’s hard to say down the road, but it’s definitely going to have I would say a 10% or 15% increase in taproom revenue.”

Erich is a digital content producer at the Post Bulletin where he creates content for the Post Bulletin's digital platforms. Before he moved to Rochester, Erich worked as a sports reporter for Rivals.com covering the University of Illinois' athletic programs in Champaign, Illinois. Readers can reach Erich at 507-285-7681 or efisher@postbulletin.com.
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