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Minn. Panel Votes To Let Breweries Sell Directly

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Legislation allowing a Brooklyn Center brewery and other Minnesota beer-makers to serve their brews directly to customers at their establishments cleared a state Senate panel Wednesday, after a concerted social media lobbying effort by Surly Brewing Co. helped soften opposition from the powerful liquor lobby.

Minnesota Public Radio reported that the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee unanimously approved the bill, which challenges a longstanding state system separating breweries from alcohol distributors and retailers.

Brooklyn Center-based Surly is seeking the change as it plans a $20 million brewery, restaurant and entertainment center. Owner Omar Ansari told lawmakers the expansion would boost state tax revenues by allowing his company to employ 85 construction workers and 150 permanent workers at its new complex. He also pointed out that Wisconsin and other states allow brewers to serve beer where it's made.

"With this expansion, we'd be able to distribute more widely in Minnesota and nationally," Ansari said. "That means more jobs and more revenue, and it sure would be nice for Minnesota to enjoy the tax revenues from people enjoying our beer in other states."

The group representing the state's bars, restaurants and liquor stores withdrew its opposition to the bill after the sponsor, Sen. Linda Scheid, adjusted the proposal to address some of the group's issues. The current Senate bill would allow only one tap room per brewery statewide and would ban large brewers that make more than 250,000 gallons a year from serving beer directly to customers.

Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association lobbyist Joe Bagnoli said some of the group's members still have concerns about the bill, but the proposal has picked up support from the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Both cities hope to attract the new brewery.

Scheid said the bill is aimed at smaller, Minnesota-based brewers such as Surly, Fulton Beer Co., Summit Brewing Co. and Schells Brewing Co., helping them to attract beer connoisseurs and their tourism dollars.

"They become destinations for people who are interested in beer," said Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

The bill now heads to the full Senate. A similar proposal gets a hearing next week in the House.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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