TWO HARBORS, Minn. - Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan visited Castle Danger Brewery on Thursday to celebrate both the success of the "Free the Growler" movement spearheaded by the brewery and new Minnesota job creation numbers.
The longtime production cap on to-go sales, including growlers, was lifted in May when the Minnesota Legislature agreed to a deal that also allows craft distilleries to sell more of their product on site. The beer production cap affected five Minnesota breweries that made more than 20,000 barrels of beer annually, including Castle Danger.
"We are absolutely thrilled," said brewery co-owner Lon Larson. "We were losing that business and it wasn't just a loss for us, it was a loss for Two Harbors. Now it's coming back."
The COVID-19 pandemic hit small communities like Two Harbors hard, Walz said, so to see the brewery committed "to not just rebounding but growing; that's huge."
"We know that Minnesota liquor laws, while they work and serve us well, many of them have not been updated," he said. "When this facility started in 2011, we had about two dozen breweries and we have 226 now. ... The state law was holding them back."
Walz also touted Thursday's news that nearly 20,000 new jobs were created in Minnesota in July. The 0.7% uptick is more than double the nation's job growth rate, he said, and the unemployment rate in Minnesota remains historically low.
"We are growing jobs and expanding our economy at a record-breaking pace," Walz said in a news release. "As Minnesotans continue to see global uncertainty and rising costs, these numbers demonstrate that Minnesota's economy has a strong foundation."
The DFL first-term governor faces Republican Scott Jensen, a physician and former state senator, in November's general election. In response to Thursday's event in Two Harbors, Jensen said the unemployment rate "as a standalone number is a false metric."
"I think the more important question is, what's inflation doing? How is the everyday middle-class worker doing? They're doing less well," said Jensen in an interview. "I think it's ironic that he would go to a brewery considering that it was many of his policies that shut down I think 100 restaurants in Hennepin County alone. Arguably, Tim Walz did more to devastate restaurants, pubs, bars than any other man in my lifetime."
Castle Danger owners said growlers have already grown to nearly 20% of taproom sales in the short time they've been able to sell them again. Pre-pandemic, that number was 30%.
The new law means other up-and-coming breweries won't run into the same obstacles that stifled innovation and growth, said brewery co-owner Jamie MacFarlane.
Not only do brewery sales allow their tourist customer base to take beer home with them (in jugs called growlers or large cans called crowlers), they allow brewers to sell experimental beers customers can't find in stores, Larson said, like the sea salt and lime lager Flanagan sampled.
"There are folks who stop here every time they are in the area," Flanagan said. "'Free the Growler' helps create a state supportive of small businesses."
Staff writer Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.