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Minnesota's takeout beer and wine allowances expire, leaving some bars stuck

The end of indoor capacity limits has put an end to a practice that became a lifeline for some bars and restaurants.

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"Rochester Strong" is seen as a label is affixed on a can for Forager Brewery's new crowler release at the brewery on Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Rochester, Minnesota. (Traci Westcott / Forum News Service.)
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ST. PAUL — Bars and restaurants in Minnesota no longer have to deal with state-level limits on indoor capacity but, as a result, can't keep selling beer and wine for takeout, either.

State authorities last week said that the practice would come to an end Friday, May 28, with the expiration of a related executive order. What for some businesses became a lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic was, all of a sudden, made a thing of the past.

Annie Henderson, co-owner of Forager Brewery in Rochester, Minn., said she received a notice about the rollback just two days before it took effect.

"Which was a pretty big bummer because we had ordered, you know, like 80 cases of beer to sell to go," she said.

Sales of alcohol with takeout food orders are one of the mitigation efforts disappearing in Minnesota as COVID-19 vaccines continue to be administered. The last of the pandemic restrictions Gov. Tim Walz instituted via executive order were allowed to lapse last week and the statewide mask mandate came to an early end in mid-May.

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For bars and restaurants in the state, that means a return to business as usual and without takeout drinks — at least for now.

Since April 2020, Minnesotans had been able to order one bottle of wine and up to six cans of beer, cider or hard seltzer to go with their takeout meals under a bill Walz signed that month. State lawmakers touted the measure as a way to keep bars and restaurants afloat at a time when dining rooms across the Minnesota were ordered shut in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Baked into the language of the bill was a provision to terminate it once the executive orders affecting bars and restaurants expired, meaning "establishments with an on-sale liquor license can no longer provide alcohol along with take-out food orders or deliveries," the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division wrote on its website last week.

CHEERS: Free or discounted beer, wine and cocktails for Minnesotans vaccinated against COVID-19 A new partnership between the state of Minnesota and participating breweries, wineries and distilleries offers free or discounted drinks with proof of vaccine from May 28 through June 30.
That came as surprise to Henderson, who said Forager's liquor license will still allow her to sell the beer she ordered for on-site consumption and that "we will be whittling away at our collection of beer through special events throughout the summer."

"But it was surprising and a little, you know, abrupt to put the kibosh on that, and we didn't really have a lot of lead time," she said.

According to Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, bars and restaurants could resume the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption under a measure she and allies in the state's beverage industry call the "Drink Local" act. But the bill, which would also allow larger beer producers to sell directly to consumers, keeps "getting denied at the Legislature," she said in a Monday, June 1, phone interview.

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Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. (Submitted photo)

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McGinty said the bill is unlikely to come up for more serious discussion during the Minnesota Legislature's special session this month "but we're not going to give up and we have to keep trying."

Other players in the beverage industry have not embraced the bill, however, making its future even more uncertain. For the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, a trade group for liquor stores in the state, the more permanent measure would benefit only a few and "hurt others in the hospitality industry at the same time," according to spokesperson Leslie Rosedahl.

Though the association supported the law allowing temporary sales of takeout beer and wine, Rosedahl said Monday, its focus for now is on a safe and rapid reopening of the state's hospitality sector.

"Because it's something we all can agree on, which I think is a good thing," she said.

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