Minnesota Beer Activists fight for Sunday sales

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 2/23/2014

Andrew Schmitt's Minnesota Beer Activists group is leading the charge for Sunday sales in Minnesota.

Andrew Schmitt’s Minnesota Beer Activists want to hit the liquor store on Sundays.
Richard Sennott

It’s a crazy world and we’re all just drinking in it. But Andrew Schmitt’s doing a lot more than idly throwing back pints. The self-described cynic behind the blog and consumer advocacy group Minnesota Beer Activists is one of the local beer scene’s staunchest supporters and an ardent fighter to remove Sunday alcohol-sales restrictions.

“The voice of the people and common sense should prevail,” he said, finishing a black IPA at Day Block Brewing Co. “That’s where my cynicism comes in. I hope it does, but the world’s a complicated place.”

Irked by the inability to buy beer on Sunday, the craft-beer crusader made Sunday sales his primary objective when he launched Minnesota Beer Activists in 2011. Schmitt was inspired by the Surly bill, which opened the taproom floodgates by allowing Minnesota breweries to sell their beer on-site. Though he favored the bill, he questioned why consumers were not a part of the discussion alongside breweries and wholesalers.

Besides pumping out pro-Sunday sales material, his blog promotes new beers, breweries and local brew-centric events. “Essentially, we’ve created our own audience; made a spot to engage consumers where we can activate that audience,” he said. “Otherwise you’re just shouting into the ether.”

Allowing a seventh day of liquor sales comes up annually at the State Capitol. But building momentum for Sabbath six-packs has been harder than rolling a keg up Ramsey Hill. However, between Gov. Mark Dayton’s willingness to sign a Sunday booze bill, public support and a compromise bill that would give municipalities the option, Schmitt hopes for a stronger push when Minnesota’s legislative session begins Tuesday.

“He’s an unsung hero,” said Jason Alvey, owner of St. Louis Park craft-beer emporium the Four Firkins. “If we do repeal this, Andrew Schmitt deserves the gratitude of the entire state.”

Alvey is among the minority of liquor-store owners who favor Sunday sales. He credits Schmitt with rallying consumer support and making it easier for them to e-mail their legislators via his SundaysalesMN.org petition.

Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, sponsor of a bill that would give municipalities the option to allow Sunday sales, said Minnesota Beer Activists have led the first organized effort she’s seen to mobilize consumers. “They clearly have a strong and growing number of people that are willing to be active and communicate with legislators about the issue,” the third-term Republican said.

The 34-year-old Schmitt cops to being an unlikely activist. “I’ve got my sights set on it, but I have no idea what I’m doing,” he laughs. “I’m just doing it because nobody else was.”

Aside from phoning legislators, Twitter-pimping his petition (which he claims has 2,000 signatures) and hosting his Midweek Beer Geek event Wednesdays at the Nomad World Pub, the affable ale hound belongs to multiple homebrew clubs and last year he founded the Longfellow Community Hop Garden, which hopes to plant its first crop this spring. If all goes well, the red-bearded beer lover would like to start cooperative hop gardens in other cities and urban neighborhoods. “There are so many people who enjoy beer or enjoy brewing that don’t have access to that stuff because they live in a downtown area,” he said.

Today, Minnesota Beer Activists is primarily a four-person operation (plus countless volunteers), which runs on a bootstrap budget comprising T-shirt sales and whatever Schmitt can set aside without his wife noticing, he jokes. On paper, Schmitt and his band of devoted beer drinkers are overmatched by the better organized and bankrolled liquor lobby. Nevertheless, he’s convinced that he’ll be on the prevailing side of history — whether or not it happens this year. After lifting the Sunday sales ban, Schmitt plans to fight for brewpub distribution rights and a universal growler law allowing breweries and brewpubs to refill growlers purchased elsewhere.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Schmitt declared. “I intend to live in Minnesota my whole life and the beer scene here is only going to get stronger, so it’ll happen one way or another.”