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W’bago’s Brew Fest gets special legislation

By Staff | Apr 22, 2012

There are bills still brewing in the Minnesota Legislature and one of them has Winnebago’s name on it.

The legislation would affect the city’s inaugural Craft Brew Fest scheduled to be held June 23 in Whiting Park.

And, passage of the measure could have City Administrator Austin Bleess celebrating.

“I think we’d see five additional breweries coming. We have a couple of small ones in Iowa watching closely to see what happens,” he says.

Organizers of the event have set a goal of 26 breweries giving out samples. So far, 20 have committed and it includes two from Colorado.

For the one-day event, a brewery must pay an importers license of $1,200 to register their brand with the state’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division.

Bleess says for small “craft brewers” that’s too much.

So, he contacted local legislators Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, and Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, to see what could be done.

“Julie took the bull by the horns on this and authored a bill,” says Bleess.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House.

Under the measure, craft breweries producing less than 5,000 barrels a year would be exempt from getting a license.

Bleess, himself, has lobbied for the bill.

On March 20, he testified before the Commerce and Reform Committee.

“It went well. They had questions and were receptive,” he says. “I made a pitch that they attend. One of the members of the committee asked for the date, time and location.”The city administrator doesn’t think the bill will have any trouble gaining final approval.

On a preliminary vote it easily passed the Senate on a 58-4 and the House 107-16.

As part of the larger Liquor Omnibus Bill, the legislation is currently in conference committee and must be sent back to both chambers.

As for Brew Fest, Bleess says about 200 of the 800 tickets have been sold and expects the event will be sold out.

Beer sampling is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m., with a beer garden opening afterward.

There will be food and entertainment for those attending.

Food vendors will be selling hotdogs, brats and hamburgers.

Two bluegrass/folk groups will be performing throughout the day.

The event, sponsored by the Lions Club in Winnebago, could get some national exposure.

Bleess says a crew from beerguystv.com will be doing some filming.

Their website says “The Beer Crew” travels to different breweries, bars, events and beer-related locations to video their beer-tasting experiences.

Tickets for the sampling are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. They can be purchased at Roerig Hardware, Casey’s General Store, the Municipal Center and craftbrewfest.com.