In the early months of 2015, Maple Grove's Maple Tavern ran afoul of the law. They perpetrated a crime so significant they not only risked their liquor license but were forced to reorganize their management and ownership team to remain in business.
Their crime? The illegal act of bringing Wisconsin's New Glarus Spotted Cow beer across the border to resell to their customers in Minnesota.
According to a Hennepin County search warrant filed that year, a manager made multiple beer runs into Hudson, Wisconsin, to purchase kegs of Spotted Cow between February 20 and April 4, 2015. An anonymous complaint to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue tipped off investigators and set the wheels in motion to catch the criminals in action.
It didn't take much work. In February 2015, the Maple Tavern showed a picture of Spotted Cow tap handle on their Facebook page. Investigators from the Minnesota Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED) confirmed the purchase at Hudson's Casanova Liquor before heading undercover to the Maple Tavern on April 13, 2015, to buy a glass of beer.
Spotted Cow beer.
How did investigators know? The person tending bar poured it by pulling on the Spotted Cow beer's tap handle.
An agent took a beer sample and tested it in an AGED office to ensure that the ABV was more significant than 3.2%. It was.
According to the criminal complaint, "After serving a search warrant at the beer, investigators recovered three Spotted Cow kegs and receipts for 10 kegs purchased from two Hudson, Wisconsin, liquor stores."
With the evidence in hand, two people working at Maple Tavern, bar manager David Lantos and owner Brandon Hlavka, were soon after charged with a felony by Hennepin County for transporting alcohol across state lines with the intent for resale. It was illegal to sell alcohol not purchased from a wholesaler, manufacturer, or brewery licensed in Minnesota.
New Glarus Brewing Co. prided itself on being a Wisconsin company that offered Wisconsin beer for Wisconsinites. Although they were the largest craft brewer in the state, they had no desire to expand their business beyond its borders.
Another manager at the Maple Tavern noted that despite their mistake, the intentions of the two men involved were noble. They wanted to offer their customers something different, something they couldn't find anywhere else in Minnesota - something they had been requesting.
Unfortunately, those involved didn't think through their decision.
The problem in the eyes of AGED was, simply put, that reselling unregulated products in the state was bad for competition and unsafe for consumers. Insisting that these types of purchases be made through licensed distributors protected Minnesotans from potential bad actors.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman noted that the case was “far from the most serious crime we’ve had to prosecute, [but] businesses must follow the laws the legislature passes to make sure the competition is fair and the products are safe.”
There were severe consequences. The bar removed the two men involved with the crime, and the city started revoking its liquor license. Maple Tavern chose not to renew when its license expired on June 30, 2015, instead waiting three weeks to re-apply. The Maple Grove City Council approved the new application on July 20, and a new license was issued the following day.
Interestingly, this was not a one-time phenomenon. Deb Carey, the founder of New Glarus, noted that it had happened before in states far away as New York. In fact, this wasn't even the first Minnesota incident. In 2011, the Stadium Bar in White Bear Lake was guilty of the same crime.
In the end, after an "incredible amount of headache, problems and money" that saw them lose business for three weeks, have to fire two important members of their staff, and (temporarily) lose their liquor license the Maple Tavern was again allowed to sell alcohol.
In February 2016, almost one year after their crime, the company took to Facebook to try and distance themselves from the fiasco, writing, "To all our friends & customers: Maple Tavern's current ownership was not involved with the Spotted Cow incident last spring."
It took a little time, but as it often does, everything returned to normal.
- The Growler. "Two Charged with Felony in Spotted Cow Sale." Growler Magazine. Last modified February 12, 2016. https://www.growlermag.com/mill-two-charged-with-felony-in-spotted-cow-sale/.
- Reilly, Mark. "Busted for forbidden Wisconsin beer, Maple Grove bar gets new license." Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Last modified July 22, 2015. https://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/morning_roundup/2015/07/busted-for-forbidden-wisconsin-beer-maple-grove.html.
- Smith, Kelly. "Maple Grove bar busted for selling Spotted Cow beer gets new liquor license." Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 21, 2015. https://www.startribune.com/maple-grove-bar-that-was-busted-for-illegal-sale-of-wis-beer-gets-new-liquor-license/317836671/&hl=en&gl=us&strip=1&vwsrc=0.
- Smith, Kelly. "Step away from the Spotted Cow..." Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 21, 2015, B1.
- Smith, Kelly. "Busted bar resumes alcohol sales." Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 22, 2015, B3.
- Staff, BMTN. "MN Bar Owner, Manager Charged with Smuggling Spotted Cow from WI." Bring Me The News. Last modified February 11, 2016. https://bringmethenews.com/news/mn-bar-owner-manager-charged-with-smuggling-spotted-cow-from-wi.