By: Tammy Francois

On a tour of the region, which included stops on the Iron Range over the Fourth of July and Duluth early Friday morning, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited Castle Danger Brewery Friday afternoon. Klobuchar spoke to brewery owners Clint and Jamie MacFarlane and their employees about legislation, now making its way through the House and Senate, intended to make a difference to owners of smaller brewing operations.

Senate Bill 917: The Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act of 2013 was introduced May 9 by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and currently has the support of 28 senators, including Klobuchar. Cardin brought the bill forward as a companion to H.R. 494, introduced in the House earlier this year. Klobuchar spoke knowledgably about efforts by the University of Minnesota to grow hops in the state, which could eventually support the growing brewing industry. She also tasted a small sample of Castle Danger Ale, the brewery’s signature product.

“This is good. This is really great,” she remarked, while explaining the effect of the bill on small operations like the Mac Farlanes’. Klobuchar said that the proposed legislation aims to lower the excise tax small brewing companies pay on their product. The tax on a 32-gallon barrel would drop from $7 to $3.50 for the first 60,000 barrels. Each barrel between 60, 001 and 2 million would be taxed at $16.

On its website, the Brewers Association, a national member organization that calls itself “a passionate voice for small brewers,” has been promoting the legislation among its membership as a top priority, saying that small producers employ over 108,000 people, generate over $3 billion in wages and benefits and pay more than $2.3 billion in taxes. Klobuchar said that the legislation would allow brewers to keep more money in their coffers, making it easier for them expand operations and hire more employees.

This bill comes at a pivotal time for Castle Danger Brewery, as it is currently planning an expansion — a new facility with a tasting room in downtown Two Harbors. The Mac Farlanes say they expect the project to be completed in spring 2014, but that date can’t come soon enough. Their operation has grown by leaps and bounds.

“We’re turning down new business every week,” said Clint MacFarlane, “but it’s a good problem to have.” Currently their products are brewed in a small building on the property of the couple’s other North Shore business, Castle Haven Cabins. Asked if they expected to be in the brewing business, Jamie MacFarlane laughed.

“No,” she said with a smile. It was a hobby that began with five-gallon batches on the kitchen stove and seemed to take on a life of its own.

“Friends and family just enjoyed the beer and we thought it would be fun,” said Clint MacFarlane, but by the end of their first year, it was clear that they were on to something. The couple now sells between 80-100 half-gallon growlers per day, in addition to what they sell to bars and restaurants.

The MacFarlane’s growth reflects that of craft brewers around the country, which saw an industry-wide increase of 1,768,580 barrels in 2012 over the previous year.

The bill, thus far has been read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.