On April 25, the Montana State Legislature adjourned sine die, bringing to a close a legislative session that essentially maintained the status quo for Montana breweries. A bill that would have extended taproom hours died in the process, as did bills to increase beer taxes and a bill to create an alcohol advisory council. A resolution calling for a comprehensive study of Montana alcohol policy met the same fate when the legislature adjourned three days early. Other bills, which would have adversely affected breweries, were killed or modified to address concerns. Legislators may still decide to take on a study of the alcohol licensing system during the interim, which would open the door for significant policy change at the next session in 2021.
HB 185, sponsored by Rep. Dave Fern (D-Whitefish), would have extended brewery taproom hours to 10 pm (breweries must currently stop serving at 8 pm). Despite strong public support for the proposed legislation and the fact that Montana has the most restrictive laws of any western state when it comes to taproom hours, the House Business and Labor Committee voted to table the bill and it never made it to the House floor for a vote.
The decision on HB 185 is disappointing but not surprising. Efforts to increase brewery taproom privileges have long been met with staunch opposition from the Montana Tavern Association and other groups representing liquor license owners, and legislators have been reluctant to go against those interests.
While we disagree with opponents about the impact such a bill would have on bars, we also do not fault the owners of on-premises alcoholic beverage licenses for defending the value of those licenses. We also understand that conflict between brewers and bar owners is built into the licensing system.
Simply, the system brewers must operate under was never set up to accommodate a local craft brewing industry. Breweries’ retail privileges are significantly limited under Montana law. In fact, the ability to sell 48 ounces per customer between the hours of 10 AM and 8 PM is an exception to the prohibition on manufacturers retailing alcohol. Additionally, Montana brewery owners are not allowed under Montana law to own on-premises alcoholic beverage licenses.
Meanwhile, many bar owners in the more populous communities in Montana have liquor licenses for which they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and most likely had to take out a loan to buy that license. Understandably, those bar owners resist any changes to the law that would potentially devalue their licenses. It’s the law that created the value in the first place. The high price of liquor licenses in certain communities is the result of limited supply, artificially imposed by Montana’s quota system, coupled with a system that allows for the resale of those licenses through a private transfer.
If the system doesn’t change, these conflicts will persist. That is why the MBA supports efforts to reform the system, which could include a buyout of existing licenses so that bar and restaurant owners are made whole in the process of overhauling the current system.
When Rep. Derek Harvey (D-Butte) brought HB 649 to create an Alcohol Advisory Council, we were optimistic that the council could be the venue to address those ambitious yet necessary reforms. We were further encouraged when all of the Montana-based industry groups, from brewers and distillers to tavern owners and distributors, came together in support of the proposal. However, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors opposed the bill because it did not provide a seat at the table for large brewers, and that was enough to sway members of the House Business and Labor Committee to table the bill.
Following the demise of HB 649, the MBA worked with Rep. Fern to bring a study resolution, HJ 54, which called for an interim study of Montana alcohol laws, particularly retail privileges and the associated licensing system. The resolution had mixed support, with the groups representing brewers, distillers and restaurants in support and the groups representing the taverns, distributors and gambling in opposition. Despite the industry split over the proposal, the House Local Government Committee passed the resolution, as did the full House on a 61-36 vote. However, when the legislature adjourned on day 87 rather than day 90, the clock ran out before the resolution could make its way through the Senate.
A study of Montana’s outdated and broken licensing system would be a big step toward modernizing the system to remove obstacles that stand in the way of brewers and other entrepreneurs. Regardless of the fate of HJ 54, the Economic Affairs Interim Committee may still decide to take up the issue during the interim. The committee will meet on June 6 to elect committee leadership and discuss its agenda for the interim.
At an afternoon ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on April 24, Gov. Steve Bullock joined the Montana State University Extension to recognize this year’s EcoStar award recipients and honor their efforts to create a more environmentally sustainable community.
“The pollution prevention work you do is not just the right thing to do for the environment. You do it for all the right reasons, but ultimately, you know it’s also, long-term, the right thing to do for your bottom line,” said Bullock.
Three breweries were among the 22 Montana businesses from 18 communities that received the award. Bozeman Brewing Company, Bayern Brewing and Triple Dog Brewing were each recognized for taking steps to be cleaner and more efficient in their energy use, conserve water and reduce waste. Their sustainability approaches range from the innovative to the tried and true.
Triple Dog Brewing Co. is working with the City of Havre to employ an innovative approach to reducing nitrogen and phosphorous in municipal waste water. Spent grain from the brewery is fed to the bacteria that are used in the water treatment process. This improves the effectiveness of the bacteria used in treating the water and eliminates the need for chemicals. Triple Dog has thus taken what is otherwise a waste product and found a productive use for it, while also saving the City of Havre about $15,000 annually.
Bozeman Brewing is putting nature to work at their brewery, employing energy from the sun and tapping into Montana’s cold air to power their brewery and keep that beer cold. The rooftop of Bozeman Brewery’s building is covered with a 47.3 kW solar array comprised of 182 panels. The system is able to supply around 30 percent of the energy needed for the brewery and has generated 200MWh in its lifetime, offsetting 119 tons of CO2 emissions.
The brewery is also using an air intake system so the compressor on their cooler doesn’t have to run so hard on those cold days. Utilizing Montana’s abundant cold air has helped Bozeman Brewing to reduce energy usage for their cooler by 50 percent.
Meanwhile in Missoula, Bayern Brewing is taking a more tried and true path, reusing glass to bottle their beer. Collecting, cleaning and refilling used glass bottles used to be common place in the United States, but that practice has all but disappeared in favor of single use containers. Sometimes the old way of doing things is still the best. More energy efficient than recycling, reusing a glass bottle 100 times produces just 1 pound of CO2 compared to 37 pounds of CO2 for 100 recycled bottles.
Beer drinkers can save their standard, brown, pry-off cap glass bottles and drop them off at either Bayern or one of several drop off locations. The brewery then runs the used bottles through a bottle washer that removes the old label and cleans them in preparation to be refilled with beer on Bayern’s bottling line. Last year, Bayern collected over 900,000 bottles and gave them a new life.
Doing the right thing for the environment may also be good business, but that doesn’t diminish the positive impact these Montana breweries are making. Beyond the direct benefits of taking these steps, these breweries are providing leadership by demonstrating that these innovative approaches, renewable technologies and age-old solutions do work both to address environmental challenges and to improve the bottom line.
The Montana Brewers Association is excited to partner with Zephyr Conferences to promote the 10th annual Beer Now Conference in Great Falls from June 6 – 8.
While the conference is formally known as the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference, the organizers re-branded it this year to encompass the evolving media that beer writers use to discuss the industry – freelance writing, Instagram channels, podcasting, and video production.
In a growing digital world, the ability to promote your craft using different media forms is vital. Conference Director Reno Walsh believes in the power of social media and the need for breweries to stand out on all platforms with so many beers to choose from and breweries to visit.
“If so-and-so’s friend recommends a beer on Facebook then that person is probably going to purchase it the next time they are walking down that long beer aisle at the grocery store,” says Walsh.
Sessions include a Live Beer Social, sponsored by the MBA, and a Beer and Cheese Pairing that will let you sample European cheese paired with beer from Lewis & Clark Brewing, MAP, Mighty Mo, Philipsburg Brewing, Red Lodge Ales, and Vizsla Brewing.
This year the conference will take place in Montana, a state that boasts the second highest number of breweries per capita at 11.4 per 100,000 adults. Even more fitting – Great Falls lies within the boundaries of Montana’s Golden Triangle where in 2018, more than 197.6 million bushels of wheat and 33.6 million bushels of barley were produced according to the USDA. Montana is perennially one of the top two states in the nation for malt barley production.
Among the lineup of talented conference speakers are Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, Julia Herz, Editor-In-Chief of The New Brewer, Jill Redding, author and Editor-In-Chief of American Craft Spirits Association’s digital publications, Jeff Cioletti, keynote author and journalist, Josh Noel, and more.
“This conference is a real opportunity for Montana Craft Brewers to build on the momentum you have already created to put yourself on the map as the beer destination [Montana] truly is,” says Walsh.
The conference moves to a new location every year to promote different beer destinations, and it won’t be back to Montana anytime soon. Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to attend in our great state!
For more information and details about how to register for the Beer Now Conference, visit beernow.org.
Aside from the conference, consider attending any number of events happening during Great Falls second annual Craft Beer Week from June 2 – 8. Walsh is excited about the addition of Craft Beer Week to the conference agenda. “We have a feeling the Beer Influencers are going to enjoy listening to Piano Pat while watching mermaids and tasting some Montana Craft Beer at the Sip & Dip.”
The week leading up to the Beer Now conference, join in the beer obstacle course, cider pairing, trivia night, Beer Olympics, and brewery tours and on Saturday, grab your friends and head over to the Mansfield Convention Center for the culminating Montana Brew Fest from 3 – 9 PM. More details about Great Falls Craft Beer Week are available at gfcraftbeerweek.com.
Sarah Sorenson, co-owner of Cabinet Mountain Brewing in Libby and member of the MBA board of directors, joined 133 other leaders and members of state guilds in Washington, D.C. for the Brewers Association’s annual Hill Climb last month.
Attendees held 398 visits with senators and representatives to voice support for the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, which would make the current federal excise tax recalibration rates permanent. They also discussed the impact current tariffs have on their businesses, advocated for full funding for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to avoid delays with label approval in the event of a future government shutdown, and asked for hops and barley funding for the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services.
These issues are of particular interest in Montana, with its thriving craft brewing industry and as a leading producer of malt barley. Both of Montana’s senators, Senator Jon Tester (D) and Senator Steve Daines (R), are members of the Senate Bipartisan Small Brewers Caucus and are cosponsors of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (H.R. 1175/S. 362).
Grand Prize: Custom Montana Sherpa Offroad Camper Trailer
Winner receives the ultimate custom adventure trailer – a state of the art Offroad Sherpa Trailer with roof rack, foxwing awning, stereo, solar power system, and more great features.
1st Prize: NRS Inflatable Kayak
2nd Prize: Fly Rod and Guided Fishing Trip
Winner receives 5 weight Safe fly rod (reel and line included), and a guided trip for two from CrossCurrents Fly Shop on either the Missouri, “Land of the Giants,” Blackfoot, or Dearborn.
3rd Prize: Concert Tickets to KettleHouse Amphitheater
Winner receives a $700 gift card from Logjam, good for tickets, food or drinks at the Top Hat, Wilma, and KettleHouse Amphitheater.
4th Prize: Yeti Cooler Filled with MT Beer
Winner receives Yeti Tundra cooler filled with Montana craft beer.
Tickets are $100 each and include a Montana Brew Crew Card Membership (Brew Crew entitles you to a free beer at 35 breweries). Funds support the MBA’s work to promote Montana craft beer and create a regulator environment that allows Montana’s craft brewing industry to flourish.
Tickets are limited and can only be purchased at an MBA member brewery.
We kicked off our 2019 events with an awesome Spring Rendezvous in Bozeman on May 11 with 30 breweries showcasing their craft with 108 different brews for the more than 1,200 attendees to sample. This was also the third year in a row that the Montana Brewers Spring Rendezvous was part of Bozeman Craft Beer Week, which has grown into a very successful and fun annual event. We’re proud to be part of it and thank Fermentana for their work to put on such a great event to promote, showcase and enjoy Montana craft beer.
Don’t miss our next brew fest in Helena on August 3. Our Summer Rendezvous will take place in Memorial Park and feature the best craft beer that Montana has to offer, along with live music from the Dodgy Mountain Men. Follow the event on Facebook for details and updates about the rendezvous.