Montana Brewers Association

HB 185 offers more hours, boost to Montana’s economy

Posted On February 4, 2019


HELENA – As long as Montana breweries have been selling pints in their taprooms, the law that ends beer sales at 8 pm has been a source of consternation for patrons. All that would change if a bill extending taproom hours to 10 pm becomes law.

HB 185, sponsored by Representative Dave Fern (D-Whitefish), makes just one change to the current law. It strikes the “8” and replaces it with “10.” The change is simple but the effect could be significant for Montana’s economy.

“Montana’s craft brewing industry is an economic engine for our state,” says Fern. “Allowing breweries to have two more hours is popular with Montanans, but more importantly, doing so will increase the positive impact this industry is having on Montana’s economy.”

Craft breweries engage in and support Montana’s two biggest industries – agriculture and tourism – and comprise a significant portion of Montana’s manufacturing sector. Breweries in Montana generate an annual economic impact of $442 million and support 2,732 jobs, according to 2017 data from the Brewers Association.

“The local economy in my community leans heavily on tourism and breweries are an important part of it,” says Fern. “But ending taproom sales at 8 o’clock limits that potential, especially in the summer when visitors are still enjoying the outdoors at that time.”

Breweries are becoming an increasingly important part of Montana’s $5 billion tourism industry. A recent report from The Institute for Tourism and Economic Research at UM identified “Visiting a local brewery” as a top ten activity for tourists in Montana.

Craft breweries also contributed to Montana’s ranking of third for per capita growth in manufacturing jobs over the past five years, a point highlighted last September in the release of the 2018 Labor Day Report by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. During that same period (2012 to 2017), the number of breweries in Montana doubled. Today, there are 84 breweries open in Montana, with a presence in 45 communities across the state.

“The success of our taproom in downtown Philipsburg enabled us to expand into a second production facility, purchase a canning line, get into statewide distribution and employ more staff,” says Nolan Smith, Co-owner of Philipsburg Brewing Company. “We were able to bring manufacturing jobs back to our community.”

Philipsburg lost is manufacturing jobs when the mining and logging industries left town. Today, Philipsburg Brewing Company is the largest manufacturing employer in Granite County. Smith describes the taproom as the cornerstone of a craft brewery’s business. It offers a marketing opportunity to build a brand and is an important source of revenue to build the business. Taproom revenue also provides capital to reinvest in the manufacturing side of the brewery.

“What our brewery has accomplished in Philipsburg is just one example of the positive impact breweries are making in communities across Montana,” says Smith. “Going to 10 pm would fuel more growth in this industry and better position Montana breweries to compete with regional and national breweries that often have the advantage of more retail privileges in their home states.”

Montana’s burgeoning craft brewing industry is also creating opportunity for other entrepreneurs, as evidenced by the emergence of craft malting facilities in the state. Montana Craft Malt is completing construction on a $15 million facility in Butte capable of producing 10,000 tons of malt barley each year. The craft maltster is set begin production this spring and begin supplying local breweries and breweries around the country with high-quality craft malt from Montana.

“Craft malt, much like Montana craft beer, is a value added product that can help strengthen Montana’s economy,” says Jennifer O’Brien, president of Montana Craft Malt. “Passing HB 185 will be a boost to Montana craft brewers as well as businesses like ours that are built on the foundation established by our craft brewing industry.”

HB 185 has its first hearing in the House Business and Labor Committee on Tuesday morning at 8:30. The bill needs to pass several hurdles before it becomes law.

Montana Brewers Association

Montana Brewers Association

P.O. Box 8591

Missoula, MT 59807

406-948-BREW (2739)