This was arguably our most productive legislative session since 1999, the year Montana breweries first gained the privilege to sell beer directly to the public in their tap rooms. Twenty-four years after that groundbreaking law, which cleared the way for a thriving craft brewing industry in Montana, lawmakers approved bills to remove an obstacle for brewing research and training, encourage collaboration between brewers, and provide an opportunity for expanded retail privileges.
When the Montana State Legislature adjourned sine die on May 2, all three of the Montana Brewers Association’s priority bills had been approved by the House and the Senate, but only one had been signed into law – HB 31, which expands access to academic brewer licenses. SB 312, which covers collaboration beers, was signed by Gov. Gianforte on May 4. Then on May 18, the governor signed HB 305 into law, providing brewers with a new opportunity to buy into expanded retail privileges. That’s great news for anyone who wants to enjoy a beer at their favorite brewery past 8 pm.
HB 31 promotes brewing research and training
HB 31, sponsored by Rep. Ross Fitzgerald (R-Power), sailed through both chambers, passing the House 89-10 and the Senate 45-5, before being signed into law by the governor on March 16. The bill expands access to the Academic Brewer License to all higher education institutions in the Montana University System. Access was previously limited to just two campuses – MSU-Billings and Flathead Valley Community College.
The impetus for the bill came from the MSU Barley, Malt and Brewing Quality Lab where researchers breed new varieties of barley and conduct testing covering the full life of the crop, from agricultural product to malted barley and ultimately to the beer made with it. Their testing services are used by brewers, distillers, maltsters and growers in the United States and beyond. Ironically, the lab was not allowed to brew beer even though “brewing” is in its name. Researchers resorted to taking wort (the liquid produced from the mashing of malt) home where they could ferment it into beer as a homebrewer. While the resourcefulness is admirable, it’s preferable to keep the brewing research in the lab.
When the MBA flagged this issue for leadership with the Department of Revenue Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, they chose to include it in Gov. Gianforte’s Red Tape Relief project, providing the proposal with momentum as a department bill backed by the administration. Rep. Fitzgerald, a barley grower who studied at MSU and a veteran of the Business and Labor Committee, was an obvious candidate to carry it. At the conclusion of the Senate committee hearing, featuring a diverse array of proponents and no opposition, Rep. Fitzgerald closed by saying this was “short of a touch of heaven.” The committee must have agreed because they immediately passed the bill out unanimously.
We’re thrilled that HB 31 solves this problem for the MSU Barley, Malt and Brewing Quality Lab and opens opportunities for other campuses to engage in hand-on training and research related to brewing. Sometimes a simple fix can have a profound impact.
SB 312 encourages more collaboration between brewers
Sen. Terry Vermeire (R-Anaconda) emerged as a new champion for brewers this session and successfully carried our second priority bill, SB 312, across the finish line. The bill, which was approved by the Senate 48-2 and the House 91-8, allows brewers who participate in a collaboration at another brewery to bring some of that beer back to serve in their own tap room.
Montana law requires that the samples a brewer serves in their tap room be produced on site, thus when a brewer works in collaboration with their peers to brew a beer at another brewery, the beer can only be sold by the brewery hosting the collaboration. While the intent of the law is to ensure the integrity of craft breweries serving their own products, the effect on collaborations is to discourage brewers from participating.
For a few years, MAP Brewing in Bozeman and Draught Works in Missoula held an annual competition around the Cat-Griz game. The loser would have to travel to brew beer at the other brewery. Doug Child, head brewer at MAP and MBA board member, explained during the Senate hearing that they stopped doing it “because the Cats kept winning all the games and we never got to go to Missoula.” He also explained that “Draught Works didn’t get a lot in their market because they couldn’t bring any of the beer back.”
Craft brewing is a collaborative industry. We share information, lend equipment and supplies, and generally support each other. Collaboration beers are the most obvious manifestation of this collaborative and community-minded spirit. Not only do they give us unique new brews that beer lovers get excited about, they also provide opportunities for brewers to learn from each other and strengthen relationships. However, the obstacle preventing collab beers from being served by all participating breweries means guest breweries essentially end up lending their staff time and incurring travel costs to brew a beer that only their competitor may sell.
SB 312 removes that financial disincentive by allowing each participating brewery to bring back a proportional amount of the beer to serve in their own sample room. This means more collaborations in the future for Montana breweries, more opportunities to support local causes with collaboration fundraisers, and more creative beers that inspire brewers and excite beer lovers appearing on the beer list at your local brewery.
HB 305 removes barrier, allows brewers to buy into additional retail privileges
This was the second session in a row Rep. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) carried the bill commonly referred to as “License Stacking,” but HB 305 fared far better than previous efforts to open up retail opportunities for brewers. The difference this time was industry partners were finally unified in support.
Retail privileges for Montana’s craft brewers has long been a contentious issue at the Capitol and has led to numerous policy fights between the MBA and the Montana Tavern Association (MTA). Back in 1999, when the limited privileges of 48 ounces and no service past 8 pm were negotiated with the MTA in response to their resistance to what they see as unfair competition. The root of the friction is Montana’s liquor license system that provides limited licenses through a quota system and treats licenses as private property that can be resold. As a result of limited supply and high demand, those licenses can be expensive in many communities. Naturally, the MTA aims to protect those assets of their members. On the other hand, brewers do not need to (and prior to HB 305 were not allowed to) hold a retail license.
Past efforts to expand retail privileges for brewers have all failed. Bills to extend closing time for brewers failed in 2005, 2011, 2017 and 2019. Other proposals to allow brewers to hold a retail license similarly failed in 2013, 2015 and 2021. HB 305 broke the logjam by offering a solution that all the alcohol industry groups could support.
During his opening for HB 305 on the House floor, Rep. Buttrey said, “We are making history here today. We finally have the groups in consensus, and after over a decade of fighting, what you have before you in HB 305 is the solution.”
That solution provides an avenue for breweries, and other manufacturers, to achieve greater retail privileges through the purchase of a retail license. Under HB 305, each brewery may hold up to three retail licenses; at least one license must be co-located at a manufacturing location while the other two may be utilized for satellite brewpubs. This is a profound change for brewers and their customers.
Some breweries are already engaged in “closely held license” arrangements, wherein a friend or family member owns the retail license. The license, the retail business, and the finances must be completely separate from the brewery. While this has offered an option in recent years, those arrangements are messy, have drawbacks, and are not possible for all breweries’ situations. HB 305 is a much cleaner approach, by allowing direct ownership of a license by a brewery and keeping everything under the same business and finances.
HB 305 offers a solution to retail privileges that moves our industry forward, supports our industry partners and is responsive to what consumers want to see. We discussed this bill concept with representatives from the taverns, restaurants, distillers, distributors, liquor stores and gaming industries over the past year-and-a-half. They vetted the proposal, provided feedback, and stayed at the table until we reached a compromise everyone could support.
In the final months of 2022, going into the session, we worked closely with the Montana Distillers Guild and the MTA to negotiate bill language that all three groups could agree to. The final crucial step was to get the Montana Beer & Wine Distributors Association (MBWDA) on board. They had requested three reasonable compromises – a limit of three licenses for each brewery, requiring that outside products be offered, and 100% same ownership between the brewery and the retail license – that we were willing to include in the bill draft. With those provisions, the MBWDA joined in support and the bill enjoyed committee hearings with zero opponents. We’re grateful to our industry partners and Rep. Buttrey for working with us to finally get this important change for brewers passed.
Six breweries across Montana won awards in the 2023 World Beer Cup, a global beer competition that evaluates beers from around the world and recognizes the most outstanding brewers and their beers.
Awards were given in 103 beer-style categories during the World Beer Cup award ceremony on May 10, 2023, at the Music City Center in Nashville.
Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. (Helena) walked away from the competition with two medals: bronze in the American Wheat Beer category for their Miner’s Gold and silver in English Ale for Prickly Pear. Tamarack Brewing Company (Lakeside) landed a bronze in the American-Style Amber/Red Ale category with Yard Sale Ale while Bozeman Brewing Co. (Bozeman) took home silver for their Belgian Fruit Beer, the Vieux Bois Lambic Inspired Ale. Mountains Walking Brewery (Bozeman) also received a silver medal, in the Experimental India Pale Ale category for their Sky Flowers IPA, the highest medal awarded in that category. To round things out, Canyon Creek Brewing (Billings) was awarded a bronze in German-Style Altbier for their CCB German Alt, and Diamond X Beer Co. snagged a bronze for Caber Tosser in the Scottish-Style Ale category.
World Beer Cup winners were selected by an international panel of 272 beer judges from 26 countries. Widely regarded as the “Olympics of Beer,” the 2023 World Beer Cup featured 10,213 entries from 2,376 breweries in 51 countries.
“The World Beer Cup brings together the finest brewers and beers from around the globe and celebrates creativity, craftsmanship, and passion for great beer,” said Chris Williams, World Beer Cup competition director. “Receiving a World Beer Cup award is a testament to quality and innovation, and we commend this year’s winners for setting the bar higher than ever.”
Presented by the Brewers Association, the World Beer Cup is held annually to celebrate the art and science of brewing by recognizing outstanding achievement. In a crowded field, Montana beer certainly stood out as world-class at the 2023 competition.
Collaboration Beer Made with Montana Ingredients Was Released May 15
American Craft Beer Week®, a celebration of small breweries and independent brewers across the nation, kicked off on Monday, May 15. To mark the occasion, breweries across Montana released the 2023 Peaks to Prairie IPA, a collaboration of Montana Brewers Association (MBA) member breweries and Montana producers.
The name of the collaboration beer, “Peaks to Prairie,” represents the wide range of geographical features in Montana, reflecting the diverse landscapes of mountains, canyons, river valleys, forests, grassy plains, and more. This collaboration beer aims to showcase the unique flavors and ingredients sourced from these environments. By combining elements from Montana’s peaks to prairies, the beer represents a fusion of the state’s natural beauty and agricultural abundance.
“There’s no better way to celebrate independent breweries in Montana than coming together and making great beer,” says MBA Executive Director Matt Leow. “This collaboration represents the culmination of the passionate work of Montana’s farmers, maltsters, and brewers, from the fields to the taproom.”
This is the third year Montana brewers have collaborated with local producers to create a 100% Montana-made beer in celebration of the craft beer industry in the state. Thanks to the generous support of Farm Power Malt, Gallatin Valley Malt, Malteurop Malting Co., Montana Craft Malt, Big Sky Hops, Crooked Yard Hops, Flathead Valley Hops, Glacier Hops Ranch, Bell Crossing Farms, and Ravalli Hops, brewers were able to purchase their ingredients at a reduced rate. With their own unique IPA recipes, brewers unleashed their creativity and now they are eager to share their delicious brews with craft beer enthusiasts.
“Blackfoot River Brewing Company loves participating in this collaboration with other breweries around the state for the Montana Brewers Association,” says Tim Chisman, Managing Partner and Head Brewer at Blackfoot River Brewing Company in Helena. “Everyone knows that Montana grows some of the best barley in the world, but now we have some incredible craft maltsters and hop farmers as well. It’s really exciting to see, and taste, a variety of IPAs that are completely grown and brewed in Montana.”
So far, fifteen Montana breweries are brewing the Peaks to Prairie IPA. Each brewery will donate a portion of the proceeds of their Peaks to Prairie IPA to the Montana Brewers Association to continue to further the mission of promoting the production and sales of the freshest and highest quality Montana-made beers. The MBA will use some of the funds raised to support scholarships for student researchers at MSU’s Barley, Malt & Brewing Quality Lab.
“A collaboration like this, with so many local breweries, hop growers, and maltsters coming together to support the MBA, really defines craft beer’s cooperative spirit and sense of community,” says Doug Child, Head Brewer at MAP Brewing Company in Bozeman. “The money we raise helps protect, maintain, and improve the brewing industry in Montana.”
Craft beer lovers can show their support for the collaboration beer project by visiting any of the following participating breweries and indulging in a pint of the Peaks to Prairie:
Bias Brewing (Kalispell)
Bitter Root Brewing (Hamilton)
Blackfoot River Brewing Co. (Helena
Bridger Brewing Company (Three Forks)
Burnt Tree Brewing (Ennis)
Highlander Beer (Missoula)
KettleHouse Brewing (Missoula)
MAP Brewing Co. (Bozeman)
Missouri River Brewing Company (East Helena)
Mt Ascension Brewing (Helena)
Outlaw Brewing (Bozeman)
Philipsburg Brewing Company (Philipsburg)
Ronan Cooperative Brewery (Ronan)
Sacred Waters Brewing Co. (Kalispell)
Ten Mile Creek Brewery (Helena)
The Montana Brewers Association works to protect and strengthen a diverse and independent Montana craft brewing industry and facilitate cooperation and unity between all Montana breweries. The organization influences public policy to allow Montana’s craft brewing industry to thrive, provide educational opportunities for members of the industry, and promote Montana craft beer.
Participating breweries will be pouring the Peaks to Prairie collaboration beer throughout the year while supplies last.
Two More Brewfests and the Montana Brewers Conference to Come
On Saturday, May 13, breweries from around the state gathered in Bozeman at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds for the sold-out Spring Rendezvous brewfest. The annual brewfest was a success, drawing beer lovers from all over to sample brewers from around Montana. With 31 breweries in attendance, the brewfest offered a wide range of 111 beers. Attendees enjoyed live music and food vendors, as well as the opportunity to meet and chat with brewers about their craft.
This year’s event tour theme, “Rooted in Montana,” represents the central role that local breweries play in many communities, as well as the interconnectedness of local agriculture and suppliers who play a vital role in creating the unique and high-quality beer that Montana is known for.
Rendezvous brewfests are a chance for folks to come together to appreciate and enjoy the fruits of Montana’s local beer scene. Whether you’re a beer enthusiast or simply someone who appreciates the importance of supporting local businesses and agriculture, Rendezvous brewfests are a great opportunity to dive into Montana’s beer culture!
And, there are still two brewfests left this year!
We’re set to continue the fun and camaraderie at the Summer Rendezvous on Saturday, August 5, at Memorial Park in Helena and then finish the year with the Fall Rendezvous on Friday, September 29, at Caras Park in Missoula. Preceding the Missoula brewfest will be the annual Montana Brewers Conference on Wednesday and Thursday, September 27-28, at the Holiday Inn in downtown Missoula.
Keep an eye out for more information coming soon on our Fall events.
Summer Rendezvous presale tickets for $10 off the day-of price go on sale online starting Monday, June 5, and will be available that week only, through Friday, June 9. Make sure to save the date for our presale event and stay alert for our exclusive presale code email.
Festival goers can enjoy tasty local bites, and, of course, Montana craft beer. Western Montana band, The Timber Rattlers, will supply high-energy bluegrass tunes and unique acoustic music while West Dakota Stutter will provide a special VIP Hour performance!
Sign up to volunteer at the Summer Rendezvous and get free admission to the event!
Thank you to our generous 2023 event tour sponsors:
Curious about sponsorships? Want to secure a booth at the Montana Brewers Conference trade show? Check out our 2023 Events Sponsorship Rate Card for details. Contact [email protected] for additional information.