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  1. #1
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    Beer lovers in Montana could use your help

    Perhaps some of you have been to Montana. Maybe you haven't but would like to: we have excellent riding here, excellent fishing, and Glacier National Park and two gateways to Yellowstone. We also have some excellent breweries in the here, some you've probably heard of, some you haven't. Kettle House, Draught Works, Big Sky, Bayern, Madison River, Bozone, Belt, Blackfoot River, Lewis & Clark, and Red Lodge are examples that come to mind off the top of my head.

    If you've visited one of our breweries, then you've encountered our odd laws. We don't have brewpubs; we have tasting rooms in which a brewery is allowed to provide you 48 oz of beer per 24-hour period, between the hours of 10 AM and 8 PM. As a result of the limited hours and limited consumption, they've become well-light, family-friendly places that are quite popular after work or after a ride. They also don't have video gambling machines, as most of our bars do.

    Craft brewing has become a considerable industry in the state, and it's a good fit since a lot of barley is grown here. Quite a few small towns now have thriving breweries, and obvious they're doing well in our larger cities. The Montana Tavern Association is taking a serious shot at shutting that all down. There is a bill pending in our legislature that would not only dramatically limit how much of a brewery's production can be sold in its own taproom, but also outlaw music (live or recorded), food (including popcorn or other snacks many of them provide) or any other drink but water. TVs would only be allowed to show documentaries on the brewing process.

    The underlying problem is that our liquor licenses are limited by population, and have been allowed to turn into commodities. In some depopulated parts of the state they're not worth much, but in growing communities like Helena, Missoula or Bozeman they're worth several $100K, if you can find one. There is not much interest in changing this system (the MTA is opposed, obviously, since their members are invested in it), although at least this argument is starting to drive a conversation about the problem. At the end of the day, the fact that the MTA is willing to go out of their way to antagonize enthusiastic beer drinkers gives you an idea of where their priorities are.

    Tourism and out-of-state dollars are a big deal in this state. Please consider emailing a Montana legislator or two to weigh in on this. You can also use a form found here to send a message to the appropriate committee. The membership of the House Business and Labor Committee is here. The bill is LC1429, sponsored by Roger Hagen (R, Great Falls).

    Some links:

    Montana Brewers Association's last update on LC1492

    Montana Tavern Association's op-ed explaining their position.

    A letter to the editor that does a good job of summarizing the viewpoint of the average craft beer enthusiast.

    Thanks in advance for your support. If you do come riding here, holler at me.
    Last edited by evasive; 03-14-2013 at 06:51 PM. Reason: revised to mention the comment form may be used to email the entire committee
    "Back off, man. I'm a scientist." - Dr. Peter Venkman

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  2. #2
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    Reputation: EBrider's Avatar
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    Hope that doesn't go through, MT has some great beer and the taproom format is a lot of fun. I used to live in Helena in the 90's when I worked for the state and enjoyed all the local craft brews. I know the Brew House got around the law by housing a brewery in restaurant in the same building, but with different ownership. Unfortunately Lewis & Clark outgrew the brewery and last I hear, the brewing facility is empty.

    The MTA position is clear that tap rooms are gaining popularity. I will send a note to the committee. We will be there in a few months enjoying the mountains and some good beer.
    Are we putting air in the tires today?

  3. #3
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    Beer lovers in Montana could use your help

    The Brewhouse expanded downstairs and the L&C taproom is pretty big. It's in the old Columbia Paints warehouse off N Montana. In the last few years, Blackfoot moved into a bigger, nicer building, Kettle House opened a 2nd, much nicer taproom, and the Draught Works has probably the nicest taproom space I've seen and their beer has gotten to be as good as anyone's.

    The MTA isn't wrong about the brewery/taproom model evolving to become more retail, but they've played fairly within a narrow set of rules. And it's the whole license system that is the problem. This bill isn't the answer.
    "Back off, man. I'm a scientist." - Dr. Peter Venkman

    Riding in Helena? Everything you need to know, right here.

  4. #4
    The Original Suspect
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    I love MT brews!!! I went to U of M in the late 80's and have had ties to Missoula for over 30 years. My mom lives in Great Falls and my brother lives in Missoula. Missoula has been one of my favorite places since I was a kid living in Bonner in the late 70s.

  5. #5
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    Hey Evasive, I don't know all the particulars, but back in the day, I lived in MT and worked in bars. I know about the liquor license laws, and costs, but as I remember the beer and wine license was much easier to get. Is it because of food that these tasting rooms are not able to work under a beer and wine license?
    Noogie...Noogie...Noogie.

  6. #6
    Afric Pepperbird
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    Hey Hey! Ho Ho! 48 measly ounces per day has got to go!

  7. #7
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    Beer lovers in Montana could use your help

    A cabaret license is the beer/wine one. You have to buy food with your beer. They can also be hard to get. It's a lottery system.

    One thing about the limits: you can occasionally have some fun with them. This was unplanned, but generated some laughs tonight:

    Beer lovers in Montana could use your help-imageuploadedbytapatalk1363407794.497736.jpg
    "Back off, man. I'm a scientist." - Dr. Peter Venkman

    Riding in Helena? Everything you need to know, right here.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by evasive View Post
    A cabaret license is the beer/wine one. You have to buy food with your beer. They can also be hard to get. It's a lottery system.
    Ah, well, my Montana days were back in the 90's. Maybe the cabaret license was easier to get back in those days. However, I don't remember there being any mandate that you had to buy food with your beer. Only that an establishment had to serve food. Have some kind of menu. The State couldn't really tell people what they could order. I seem to remember some places that were operating as beer bars, essentially, while offering a pretty limited menu. But like I said, my MT days are, sadly, long past.

    Those liquor license laws have always been controversial, even before the breweries proliferated. To play devil's advocate, and not to argue in favor of the MT Tavern Association, but some of the bars' only equity is in those liquor licenses. A lot of family owned bars have a lot tied up in those licenses. I can be sympathetic to those families without agreeing the bullying of the Tavern Association. I always thought those laws weird. But my boss at the bar, as fine a woman as you'd want to meet, said if it weren't for the license system the bar I worked in would be pretty much worthless.
    Noogie...Noogie...Noogie.

  9. #9
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    I was in the middle of replying last night when the server went down. Grr. Anyway, you're right; I was confused by the variety of non-liquor licenses around these days. A cabaret license does require the purchase of food, but that's not the same kind of restaurant license that the Brewhouse holds, for example. An article in the Independent Record about the mess.

    Yeah, the value that the licenses have been allowed to develop is an issue. There was an effort in the Raciot days to buy them all out and make it a straight pay-your-fee; get-a-license system, but it got shot down. That's where we need to go in the long run.
    "Back off, man. I'm a scientist." - Dr. Peter Venkman

    Riding in Helena? Everything you need to know, right here.

  10. #10
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    Update:

    The bill limiting taproom sales to 40% of production has come out of committee, and is now HB616. There is also a resolution to create an interim committee to study Montana's alcohol control laws prior to our next legislature (2015). That's good news. Both are scheduled for hearings on Tuesday, the 26th.

    The Montana Brewers Association summary is here.

    For an outside perspective, here's a recent Great Falls Tribune article.
    "Back off, man. I'm a scientist." - Dr. Peter Venkman

    Riding in Helena? Everything you need to know, right here.

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