Proposed Tap-Room Rule Change Creating Brouhaha

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A proposed change in rules governing microbrewery tap rooms has created a brouhaha among Montana brewers.

State law allows breweries to serve beer between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Breweries must shut off the taps by 8 p.m., but many tap rooms allow customers to stay longer to finish their last glass of beer.

The state Department of Revenue proposes to make it illegal for customers to consume or possess a microbrew in a tap room after 8 p.m.

Some brewers say the proposed rule will cut into retail sales that help their businesses.

“It’s horrible. We’re so severely restricted as it is,” Tim Bozik, owner of Bitter Root Brewing in Hamilton, told the Great Falls Tribune. “The fact of the matter is we are licensed to do what we do, and the fact that our sales hours are so curtailed really isn’t right.”

Shauna Helfert, administrator of the Department of Revenue’s Liquor Control Division, said the new rule would treat small brewers the same as bars and taverns, where patrons can’t have alcoholic beverages in their possession after the 2 a.m. closing time.

“If an investigator goes and looks at an on-premise account, you can’t be drinking after 2 a.m.,” Helfert said. “(At tap rooms) you don’t have the same amount of enforcement ability because that beer was there at 8:15 p.m., but you don’t know if it was sold before or after 8 p.m.”

Brian Smith is the managing partner of the Blackfoot River Brewing Company in Helena and vice president of the Montana Small Brewers Association. He said Helfert’s justification doesn’t hold much water because the department has made no effort to change the rules for cabaret licenses, which allow customers to consume wine and beer after the 11 p.m. serving cutoff imposed by that license.

“One would think that if that was such an issue, they would make changes to the cabaret licenses, but they haven’t done that,” Smith said. “It seems to me that they are targeting small brewers.”

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