Legislature Tables Brewery Bill After Outcry

By Beacon Staff

In a victory for Montana microbreweries, a House committee last week tabled a bill that would have placed new licensing regulations on brewery tasting rooms.

On April 3, eight days after representatives of the state’s brewing industry railed against the measure at a hearing, the House Business and Labor Committee rejected House Bill 616. Roger Hagan, R-Great Falls, introduced the bill on behalf of the Montana Tavern Association.

Hagan argued that brewers are taking advantage of laws that allow breweries to sell up to 48 ounces of beer daily per customer. He said the law was intended to allow wholesale breweries to offer samples but now many breweries resemble bars. He called for stricter restrictions that would require many retail breweries to purchase a license – a special license would cost $100,000 – or limit their on-premise sales.

The proposal led to an outcry from brewery owners, with only one – Missoula’s Big Sky Brewing Company – speaking in favor. Big Sky Brewing Co. said the brewery exceeds production limits to operate a tasting room under current law because it has grown so large. It said the bill wouldn’t be a deathblow to the state’s microbrew industry as other breweries fear.

The Montana Brewers Association supported a different proposal – House Joint Resolution 18, sponsored by Rep. Christy Clark, R-Choteau – that calls for a legislative interim study on the state’s alcohol laws, giving the Legislature more time to consider the issue. That bill passed the House Business and Labor Committee unanimously 19-0 on March 28.

Craft beer industry representatives argued that breweries in Montana already operate under restrictive laws, including limits on the amount of beer that can be served and operation hours. Sample rooms can only sell beer until 8 p.m.

According to a 2012 report from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the craft brewing industry contributes 430 jobs and nearly $50 million in private-sector sales to the state’s economy.

Though breweries celebrated the bill’s tabling as a victory, the issue is expected to resurface again in the next Legislature in 2015.

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