Guest opinion: Tavern Association proposal would kill local breweries

2013-03-15T00:05:00Z Guest opinion: Tavern Association proposal would kill local breweriesBy STEVE LOZAR The Billings Gazette
March 15, 2013 12:05 am  • 

Montana’s brewing history has been a mirror reflection of the history of our territory and state from Johnny Grants’ first brewery on Cotton Wood Creek in 1859 to today. Montanans have celebrated beer made by Montanans in their own mining camps, logging towns, ethnic neighborhoods and cow towns. Beer brewed locally and sold in each breweries sample room with its customary “Dutch lunch” was a Montana tradition. The local brewery was often our floor of political debate, public meeting hall and occasional wedding chapel and court room. Each small Montana community took great pride in the fact that they had a local brewery. That fact was often proclaimed in real estate pamphlets used to entice easterners to come west and invest in Big Sky country. Many Montana brewers served the state and territory as legislators, mayors and lawmen.

History of harmful laws

In 1919 the breweries were rocked with state and national Prohibition. Montana farmers had nowhere to sell their malting barley. Truckers and railways no longer delivered Montana made beer around our state. A huge state tax revenue source no longer existed. The thriving Montana brewing business was the victim of self-serving politics and a national campaign of fear and untruth.

Many Montana breweries did not revive after 14 years of government prohibition. Repeal legislation made it illegal for Montana brewers to own their own tasting rooms. Montana laws favored large out-of-state breweries and made it very difficult for local brewers to compete. By 1968, local Montana brewing was reduced to a memory. No Montana breweries existed. A few local brand names were produced out of state for sale in Montana as “discount” beer, but they were not brewed with the original Montana recipes or materials.

By the 1980s breweries again began to grow in Montana. After 20 years of no Montana breweries, a few pioneering craft brewers were again looking to local farmers to purchase materials for local brewing. The industry has rebounded with new breweries catering once again to our local tastes, paying local taxes and most offering the public house sample rooms.

Stricter sales limits

As in Montana’s past, there lurks today an element that seeks to use restrictive legislation and a self-serving agenda to seriously harm or eliminate our local community based breweries. Rep. Roger Hagan, R–Great Falls, is carrying a bill for the Montana Tavern Association often referred to as the 60/40 or anti-brewery bill. Much like the disastrous history of government catering to special interests that has plagued Montana brewing history, this bill restricts the hours of operation, the amounts of product sold, eliminates food from the sample rooms, and ultimately seeks to eliminate a Montana industry that generates in excess of 450 Montana jobs and $50 million dollars annually to our states struggling economy.

Hagan’s bill is wrong for Montana. Don’t be fooled by the Montana Tavern Association’s attempt to ruin a growing community-based industry. Please call your legislators (406-444-4800) and encourage them to vote no on this unfair bill.

Steve Lozar of Polson is writing a book about history of the Montana brewing industry. The bill Lozar writes about was being drafted this week and had not been introduced.

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