Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Montana Beer Laws 103: The Success of HB400

Continuing with our examination of Montana's beer laws,* today we take a look at § 16-1-106, MCA, the definition of "beer." Why? Because an important change to this definition took effect in October 2009** after the Legislature approved an increase in the legal percentage of alcohol.  The legislation introduced to make that change was known as House Bill 400 and defined beer as:
(5) (a) "Beer" means:
     (i) a malt beverage containing not more than 8.75% of alcohol by volume; or
     (ii) an alcoholic beverage containing not more than 14% alcohol by volume:
     (A) that is made by the alcoholic fermentation of an infusion or decoction, or a combination of both, in potable brewing water, of malted cereal grain; and
     (B) in which the sugars used for fermentation of the alcoholic beverage are at least 75% derived from malted cereal grain measured as a percentage of the total dry weight of the fermentable ingredients.
     (b) The term does not include a caffeinated or stimulant-enhanced malt beverage.
The subsections pertaining to infusion and decoction, sugars, and caffeinated beverages weren't in the original draft of the bill.  After concerns surfaced over unintentionally allowing beverages with artificially enhanced alcohol levels, brewers and other industry participants worked together to craft this language.  The intent all along was to allow higher gravity traditional beers, not the so called "blackout in a can."  

HB 400 is a nice success story in a variety of ways.  First, it made its way through the legislature with relative ease, thanks to a lot of hard work by many.  It's an example of how an industry with occasionally large internal squabbles can put aside its differences and promote something positive.

"Sometimes people forget about how a good bill like HB400 has helped in Montana to make our brewing industry stronger and more vibrant," says Tony Herbert, Executive Director of the Montana Brewers Association. "This and even small bills like the growler bill, which clarified that taverns can fill growlers, have helped along the way, and the MBA hopes to continue to promote good legislation that helps our craft brewers at large."

Higher alcohol limits also mean a greater variety of beer styles for craft beer fans.  Blackfoot River Brewing Co. in Helena has been able to make more "big" beers and to make them true to style, according to Brian Smith, co-owner and brewer.  "We are now doing four to five bottle conditioned brewers reserve releases per year, whereas before we were doing only one," Brian says. "We have produced some beers for draught that go beyond the 'old' 8.75% ABV, but generally just slightly above, like our Winter Warmer (9.3% ABV)."

Brian's favorite Blackfoot River "big" beers to date include the Double Citra IPA (tank & barrel aged versions) and the Belgian Tripel that Blackfoot aged on French oak.

HB 400 also modified the State's policy on the sale of beer.  Surprised we have one?  We do:  
16-1-102. Policy as to sale of beer. It is the policy of the state of Montana that the manufacture, transportation, distribution, sale, and possession of "beer", as that term is defined in this code, must be controlled and regulated as provided under this code. Unless defined as beer in 16-1-106(5)(a)(ii), beer, porter, ale, stout, and malt liquors containing more than 8.75% alcohol by volume and that are defined as "liquor" are subject to the regulations and controls provided for liquor. 
It's curious to see the statute referencing "porter," "ale," and "stout" as if those are something separate and distinct from "beer."  (Don't get me started on the rules of statutory construction.  That will have you snoozing in no time.)  Since some version of the statute dates back to 1933, I'll chalk it up to some holdover language from days gone by.  If you'd like to trace the legislative history, have at it.

Finally, in case you're wondering, a "malt beverage" is defined in § 16-1-106, MCA, as:
(15) "Malt beverage" means an alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of an infusion or decoction, or a combination of both, in potable brewing water, of malted barley with or without hops or their parts or their products and with or without other malted cereals and with or without the addition of unmalted or prepared cereals, other carbohydrates, or products prepared from carbohydrates and with or without other wholesome products suitable for human food consumption.
Gotta love the phrase "suitable for human food consumption."  Mmmm . . . .

What's your favorite Montana "big" beer so far?  
* The others are Montana Beer Laws 101 and Montana Beer Laws 102.

**  I originally started writing this post in early 2010.  What can I say. Some procrastinations are worse than others.


  1. I probably haven't experienced all of Montana's beers yet. I live in SC, but come out to visit my girlfriend about every 6-8 weeks and get to visit quite a few on the western side of the state. Got to visit Great Northern this past go around and they had a pretty good "bigger" beer called Good Medicine, which is an imperial red.

    Still haven't tried Ivan. Haven't been able to get anyone to trade me one on either RB or BA, but I'll get some this year. I hear that it is one of the best bigger beers that Montana has to offer. Also think that a barrel aged Cold Smoke would be up there. Also can recall having an RIS at Blacksmith around Christmas that was pretty dynamite.

    Cheers, all!

  2. Ivan is definitely worth the wait. I'd hazard a guess it is the most heavily anticipated release of all of Montana's bottled/canned beers.

    Oh, and if you, or anyone else claimed to have actually tried ALL of Montana's beers, I'd call serious BS. ;) Far too many rotators and one-offs at our 35 breweries to ever taste them all. But what a great goal to shoot for . . . .

  3. what's the MBA's reasoning for keeping taverns from filling growlers? are they afraid of lost revenue for the tap rooms? seems to me that would be a good trade. let taverns fill up growlers and let taprooms stay open till ten o'clock. good job with your blog by the way!

  4. Glad you're enjoying the blog! I think you may have misread the quote from Tony. The MBA definitely supported the bill which allows taverns to fill growlers.

  5. Actually, the MBA wrote, found a sponsor, and carried the bill. We had to reluctantly convince the MTA into supporting it (they were initially sure we were up to something sinister).

  6. HB400 was at least a step in the right direction. Montana's state laws severely curtail innovation in the craft beer industry. While the MTA's stance protects their own interests, it also protects out-of-state revenue streams. My opinion is that we need to do away with the archaic limited-license approach and allow the market to figure out what will work in each city. But how to do that while business owners are paying off their million dollar loans to get a liquor license? That's the biggest to fix a bad law that's created a bad situation.

    Favorite big beer in MT? The next one I drink, now that I can!

  7. Thanks for the good content.

    So are growler fills are exempt from the 48oz limit imposed on sample rooms at breweries because they are for off site consumption? I ask first because obviously one growler is over 48oz to start and then I wonder if I can have three pints at the brewery and then take a growler home with me.

    And what about small breweries retailing bottles or cans for off site consumption in the sample room? Is that allowed at all?

  8. Yes, growlers are exempt from the 48 ounce limit precisely for that reason. There is no limit on the amount which may be sold for off premise consumption and breweries may also sell six packs, bombers, etc. In fact, because they are for off-premise consumption, they can sell growlers, bombers, etc. anytime between 8 am and 2 am.