We've written about them many times. There's something special about Montana's
That's not okay, says the MTA. They were never intended to have pool tables, frequent live music, or otherwise be warm, comfortable and inviting places. These amenities should be reserved for those who purchase beer/wine, or all-beverage licenses like the MTA's members.
John readily admits Montana's breweries and their
The MTA is pushing a bill currently in the drafting stage titled "Limit beer sold on premises of small brewery to 10% of annual production." It is identified as LC 1322. Though the text of the bill is not yet available electronically, the title tells everything you need to know to understand it. [Note: as of 1-17-13, the title of the bill request has changed.] The bill has been requested by Representative Jeff Welborn (R-Dillon) who, perhaps not coincidentally, does not have a brewery in his district.
Another bill in the works from Representative Ellie Boldman Hill (D-Missoula) would allow breweries to "stack" licenses. Breweries are not allowed to own all-beverage or beer/wine licenses under current law. Representative Hill's bill would change that, allowing breweries to also purchase an all-beverage or beer/wine license. Such a license would effectively allow the brewery to eliminate the tap room limitations of 48 ounces, per person, per day, while permitting sales between 8 am and 2 am. It is not at all clear whether the MTA's bill is in cooperation with Representative Hill's bill, or in retaliation for it.
That's the model the MTA prefers because, the MTA says, it puts the breweries on a level playing field with its members. Breweries are set up to be manufacturers who supply the taverns with product for retail sale. Thanks to the quota limits on licenses, it also means the breweries would need to purchase existing licenses from the MTA's members if they wanted to stay in the retail game.
According to the MTA, eight (going on nine) breweries currently operate with "closely affiliated" licenses. Think Tamarack Brewing Co. Tamarack's Lakeside location has all the look and feel of a brew pub. In reality, the brewery is separate from the restaurant and bar and has no tap room. Thus, the MTA's bill would have no effect on Tamarack because 100% of the Tamarack's sales come from distribution, not tap room sales.
Because Lakeside, MT, is in a quota area with excess licenses, Tamarack's closely affiliated restaurant/bar was able to purchase its all-beverage license for $400. Conversely, it's Missoula restaurant/bar (which does not produce beer and is in a quota area where licenses are over-allocated) paid $750,000 for its all-beverage license. Great Northern (Whitefish), The Front (Great Falls), Montana Brewing Co. (Billings), and Lone Peak (Big Sky) are some of the others operating under this model.
Although many Montana breweries currently sell 85% to 100% of their production at the brewery, the MTA does not believe the bill will have disastrous consequences. They have prepared numbers to show that breweries are perfectly capable of switching to a 90% distribution model, in large part because profit margins on a keg of beer are high. The fallacy in the argument is the presumption that the market - provided by the taverns - can absorb such a switch.
Tap and shelf space is limited. The success of Montana's
Montana's breweries gained the right to sell beer for on-premise consumption during the 1999 Montana legislative session. It was a grand compromise struck between the MTA, the breweries and others. There were also only a handful of breweries at the time. Not even the most optimistic among us could envision the explosion in craft beer's popularity.
Fast forward to 2013. There are 36 distinct breweries with three more under construction. Approximately two-thirds of those will be affected by this bill. New breweries will need to think much harder about jumping in. There is no other way to put it: this bill is a serious game changer.
No matter how you slice it or what kind of spin you put on it, the breweries are playing by the rules they've been given. They have made decisions and invested millions of dollars into their facilities based on the rules we can all read. They are creating jobs, buying Montana agricultural products, and making significant contributions to Montana's economy. If their
Yet, the MTA says it IS in the law. That's why Montana law calls them sample rooms, not tap rooms.
During the 2011 Legislative Session, the breweries tried to shift the tap room hours to 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm. The MTA cried foul, loudly decrying the brewers for reneging on the deal struck in 1999. Yet, when faced with the suggestion that the MTA's bill does just that, John vehemently denies it. The bill is intended to return brewery
Whatever you call them, they are nevertheless sample rooms which - since 1999 - have been allowed to sell each patron 48 ounces per day between the hours of 10 am and 8 pm.
Whether any of us want to couch this bill in terms of an old compromise, the spirit of the law, the intent of the original legislation, or any other spin, it's really about one thing: competition. And as long as we're being accurate, there are no "taverns" under Montana's alcoholic beverage laws. They are "licensed retail establishments."
It remains to be seen whether LC 1322 will be actively pursued or is being drafted to serve as a warning. Either way, what promised to be a rather innocuous legislative session just got a lot more interesting.
For all our articles pertaining to the 2013 Montana Legislature, click here.