More beer here: New law unshackles brewery production and taproom regulations
October 1, 2017 is a date that Montana beer lovers will remember. It’s the first day that HB 541 goes into effect, raising the production limit for Montana breweries that also want to operate taprooms.
Prior to the bill’s passage, any brewery producing more than 10,000 barrels of beer a year—equivalent to about 310,000 gallons—was prohibited from selling pints from its taproom. Many breweries with popular taprooms, such as German lager specialists Bayern Brewing, chose to keep their annual production just under the cap so they could still operate taprooms. It was essentially an incentive for some breweries not to grow, even as the craft beer industry did.
But no more. With HB 541’s passage, the limit will increase to 60,000 barrels and will open the doors for many breweries to grow while maintaining the taprooms that built their reputations. The bill catches up to the massive popularity of Montana’s craft beer scene, which has doubled its annual output between 2010 and 2017. The state’s breweries infused $103.2 million into the economy, employed 702 people and created a total of 1,044 jobs in 2015, according to a 2016 study conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana.
“HB 541 is the most important legislation we’ve seen for Montana’s craft brewing industry in 18 years,” says Matt Leow, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association. “The new law is good for Montana brewers; it’s good for Montana agriculture, and it’s good for Montana tourism. It means more jobs, more investments as breweries expand, more demand for Montana-grown barley and more choice for craft beer lovers.”
Cosponsored by two Montana lawmakers, Rep. Adam Hertz (R – Missoula) and Rep. Ellie Hill (D – Missoula), H.B. 541 will allow the state’s largest beer producer, Missoula’s Big Sky Brewing, to sell pints out of its taproom for the first time in its history. Since 1999, Big Sky has had to give away small samples of beer for free from its taproom near the airport.
“It’s going to be a very big change for our taproom. We’re going to probably shut down the taproom for the whole month of September to make it more of a place that you want to hang out with your friends and spend an hour or two. It will definitely be a different looking and feeling place,” says Neal Leathers, one of Big Sky’s cofounders. “It’ll be a fun challenge for our brewers to find some recipes they’ve always wanted to do, just for the taproom.”
The new law is also a major boon to another stalwart, KettleHouse Brewing, which operates two taprooms in Missoula. KettleHouse will now be able to open a third taproom at its new production facility in Bonner, Montana, also the site of its brand-new amphitheater on the banks of the Blackfoot River.
“We can’t be more pleased to offer a unique tasting room and tour experience starting in the spring of 2018. With the new KettleHouse Amphitheater bringing in thousands of thirsty fans on concert days, we expect our tasting room to add to the experience,” says KettleHouse cofounder Tim O’Leary. “Our hats go off to the bipartisan efforts of Adam Hertz and Ellie Boldman-Hill for crafting a compromise with our industry partners to make this happen.”
It’s not just Montanans who will reap the benefits of the new law; Matt Leow anticipates that beer fans across the country will soon be drinking more Treasure State-brewed suds.
“Montana is building a reputation for producing some of the best beer in the country. Montana craft brewers are winning awards at national competitions and visiting breweries and enjoying local craft beer is part of the experience for visitors to our state,” he says. “[This law] opens the door for Montana breweries to expand production and put more Montana beer on tap in bars and restaurants and on store shelves in Montana and beyond.”