Hundreds of thousands of Montanans appreciate, enjoy and support our booming craft brewing industry. And why not? Most of the Montana-made beer is produced with grains grown here by Montana farmers, shipped short distances by Montana truckers, brewed, bottled, canned and consumed by fellow Montanans. So why has the Montana Tavern Association declared war on our homegrown brewing industry with draconian legislation that would cripple or kill small breweries and the social and economic benefits they bring to our communities?

What’s giving the Tavern Association heartburn, if you believe its rap, is that bars and taverns have to purchase a liquor license to sell retail beer and hard liquor. These licenses are issued by the Montana Department of Revenue and are based on population so there are a limited number of licenses available and acquiring one can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Breweries must also be licensed, but are allowed to sell their beers on-site to the public without having to spend the money for a full liquor license.

This argument is not new. Indeed, for those who have been following the evolution of Montana’s craft brewing industry, these same arguments were used in the early and mid-’90s to stifle every attempt at providing a legal framework in which craft brewers could ply their art and practice their business.

But in the late ’90s, the Legislature finally realized that a new industry was knocking on its door, pleading to be allowed to do nothing more than work hard, produce a saleable and sought-after product, and bring their local communities the opportunity to enjoy that product on the premises where it was made.

Yet, in finally giving its approval to craft brewing, the Legislature put some of the most restrictive measures in the nation on what, when and how our breweries and their taprooms can operate. For instance, no person may be served more than 48 ounces of beer per day and taprooms may only serve beer between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. And unlike bars and taverns, the license to run a brewery does not come with an associated right to operate lucrative video gaming machines that produce tens of thousands of dollars per year per machine in revenues.

In spite of these harsh regulatory restrictions, Montana’s craft brewing industry has thrived. Indeed, it is a model of the qualities we value in Montana. Enthusiastic entrepreneurs take the risks to start breweries, invest significantly in the equipment and facilities necessary to brew great beer, offer their products to the general public and have found a willing and grateful customer base that truly appreciates the quality and variety of their local brews.

From its tiny start, Montana’s craft brewing industry has grown to a $50 million a year industry in a mere 15 years and Montana now ranks second in the nation in craft breweries per capita. They range from our largest cities to tiny places like Wibaux and Philipsburg, where locals love their brews.

Now, however, the big and ugly foot of the Montana Tavern Association is trying to stomp the breweries back into the barley dust from which they came. The bill has yet to be introduced, but the unofficial draft copy of the measure requested by Rep. Roger Hagen, R-Great Falls, LC1429, is outlandish.


For instance, a small brewery’s tap room “may not be utilized for a secondary purpose of providing entertainment or food to customers.” Entertainment “includes but is not limited to television coverage of anything other than the brewer’s product and the brewing process, dancing, live music, radio broadcasts, pre-recorded music, amusement games, arcade games, darts, pool tables and sporting events.” The food which would be banned includes “products suitable for human food consumption other than water and beer that was brewed and fermented on the premises.” No illegal peanuts or popcorn allowed with your pint at the breweries – and no music or dancing, says the Montana Tavern Association.

To cripple breweries economically, the measure also puts unrealistic restrictions on what percentage of beer may be sold in taprooms, which are often the lifeblood of new breweries struggling to afford the canning and bottling lines necessary to boost outside sales.

Make no mistake, many Montana bars have great relations with their local brewers. But the Montana Tavern Association’s foolish bill threatens to derail a growing industry, kill Montana jobs, and make enemies of Montana’s craft brewing industry and the tens of thousands of Montanans who support it.

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(36) comments


No, I am not a tavern owner. I am simply a person who sees the microbrewers as an awesome group of people who have had two adjustments on the initial law and now want another one, so the tavern assocication has simply asked for a license purchase (is my read (?) on it). I like what griz man said about the need for organizations for dentists and etc. I do not feel sorry for any people. Government is equally negative to business men and women in this state. I would love to own a tavern, but the cost would not allow me to... but that is simply life, it is not unfair, it is just the way it is.


It's abut freedom. If you want to produce a microbrew and sell it on your own premises, and I want to buy and consume your beer, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? Why do we need Government to intrude on the deal? Why do we even need a "Tavern Association"? What are they protecting us from?! Thanks, Missoulian, for an informative article.


No business can do whatever they want. Every industry has rules, especially those that serve alcohol. As a side note, it's kind of interesting that as Montana becomes more and more socially conscious, and the resulting DUI laws become more and more strict, that the brewers want more and more leeway to serve alcohol. By the way, you don't need the tavern association, the taverns do. Just like the brewers need their brewers association, the dentists need their dental association, etc.

sofaking tired of the GOP
sofaking tired of the GOP

Brewers don't want MORE leeway, just don't want laws to get more restrictive to them i.e. this bill.


LC0653 Is close to LC1429 but is in final draft and has not been introduced yet. Missoulas own Elli Hill is the sponsor of this. Write her and your other reps and let them how wrong this is.


Gosh, I'm surprised to see some people so upset about the tavern association’s brewery bill. I don't think the bill addresses the manufacturing of beer at all. I thinks it's focused on the retailing of beer, not the beer-making itself. The fact is, some microbreweries (definitely not all) are basically unlicensed “brew pubs” that are competing unfairly with the state's taverns that are required by the state to buy a license to sell beer. And yes, some of these licenses require a heck of an investment. Competition between a bar invested heavily in a license and another beer outlet without that financial obligation isn’t fair. Breweries got their start as strictly beer manufacturers, who then were to wholesale their beer to licensed establishments. A later consession by the bar guys allowed a limited amount of beer to be retailed at the brewery in “sample rooms,” but some brewers are now operating these sample rooms like bars. Some in fact are ignoring the original wholesaling intent of the law and selling 100 percent of their production on-premise. Taverns couldn’t buy their beer if they wanted to.


GrizMan. Here are a few things you seem to totally ignore or not understand in your post. Brewers need the ability to retail their beer for a number of reasons. The sample rooms are often where they build their base customers(many of whom never enter bars), NO brewery is competing unfairly. When breweries were allowed to open sample rooms in 1999, the MTA agreed to the law, and got gambling out of it. All breweries I have been to operate 100% within the confines of the law that the MTA agreed to not so many years ago. In addition, to think that breweries don't have any financial obligation is plain ignorance. Get online and go find some quotes for what the cost of a brew system is, or a fermentation tank, or a glycol chiller. Many breweries have invested more in their equipment than bars in their license. Lastly, there are bars out there that threaten to stop purchasing Montana Craft Beer if they don't get their way. If brewers are forced to wholesale 60% of their product, it puts all of the power in the Tavern's hands. Taverns can choose not to purchase it, and BAM the brewery must close because they are not allowed to sell it in their sample rooms, which are not bars. If you have some confusion about the difference between a bar and a sample room, just go read the law with attention to detail on issues like hours of operation and serving limits.

Stan Reck
Stan Reck

For all of you Liberal Democrat whiners saying that the GOP is attacking small businesses and trying to run BYOB out on a rail, how do you explain the 11 Democrats that voted FOR this bill? What, are they rogue? Will they be re-educated? Keep in mind that with the GOP in the majority, this bill FAILED because a majority didn't agree with it. So before you chomp on your crow you might want to have a word with those 11 Democrats that thought this bill would be a good idea..................oh, and to you whiny Liberals, you might want to do some fact checking before putting your feet in your mouth.

sofaking tired of the GOP
sofaking tired of the GOP

Of the yes votes which party had more? I'm guessing Repubs, and the GOP bill to prevent people from corner crossing pubic land, the BYOB bill, and this bill, all written by Repubs.

sofaking tired of the GOP
sofaking tired of the GOP

Nice in the past few weeks we've had bills to prevent people from jumping corner to corner from public to public land, to stop people from BYOBing to establishments that were fine with it, and now this. Not sure if I want any more freedom bills from the "freedom" GOP.

Bob T

The MTA is not interested in a level playing field. They want to control the playing field by having legislation like LC1429 to restrict and limit competition. They don't want to let anyone else in. If brewers were allowed to purchase a liquor license they wouldn't be able to get one because of the quota system. If one is available they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. All they want to do is sell their own beer on their own premises. LC1429 will put breweries out of business and add further restrictions on top of too many already. It will cost our State many good paying jobs and will be an economic disaster.


Small business must be regulated out of existence in order to accommodate the monopolies. The status quo rules.


Even Utah has figured out that microbreweries are a boost to tourism. Utah! Can we be at least as modern as Utah?

Bob T

Glacierhiker you must be a tavern owner. Brewers today cannot buy by law a liquor license or beer and wine license. And if they are allowed to the cost is prohibitive because of the quota system. Let's face it,brewers are already operating under restrictions that impede their ability to grow and prosper. All they want is a license so they cann seel their own beer on their own premises. There is a reason why tasting rooms are wildly popular. They provide what comnsumers want. Maybe tavern owners should look at what makes them so popular and try to inorporate some of that in their own business. The train has left the station with the popularity among consumers. I think it's time for the tavern owners to change their outdated model. Tavern owners don't want a level playing field. They want a controlled playing field that keeps everyone else out!

Annie O

You've got the Tavern Assn. showing their teeth- we have Big Pharma buying the politicians. Can't anyone make a living in this state without being legislated out of business?

Bob T

LC1429 is anti-brewer, anti-business and anti-consumer. There is a reason why breweries tasting rooms are so wildly successful. They designed a model that thousands and thousands of Montanans like. The MTA as usual is trying to stifle any competiton-brewers, new resturaunts and bars. Please take 10 min. and send an EMAIL to your State Representative asking them not to support this bill. YOUR EMAILS WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE!


at all people have forgotten how long the tavern association has been around. Once again, just because you do not agree with an organization, let's polarize the issue. The tavern association has done much good in many communities. Look at the help and support UM football Saturdays get in Missoula from those "evil empire" old guys! All they want is an equal playing field. If you want to sell product, get a license. That simple. There has been a few concessions over the years to the breweries, but when you go into some of them, they are glorified bars. JUST BUY A LICENSE... AND KEEP MAKING AWESOME PRODUCTS.


While it hasn't been introduced, this bill may still raise it's head. My understanding is that it's being cast as a "revenue bill" which means it isn't subject to the transmittal deadline and can be introduced at any time.

Taprooms are different than taverns and bars. Sure, they share some clientele, but I think both should be able to prosper in Montana. Most microbreweries have been very community oriented, hosting fundraising nights for local non-profits. This bill would eliminate those. What a really bad idea. I hope the sponsors of this draconian legislation will decide to do the right thing and close the book on this without ever introducing this bill, this session or in the future.


Joe Phillips - 3 hours ago
I'm confused why it is being told as a bartender vs brewer battle?

Bartender vs Brewer? It is the MONTANA TAVERN ASSOCIATION that is trying to pass LC1429 that would hurt CRAFT BREWERIES. This doesn't have anything to do with a bartender behind the bar serving beer...

This I agree with 100%
Can't we all be on the same side and ask the Montana Department of Revenue to offer more license, and drive the value of those coveted license to a level that is reasonable for entrepreneurial brewers and tavern owners


That makes sense on the surface, Jim, but the problem is that many tavern owners have already paid the price for the license. They entered the hospitality business with the rules as they are and have been since the Prohibition. The license is an asset to them, just like the building, the pool tables, whatever. Obviously, they're going to protect their assets. Plus, many have used the license as collateral for the bank loan they needed to buy it and maybe their establishment in the first place. So the bankers certainly don't want licenses to lose value either, or they lose the collateral.

Hakon Montag
Hakon Montag

George must like beer.

But wait?

Aren't Democrats supposed to be 'whine' drinkers?

John Kutzman
John Kutzman

Those who can, do. Those who can't, call in the legislature.


Surprise Surprise... the scummy Tavern Association lobbying to ensure they their stature as one of the most powerful and greedy lobbies in the state. What's new?

I like the way they whine that it isn't fair because taphouses aren't required to own a liquor license lie a tavern owner does.
First off... they don't serve liquor. And they are limited to serving 3 pints. That's it... 3.
Maybe that is the benefit to the premium price of a license... that tavern owners can have people spend ALL their money drinking and gambling instead of $15-20.
What IS unfair is the inflated prices of liquor licenses being simply ridiculous. Only people with a lot of money can but a license.
Wait... only wealthy people enjoying access to a guaranteed money-maker? Smells like GOP.
Why is the price of a license so high? Well, same excrement, bigger pile.
This is the same association that lobbied for limiting the number of licenses available... back in the late '80s or early '90s or so... thereby creating an artificial rarity and inflating the value of the licenses they already owned. Pretty sleazy.
Now a liquor license in Missoula can cost up to seven-figures which, of course, only benefits current license owners.
Throw in the electronic "gambling" and these creeps are little more than greedy self-serving legal crack-dealers bent on preventing anyone else joining them at the table.

Gary P

Great article as usual, George.

I for one, do not go to bars or taverns in any city or town where there is a local brewery. I would much rather give my support to the places that produce and serve a great product(s).
If this draconian piece of legislation somehow does get put into law, I will never go into any MTA affiliated business again


The law regulating breweries should be changed to allow freedom of business. For example, I recall reading about the Kettlehouse Brewery and their Coldsmoke brand. The dark beer is very popular. The law is such that Kettlehouse can only sell pints in their taproom if they sell less than (not sure the exact number) 1000 kegs in all markets. So, in order to stay under that number and provide pints to their taproom patrons, they had to stop shipping kegs to other Montana cities. They had to chose between Missoula drinkers and those of other cities.
These laws need to be changed to allow these places to grow. It's about jobs, after all.

Joe Phillips

I'm confused why it is being told as a bartender vs brewer battle? Can't we all be on the same side and ask the Montana Department of Revenue to offer more license, and drive the value of those coveted license to a level that is reasonable for entrepreneurial brewers and tavern owners, and which adequately finances it's own administration?

Lets be honest, this community is chock full of people that want to decide for you, what should be your choice as an individual. The Missoulian doesn't help. They sell more papers on controversy. Overwhelmingly Republican controversy, it seems. Any ad selling company that is so politically biased, as the Missoulian is, is a discredit to the profession of journalism.

This article does not create awareness of an issue. It merely continues the fad of creating false dichotomies of an issue, in order to sell more ads.

Whatever happened to the role of government simply providing a system of courts to seek justice and equality? Must the long arm of the law always be leveraged to oppress another group? It seems to me the error is with the state. Why preferential treatment? The model of taxation to steer morality is a pretty pathetic view of humanity.

Matthew Koehler

Great column GO. Thank you so much for exposing the anti-jobs, anti-economic growth positions of the Montana Tavern Association!

Of course the Tavern Association's draconian positions extend far beyond the craft brewery businesses, as they help stifle the growth and development of many other local businesses, including the restaurant industry, which often needs revenue from beer, wine and liquor sales to keep their doors open (and purchase fruits, veggies and meats directly from Montana farmers and ranchers).

Montana's threw off the "copper collar" it's time for Montanans to throw off the "Tavern Association collar!"

Still Here

Well written. Please contact your Representative and have them support Montana home grown brewers. Sorry bar owners, the Montana laws are so favorable to the "Good Old Boys" that only they can play. Let them keep their gambling.


The power of the Tavern Owners Assn is coming to an end. And why do the republicans continuously back them?

BTW, this bill is DEAD, missed the deadline.


all the tavern bills are revenue bills, which have different transmittal deadlines. right?


Gotta have that fine microbrew. Once you develop a taste for the good syuff you realize that all Miller Lite is good for is washing your driveway. I'm not even really sure it's actually beer


If you cannot compete, buy some Legislators and use the club of Big Government to run your competition out of business. The Republican Way.

Stan Reck
Stan Reck are delusional. Democrats are the Big Government advocates. Like Ronald Regan said "Man is not free unless Government is limited". I don't remember any Democrat advocating anything but more Government, more restrictions, more taxes, less freedoms....get your story straight.


Sorry Stan, but this is about an industry that wants to maintain its control via an artificial shortage of licenses created by government regulation. Government regulation that the Repubs want to strengthen by crushing the JOB CREATING LOCAL brewpubs via heavy-handed, anti-competitive tactics. They are also pushing to consolidate and monopolize the industry (as is usual for the protectionist GOP)...

sofaking tired of the GOP
sofaking tired of the GOP

Yes that's why the largest expansion of government in at least 80 years came under (R) GW. And Repubs the freedom party? There have been 3 "freedom" bills in the last month from our state Repubs, the first to prevent people from jumping corner to corner from public to public land, to stop people from BYOBing to establishments that were fine with it, and now this. And how many Repub dominated states have passed med marijuana or full legalization for my choice? Not sure if I want any more freedom bills from the "freedom" GOP.


Finally George, you offer an opinion I can respect.

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