Name an industry that has grown in double digits consistently in terms of production, sales and jobs during this past 10 years. Name one that operates under extraordinarily tight limits and rules. Name one that creates new, popular products on a weekly basis (over 300 a year). Name one that consistently gives back to local communities through regular charitable giving campaigns. Name one that is under attack – once again – for their success.

The Answer: The Montana Craft Beer Industry tops the list and passes all of these tests.

Just imagine if your local ice cream store was required to sell 60 percent of the ice cream that it makes in half gallons through local grocers, and they couldn’t sell cones because they compete with large ice cream manufacturers. Doesn’t sound like a very good business model, does it?

Breweries have become a cultural mainstay in many Montana communities. Our 38 breweries have created over 450 jobs in 22 communities throughout the state so far, and more are looking to open. They are an economic engine producing $50 million dollars annually, creating Made-In-Montana products. They are adding value to Montana’s great agricultural products, and building innovation and industry in Montana every day.

Unfortunately, there are forces working against Montana breweries. Specifically, Rep. Roger Hagan, R-Great Falls, is carrying the Montana Tavern Association’s anti-brewery bill known as the 60/40 bill. His bill would limit how much beer brewers can sell in their tap rooms – and require the rest of it to be sold to retail customers at grocery stores and taverns.

His bill will cripple one of the true bright spots in our economy, and its passage would give the Montana Tavern Association even more control over an already inefficient and tilted liquor control system. Think about this: Who does a brewery have to first convince to buy its beer in order to have it distributed? You got it – tavern owners! They would control the brewers’ success.

The bill would ban all food from the sampling rooms. Even popcorn becomes illegal if Hagan’s bill passes. It’s an industry killer, a jobs killer and beer killer.

The growth in the craft brewers is not unique to Montana; there are now over 2,000 craft breweries in the U.S. The craft beer industry in Montana currently has some of the most restrictive retail regulations in the nation (48 ounces per person per day, and open only until 8 p.m.). They should be unshackled, not hogtied, so that they can grow and provide beer to taverns, hotels, restaurants, the public, and to expand this burgeoning industry.

As former Rep. Debbie Kottel, also from Great Falls, once said: “Done right, Montana can become the Napa Valley of Beer!” How about that for a target to hit? If Hagan’s bill ever becomes law, we will have missed the mark and squandered away a unique opportunity to grow jobs in Montana. Let’s not let that happen. Call your legislators and tell them to vote no on the Montana Tavern Association’s 60/40 Bill, and to not destroy the craft brewing industry in Montana. Operators are standing by to take your calls at 444-4800.

Tony Herbert is executive director of the Montana Brewers Association.

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