With competing beer licensing-related bills headed for a hearing before the Montana House of Representatives’ Business and Labor Committee this Friday, February 6, a new coalition of brewers and industry participants has formed to support an alternative to the Montana Tavern Association/Montana Brewers Association’s license-stacking bill.
Calling it the Coalition for Beer Fairness, the group includes Blackfoot River Brewing, Cabinet Mountain Brewing, Carter’s Brewing, Himmelberger Brewing, and Bayern brewing, along with various distributors and other industry members. I’m told a number of other breweries support the Coalition, but have not received confirmation to be able to disclose the additional names.
Here is the full text of the Coalition for Beer Fairness’ press release. For more of an explanation about the two bills, head here for the story on the upcoming hearing.
Contact: Brad Simshaw, Blackfoot River Brewing Company, (406) 431-5971/ firstname.lastname@example.org or Kristi Blazer, Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association (406) 235-4000 / email@example.com
“COALITION FOR BEER FAIRNESS” ANNOUNCES INTRODUCTION OF THE PRO-BEER ACT
(Helena, Mont.) – The “Coalition For Beer Fairness” announces the introduction of HB 336 as an alternative to the stacked license bill, calling it the Pro-Beer Act. They also announced their combined opposition to the stacked license bill promoted by some members in the Montana Brewers’ Association [MBA] and Montana Tavern Association [MTA] – HB 326. While called the 2015 Brewers Act, that bill also includes various economic advantages for tavern owners.
Brad Simshaw, Blackfoot River Brewing, asserted that “this bill [HB 336] accomplishes the same stated purpose as the stacked license bill [allowing growth for breweries] so is everything and less than the stacked license bill.” The Pro-Beer Act is one page and in the words of a beer blogger is “blissfully simple.”
Simshaw went on to explain, “a comparison [of the two bills] reveals that the Pro-Beer Act provides an immediate opportunity for brewers to expand production beyond the 10,000 barrel limit and, unlike the stacked license bill, does not penalize brewers for running successful businesses that are popular with consumers.”
“Stacking on the surface and in the short term may seem to be a step in the right direction,” said Mike Ulrich, Carter’s Brewing, “but only for some. In the long run, it would kill some of the things that have made Montana’s beer culture so great. Brewers in their heart of hearts just want to make the best beer possible.” The Pro-Beer Act recognizes that mission and does not push brewers into buying a license which contains many aspects not wanted by brewers: gaming, and a requirement to offer spirits and wine, an all-beverage license mandate.
January 25, 2015 Bozeman Chronicle quoted MBA executive director, Tony Herbert saying that two-thirds of his members support the stacked license bill. The 30+% opposing the stacked license option explain that the MBA poll only presented one option – the stacked license. Other options like simply lifting the barrel cap [HB 336] or a comprehensive brew pub license were not an option.
Dennis Himmelberger of Himmelberger Brewing, Billings, opined that likely one-half of the brewing industry does not support the stacked license bill. The brewers opposing the stacked license bill join the beer distributors and certain consumers in the Coalition for Beer Fairness.
“Given the choice between a stacking license and lifting the 10,000 barrel limit, I prefer lifting the barrel limit,” agreed Jürgen Knoller, CEO of Bayern Brewing, Inc. “It makes sure our product is more widely available to the general public, retailers, and distributors. It creates substantial industry growth with higher paying, quality jobs. It allows brewers, regardless of their location in the state, an equal playing field to use their taprooms as a valuable marketing tool with some retail opportunity, without having to compete with other brewers for a license within the quota system.”
Kristin Smith, Cabinet Mountain Brewery explained “The stacked license bill gives tavern owners access to another license (brewing); it does not give breweries access to a bar license. Such bar licenses require a substantial investment and may not be available in the brewer’s city – further, the brewer must be the highest bidder.
Himmelberger agreed saying “The stacked license bill seems slanted to the benefit of the MTA owners. That bill allows them to buy a brewery, it inflates the value of their licenses, (and) it increases MTA membership. On the other hand, you create an unlevel playing field between breweries making small startups more difficult and potentially damaging the exiting breweries that can’t afford, don’t desire or can’t fine an available bar license.” In summary, he opined that the bill is stacked in more ways than one.
Simshaw gave a nod to Himmelberger’s opinion saying “the stacked license bill (HB 326) moves in the wrong direction by entrenching the state even more in to a broken quota system.” He went on to say “Montana breweries were born outside of the quota system. It is my fear that the stacked license bill will result in the brewing industry being absorbed into the quota system culture, a culture with inherent barriers for economic growth and consumer choice. I would rather see the future of the brewing industry in the hands of the current system than in the hands of the quota system.”
Coalition Members caution that the significant policy changes proposed in the stacked license bill will forever change the landscape in the beer industry.
They urge the Legislature to not pick winners and losers by passing the stacked license bill. Another choice is HB 336, a simple solution, as an alternative.
Members of the Coalition for Beer Fairness invite other brewers, industry members and consumers to join us in opposing the stacked license bill.
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