Governor Steve Bullock paid a visit to Missoula’s Bayern Brewing Co. Monday afternoon for a ceremonial signing of House Bill 541. Approved by the 2017 Montana Legislature, the bill raises the production cap on Montana breweries who wish to sell beer for on-premise consumption from 10,000 bbls to 60,000 bbls of annual production.
Governor Bullock praised the bill as a good thing for the brewing industry, Montana’s economy and Montana’s craft beer lovers. “The backbone of Montana really is small business,” said Governor Bullock. “And these are small business men and women who are expanding and as they do, bringing the value and brand of Montana even beyond our 147,000 square mile borders. This is an industry that is supportive of one another, but also so much of what makes Montana, Montana.”
Jürgen Knöller, owner of Bayern Brewing Co. owner, reflected on how the production cap has hindered Bayern’s growth for many years.”It was really an uncomfortable situation to be in,” said Knöller, who had been unable to increase production over the past several years because the increase would force Bayern to give up its popular taproom. “I’m really happy that’s lifted because it opens up a lot of opportunities. I started to have my doubts whether I would see it happening before I retired someday. But it did, and we are excited about it.”
“It’s a real simple equation,” said Erik Somerfeld, a Montana barley grower speaking for the Montana Farmers Union. “More beer production means more malt barley being used, means more malt barley needs to be grown, which means more money in the farmers’ pockets, which is good for the Montana economy.
“This bill also comes at a good time because the Busches and Coors of the world have cut back on what they are wanting us to produce for them, but the craft industry here in Montana and the rest of the country is demanding more and more of our good Montana malt.”
HB 541 was co-sponsored by a pair of Missoula Representatives from opposite sides of the political aisle, Ellie Hill Smith (D – Missoula) and Adam Hertz (R – Missoula). “It’s been a wild ride,” said Rep. Hertz of the process to get to this point.
“How did we finally do it?” asked Rep. Hill Smith, noting work began on raising the cap before she started her current eight year run as representative. “Well, we finally got a Montana Republican and a Montana Democrat to work hand in hand on something that we both love.”
Speaking on behalf of the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association, Mike Markovich, Vice President of Community Relations with Summit Beverage, touted the broad appeal of the bill. “It’s good for all parts of the industry,” said Markovich. “It’s good for the breweries like where we are now, it’s good for the distributors and it’s good for the retailers. Perhaps the biggest winner in this whole deal is the consumer, because they’re going to have access to more new products and this bill will fuel the innovation pipeline.”
Bayern is not the only brewery to be helped by the bill. HB 541 will allow KettleHouse Brewing Co. to add a taproom to its new production facility in Bonner, adjacent to the new amphitheater. Big Sky Brewing Co., the only Montana brewery that has never been allowed to sell pints, will be allowed to begin selling beer for consumption at the brewery’s existing taproom. The bill also relieves the pressure on several other Montana breweries which have indicated an intent to significantly increase production over the next few years.
HB 541 takes effect on October 1.