True confession time. I’ve been remiss lately, fishing way too much and ignoring the beer beat, which means I have some catching up to do. And there has been a lot going on, such as….
Don’t Miss Octoberfest 2009 The Montana Brewer’s Association (MBA) is holding its first annual Octoberfest festival in Bozeman Friday, October 23. All 17 brewer members will be on tap featuring 54 craft beers, according to MBA executive director Tony Herbert, so don’t miss your chance to sample a few of those you haven’t tried yet.
Most such festivals invite any brewery that will show up just to make more money, but this event is not about making money; it’s about featuring the creativity and diversity of Montana’s craft brewers. “Only MBA members were invited,” Herbert said at our meeting over a pint at the Blackfoot River taproom in Helena.
For a mere $20 you get a pint glass and three 4 ounce samples. After the first three, samples cost only a buck each. Old Chicago and Montana Fish Company will provide non-liquid sustenance, and three bands will provide the entertainment. Herbert has arranged free bus and taxi rides for those who might need them. Click here for all the details or to buy tickets online.
Shorties. Regrettably, Montana can no longer claim to have “America’s Most Remote Brewery,” as Lang Creek Brewing of Marion closed its doors in June. But “sometime this ski season,” a new brewery, Crazy Mountain Brewing, plans to open in Bozeman, owned and operated by Matt Muth….In May, Red Lodge Ales of Red Lodge opened its brand new production facility and an expanded Sam’s Taproom, along with the state’s largest solar array, and has been going strong ever since….In August, Kettle House Brewing of Missoula finally got its second location open, a spiffy new production facility and large taproom, conveniently located on top of the Orange Street Underpass…Big Sky Brewing, also of Missoula, joined Kettle House in starting to can some of its craft beers….And in August, Bayern Brewing, the third Missoula brewer, sold its millionth bottle of Dancing Trout Ale, which is brewed in partnership with Montana Trout Unlimited and has been a fantastic fundraiser for the protector of our cold-water fisheries….Great Northern Brewing of Whitefish has actually closed its first-floor taproom in its historic downtown location, but you can still find all of their beers on tap on the second floor in the newly opened Black Star Draught House, which, under separate ownership, has a beer and wine license, so it can serve wine and stay open to midnight.
USDA Boosts MBA. Herbert recently announced that MBA received a $30,000 grant from the USDA’s Growth Through Agriculture Program. He said the much-needed grant money would be used to develop a marketing plan to promote Montana’s brewing industry and the expanded use of Montana agricultural products, travel and booth expenses to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, and development of the MBA website.
October 1 Was a Birthday for Brewers. On the first day of October, HB 400, passed by the 2009 legislature, went into effect, allowing brewers to sell craft beer up to 14 percent ABV and scraping the prohibition-esque 8.75 percent cap. A few of these tasty barley wines and other special brews have started to creep onto the market, even while the Department of Revenue (DOR) continues to grind out the administrative rules to regulate sales of high-octane beer. Chief among the upcoming rules, Herbert noted, would be a requirement that the alcohol content come from the natural brewing process–not just added alcohol to bring the ABV up. Keep in mind that HB 400 also covers imports into the state, not just beer made in Montana.
Click here for a nice article in the Great Falls Tribune on how HB 400 came to be.
October 1 was also the day Montana went smoke-free in accordance with the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act. How will this cultural sea change affect brewers? Time will tell, but one reason people flock to taprooms is their search for a smoke-free environment, which now every tavern and casino also provides. Will this mean less biz for taprooms?
What Time Is It? As I reported on several times (click here), the DOR stirred up some serious controversy by attempting to quickly approve an administrative rule requiring taprooms to close instead of stop selling beer at exactly 8 pm. After a massive backlash, DOR dropped the rule like it had leprosy. Then, after several meetings between DOR staffers, brewers and law enforcement reps, the agency agreed to allow brewers to stay open until 10 pm, even though they still, by law, had to stop selling beer at 8 pm. Then, in the following public comment over the new rule, the DOR decided to cut it back to 9 pm.
This initially dismayed brewers who thought they had a deal, but subsequently, Herbert assured, most agreed that 9 pm was closer to the spirit of the law. “We’re all good with the way it came out,” he said.
Footnote: To read the entire Microbrew Montana Series and more coverage of the state’s craft beer industry, click here.