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Blackfoot River Brewing's always-busy taproom. Photo by Bill Schneider

Revenue Department Pulls Proposed Rule Restricting Taproom Hours

Following a meeting this morning with representatives of the Montana State Brewers Association (MSBA), Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) Director Dan Bucks pulled the proposed administrative rule which was due to be hotly contested tomorrow afternoon in an official public hearing.

Meeting with Bucks and his staff were Sam Hoffman, owner of Red Lodge Ales of Red Lodge, and Brian Smith and Brad Simshaw, co-owners of Blackfoot River Brewing of Helena. Hoffmann is president and Smith vice-president of MSBA.

This means tomorrow’s hearing is essentially meaningless. It will be held, but will only cover minor issues of little or no concern to brewers.

“The director apologized for the process,” Smith told NewWest.Net, “and he admitted that the dept could have looked at this closer. I think he agreed with us that this all could have been avoided if they would have talked to us prior to the notice or rule making.”

Instead of going ahead with the rule change at this time, DOR and MSBA have agreed to work together to cooperatively address any problems with enforcing the law. “We’re now sitting down with in a negotiated rule making process to make sure things are done correctly,” Smith said.

And there are points of agreement. “He (Bucks) has some concerns over enforceability of the current law,” Smith said, indicating that he believed some of these concerns were valid and that MSBA members would work with DOR to address them.

Smith said Bucks might invite other interested parties into the negotiation.

Part of the controversy created over the rule change was fueled with the belief that the Montana Tavern Association (MTA) was behind the scenes punching the buttons, but Smith said Bucks strongly disagreed and insisted the rule change was staff driven. “He was adamant that the MTA wasn’t behind the rule change.”

The rule change had created an instant furor among craft beer fans. GrizzlyGrowler.com posted a petition written by Dave Ayers of Glacier Brewing in Polson, and as this is written, 811 people have already signed it.

“They (DOR officials) were overwhelmed and surprised by the amount of interest,” Smith said, noting that besides hearing from many brewers and numerous taproom patrons, “several legislators have contacted him and the Governor’s office.”

The recent NewWest.Net commentary on the proposed rule was specifically mentioned, Smith added.

“We have had no communication with the tavern industry on this manner,” Bucks reaffirmed in a telephone interview with NewWest.Net, “Your article was completely wrong about the reasons for the department pursuing this rule change. It had nothing to do with economic competition between members of the liquor industry.”

Before writing my column earlier this week, I went out to the DOR’s Liquor Control Division and looked through the files and talked to several members of Bucks’ staff who told me there were no written complaints, only phone calls. But alas, there was one written complaint, which was a major factor in proposed the rule change. Ironically, that complaint came from the MSBA.

In February 2007, Tim O’Leary, owner of Kettlehouse Brewing of Missoula and secretary/treasurer of the MSBA, sent a formal complaint to DOR about the business practices of one of the organization’s own members, Yellowstone Valley Brewing of Billings, claiming the company allowed patrons to consume beer served from their taproom on an unlicensed patio and of violating local open container laws.

“MSBA members strive to uphold both Montana and Federal Law governing the operation of our breweries,” O’Leary wrote. “It is imperative that all Montana breweries do as well.”

“That was the problem that the rule proposed to address,” Bucks said, “but not necessarily very well.”

Keep in mind, Bucks added, that this was only a proposal for public comment. “That doesn’t mean it is what the rule would be.”

Bucks admitted that “The proposed rule did not necessarily address the underlying problem, which is assure responsible consumption on premises for public health and safety reasons.”

“After our meeting this morning, we have an understanding that there are some common issues,” Bucks said. “There are some complaints, but there is not a widespread problem within this industry. The (microbrewing) business as a whole is trying to do business in a responsible manner, and we respect that.”

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9 comments

  1. See? People can make a difference when they voice their support or non support regarding an issue. Our obligation to retain our freedom and rights don’t end election day.

  2. so did Mr Schweitzer possibly send the board a subtle message;
    IF IT AIN’T BROKE DON’T FIX IT.
    or as my old logging/fishing buddy used to say while fishing along the thick willows of brushy creek in the Bitterroots “no little god damned fish is worth tangling with a xxxx’xx moose”
    (or a moose drool drinker!)

  3. A point of clarification:

    I wrote the letter of complaint on behalf of the Montana State Brewer’s Association in my role as Secretary/Treasurer. The complaint came from a few tavern owners in Billings who thought that YVBC wasn’t following the taproom regulations and were operating an illegal deck. This MSBA voted to file the formal complaint only after personal contacts with YVBC failed to generate an appropriate response. The MSBA complaint only addressed the deck and it appears that the deck problem has been rectified.

  4. Further point of clarification:
    At the time of the complaint YVBC was NOT a member of the MSBA. I no longer have the records, but they haven’t been a member for some time.

  5. Grammar check: Change “This MSBA . . .” in the third sentence of my first post to “The MSBA . . .” Apologies to all my past English teachers.

  6. Tim–I’m sure people realize you were only sending the letter on behalf of the MSBA. You might want to update your website which lists Yellowstone Valley in the same “local brewer” list as Kettlehouse and all the other members of MSBA, which is why I thought it was still a member…..Bill

  7. There are two things that will send send the masses of people to hearings in Montana–Messing with rivers and our beer.

  8. Problembear clearly doesn’t understand Schweitzer very well. See, Bucks is a puppet for BS – pay attention during the legislature. Since this idea didn’t go over very well, BS won’t be anywhere near it – see, it stinks. He’s probably up in his million-dollar mansion on Georgetown like, just like the rest of us common folk. Kudos to the taproom community for standing up to Bucks and BS.

  9. Interesting that all the comments, except that from montanatrail and Gonzo, leave out the people. Brings to mind that old saying about children but updated to “People should be seen but not heard.” In this instance, people did open their mouths and they were heard. Please give credit due to whom changed the tide of where this was going and to whom the “boss” is. Both one and the same.