An Open Letter To Montana’s Brewers

Dear Montana Brewer,

RE:  An Open Letter To Montana’s Brewers

montanabeerWe have a forest fire burning in Montana right now.  If we all make the assumption that someone else is doing something about it, this forest fire could get out of control.  I’m writing you today to plead my case for House Bill 616, a current proposed bill before the legislature that aims to have a large impact on your brewery and your customers.  Some of you may be well aware of this legislation, others, perhaps not.

It’s very easy for me to imagine that many of you stand to gain much from legislation like HB616.  After all, it resolves some of the contentious issues that many of you have faced, such as not being able to obtain a cabaret license and a brewer’s license as one person.  For others, as you look at your business, you may see that you quite handily comply with the law as it stands with healthy distribution channels, bottling endeavors and long standing relationships with Montana’s customer base.

Yet others of you are still trying to gain a foot hold in the Montana market place.  It is my belief that there is room for each and every one of you and even many more.  I, personally, have made a conscientious effort to support as many of you as possible in my extensive travels across the state.  I might be so bold as to suggest that you must not view each other as competitors.  Remember, it is as a collective force that our brewers change the pallets of your potential customers that allow each and every one of us to, perhaps one day, be one of your dedicated customers.  Big or small, all breweries are interdependent upon one another to shape the tastes and the desires of customers that you are unable to reach.

I have read through HB616 and while yes, I agree, it will suit many of you, more importantly; it stands to harm both struggling breweries and new, upcoming breweries alike.  It is my absolute belief that none of you, aside from a very small number of exceptions, could have established your business today if HB616 were on the books.

I plead with you to ask yourselves these questions:

  • What if you are not able to obtain a limited cabaret licenses when the law takes effect?  Are you prepared to shut down or heavily limit your tasting room immediately or comply with the law?  Are you willing to potentially scale back your production to comply?
  • Were you profitable and/or sustainable at 300 barrels of production?  Could your business have been successful if you were forced into distribution without the help of your local tasting room?  Could you have competed when customers were still unaware of your great beer?  My guess is that for most of you, the answer is no.
  • If you opt to not get your cabaret license, can’t obtain one or simply can’t afford one, do you want to give your customers a 2AM treatment at 8PM?
  • Are you prepared and willing to go on record as having supported a bill that will plateau the growth of the industry, an act that may be interpreted by some as an attempt to gain a competitive edge and snuff out your fellow compatriots?  Are you willing to accept the fact that without as much public exposure to craft brews overall, your potential customer base will ultimately not extend as far as it can?

While there are admittedly good parts to HB616, there is a much more sinister side that could negatively impact many of our breweries across the state of Montana.  There is little doubt in my mind that some of the mechanics in this bill have such a wide ranging impact that will force many of you into difficult choices and/or cause you to have to significantly re-evaluate the way you do business.  Worse yet, future breweries may look at this legislation and come to the conclusion that it is impractical to open a new brewery within the state.  If you’re not looking out for each other’s interests, who will?

We can hope to amend the HB616 legislation, so as to be more practical of the industry and provide a more reasonable approach to solving the disparities between Montana’s brewery culture, tavern owners and liquor licensing in general.  I assure you, that if we take this approach, nothing will be guaranteed and it is more than likely that attempts to amend the legislation into a more perfect approach could fail.  We can have hope.  But, the reality is that those hopes could be dashed and we could end up with poor legislation that will impact your business well before you have your next opportunity to resolve any issues with it in 2015.

Or, we can resolve to stand with one another and universally reject this legislation.  I personally believe that HB616 is much closer to a practical resolution to the issues in Montana than we have ever seen before.  I believe, that with the right influences and a more sensitive approach to the brewing industry, that it could even be used as a basis for a mutually beneficial law that is universally supported in 2015.  I believe we stand at the precipice where the relationships between Montana’s brewers, the Montana Brewer’s Association and the Montana Tavern Association could be repaired and we could actually work together to come up with the best possible solution for the State of Montana.

It is my strong belief that each and every one of you needs to rally behind the cause of being against HB616.  If we divide our interests and our strength as one common voice with one common interest, we divide our strength and become weaker overall.  If you choose to represent your own best interests before you represent the interests of the industry overall, there will be unforeseen consequences and your future strength will be in question.  If you turn your back on smaller and new-to-be breweries now, who will come to your aid when the next legislation takes direct aim at your business?

The committee hearing will be held on HB616 at 8AM on Tuesday, March 26th.  It will be held in room 172 at the Montana State Capitol building.  This will be your one and only opportunity to have your voices heard loud and clear and I encourage you to take the time to travel to Helena in opposition of this legislation.

If you have any questions or would like to further the discussion, I encourage you to get in touch.  For more information, please visit this link ( for resources on HB616 that I have compiled and may interest you, including community perspectives, commentaries and links to the bill itself.


Jeff Whiteside
Missoula, Montana
Home Brewer, Brewery Enthusiast & Political Activist
Contact Information

P.S.  This letter has been sent to every current brewery, in one form or another, within the State of Montana.  There are four exceptions – Harvest Moon, Yellowstone Valley Brewing, Lewistown Brewing and Phillipsburg Brewing.  If any of you have the means of contacting them via email, I would be grateful if you could forward on my letter.

Statements Received In Response To This Letter:

Bowser Brewing (Great Falls, MT):

“The people of Montana want a friendly, bright, relaxing atmosphere where they can get a beer brewed with local ingredients. That is what I believe the future is for drinkers in Montana. If you feel the same way, don’t wait to act, call your local legislator today and let them know how you feel.”

Draught Works Brewery (Missoula, MT):

“Draught Works will be in Helena for the hearing on Tuesday in full opposition of HB616.  We absolutely do not support this bill as we fully support the craft brewing industry of Montana.”

Desert Mountain Brewing & Draughthaus (Columbia Falls, MT):

“Don’t worry, we’re testifying on Tuesday morning AGAINST HB616.”

Bridger Brewing (Bozeman, MT)

“Thank you for your continued advocacy on behalf of Montana’s breweries. We’ll be supporting the MBA’s recommendations on this legislation.”

Known Breweries Against HB616:

The following is a list of breweries within the State of Montana that have taken a firm, public stance against HB616 and all it’s iterations.  If you own a brewery and want to be on this list, please comment on this post, send me an email or better yet, post your stance to your Facebook.  I will also accept notices from the public that indicate they are opposed to this legislation.  I am currently monitoring all breweries for their public stance on this legislation.

If you don’t see your local brewery on this list, we need to encourage them personally to take a public stance and align with all their fellow breweries across the state!

Bowser Brewing (Great Falls, MT)
Draught Works (Missoula, MT)
Desert Mountain Brewing & Draughthaus (Columbia Falls, MT)
Harvest Moon Brewing (Belt, MT)
Tamarack Brewing (Lakeside, MT)
Glacier Brewing (Polson, MT)
Red Lodge Ales (Red Lodge, MT)
Flathead Lake Brewing Company (Bigfork, MT)
Uberbrew (Billings, MT)
Bridger Brewing (Bozeman, MT)
Fat Jack’s Taproom (Laurel, MT)
Carter’s Brewing (Billings, MT)
Bitteroot Brewing (Hamilton, MT)
Lewis & Clark Brewing (Helena, MT)
Wildwood Brewing (Stevensville, MT)
Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company (Billings, MT)
Missouri Breaks / DocZ’s (Wolf Point, MT)

Phillipsburg Brewing (Phillipsburb, MT)