The Politics Of Beer
Beer politics in Montana is fascinating for a number of reasons. One recent example of beer politics is republican Jeff Welborn’s (R-Dillon) failed attempt to move forward his anti-business regulation bill:
Draught Works Brewery owners Paul Marshall and Jeff Grant were busy reorganizing their brewing tanks last week to make room for newer, bigger tanks that will be delivered soon.
The new tanks will allow Draught Works, which opened in 2011, to eventually double its capacity, said co-owner Paul Marshall.
The young brewery is thriving in its home on Toole Avenue. But the growth planning at Draught Works continued with Marshall and Grant keeping a weary eye on what’s happening at the 2013 Montana legislative session.
Particularly of interest was a Montana Tavern Association-endorsed bill draft requested by Rep. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, which proposed limiting beer sold on premises of small breweries to 10 percent of annual production. The other 90 percent would have to be sold through distributors.
Draught Works sells 100 percent of its beer in its taproom.
“It would kill us,” Marshall said of the “90/10” idea.
The bill has been dropped, but it’s a frightening prospect for Marshall, who noted that the complicated set of state laws under which microbreweries currently operate will heavily dictate how his business moves forward.
Like Republicans at the national level, there doesn’t seem to be any principles involved when it comes to servicing special interest groups (in this case, the Montana Tavern Association) other than servicing that special interest group, even if it means crafting legislation that suppresses one form of business—microbreweries—in order to directly benefit their competitors.
I hope Dave Budge at The Montana Regulation Project is taking note of the desire of the MTA to put even more barriers up in order to stop business growth in Montana.
Another example of the hoops needed to expand a microbrewery is developing tonight, in the chambers of Missoula’s City Council, where Tim O’Leary is appealing council for a conditional use permit. The Missoula Independent reported a few weeks ago about what O’Leary has already had to do to even get to this point:
Last week, O’Leary announced via Facebook that Kettlehouse will soon split into three separate companies. Work is already underway to relocate the Myrtle Street brewhouse to an adjacent building, which will become the new headquarters for Kettlehouse Brewing. The newly established Myrtle Street Taphouse LLC—owned by O’Leary’s mother, Helen O’Leary—will take over the existing taproom location and is currently acquiring a beer and wine license to keep the taps flowing. Kettlehouse’s Northside location will be renamed the Northside Brewing Company and operate as-is under sole ownership of O’Leary’s wife, Suzy Rizza.
“The major difference is the brewery will be owned by me and the beer bar will be owned by Mom,” O’Leary wrote Jan. 18. “We don’t expect to change our serving hours or quantities drastically. In fact we may not even serve wine. That is an option that the proposed license allows but does not require. Our goal is to maintain the atmosphere at 602 Myrtle that our longtime customers have come to love.”
And since Myrtle Street Taphouse is a separately owned and operated company, Kettlehouse will be able to produce enough beer to satisfy increasing demand among wholesalers without upsetting local desire for neighborhood taprooms. O’Leary told the Indy last week that numerous other Montana breweries have already applied similar business models to comply with the state’s varied and restrictive microbrew laws.
Though it sounds like Tim’s plan will be granted forward momentum by the council, there will be an additional condition to the conditional use permit for the Kettlehouse: a 10pm curfew.
An amendment from Mike O’Herron, and supported by Caitlin Copple and Jason Wiener, failed tonight, which means the anti-business victory tonight goes to Alex Taft, Ed Childers, and Bob Jaffe, who opposed late hours (a BIG THANKS to @KeilaSzpaller for live tweeting City Council).
What makes this decision appear very selective and very unfair is the proximity of a fabulous dive called Flippers, where you can drink beer and cheap wine (generous pours) until 2am, and gamble till the sun comes up.
Did I mention Flippers is a block from the Kettlehouse?
In all fairness, if I lived in that neighborhood, I probably wouldn’t be really excited about the possibility of having more drunk people around until 2am either. NIMBYism is a powerful force, and often transcends ideology.
That said, I’m glad the Kettlehouse will no longer by constrained by a 10,000 barrel production cap, because the constraint is solely there to insulate the established alcohol cartel from competition.