Letter to the Editor: Montana Beer Policy Should Go Beyond the Status Quo

Editor’s Note: this letter is a response to March 21 opinion column titled, “Tavern Association Sours Microbreweries’ Mash” by Brent Zundel.

Montana Tavern Association (MTA) members want microbreweries to play by the same rules. I agree that the licensing system is archaic: Shouldn’t I, as an American, be able to open a bar, buy bulk booze from vendors, and sell it to customers if I want to without government intervention on the order of a six-figure license? Shouldn’t I be able to do that whether or not I also want to brew my own beer?

 As disinterested parties, we should be looking toward that third option beyond status quo and the bills in the legislature: overhauling the liquor license system in Montana. You won’t hear this one from the MTA, because its members already have licenses, so they benefit from this giant barrier-to-entry in the marketplace. But if we’re not going to do that, we need a level playing field.

 I went into Bridger Brewing on their first weekend of business. I’m 27, but I certainly look under 40. My roommate, a bar bouncer, was shocked that we didn’t get carded for beer. He works at the Zebra, which operates on the same liquor license as Colonel Black’s, Pub 317 and the Pour House. So if any one of those places loses its license to an infraction (at the state’s discretion, under 16-4-406, MCA), all four close. If the microbrewer serves minors, the law book is silent but for the server facing the misdemeanor “Unlawful transactions with children,” 45-5-623, MCA. There’s not even a provision for the revocation of a brewery license, as long as the license was obtained at a time when there was “satisfactory evidence that the [licensee was] of good moral character and a law-abiding person” (16-4-101, MCA).

 Overhauling the licensing system is the best option for beer-drinking Montanans.

Submitted by Thomas Blake