Friday, April 13, 2012

Happiest Hour: The Baucus Caucus

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2012 at 4:15 PM

We've got a special edition Happiest Hour for you all this week, featuring none other than Montana Sen. Max Baucus. He was in Missoula chatting up local beer and the importance of microbrews, so we caught up with him to talk pilsners, excise tax and toppling Vermont for craft brew glory.

This week: The Baucus Caucus

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The skinny: It’s Thursday evening and we’re at the Westside's Draught Works Brewery with Sen. Max Baucus. As co-chair of the U.S. Senate’s Small Brewers Caucus, he has to keep up with issues facing microbreweries nationwide. Today he’s meeting up with a few heavy hitters, including Brewers Association COO Bob Pease and Montana Brewers Association Executive Director Tony Herbert. And, of course, sipping some fine Missoula brew.

What Baucus is drinking: Turns out the Montana Senator is a fan of Draught Works’s Quill Pig Czech style pilsner. So are we. It’s a crisp little number. Baucus can’t set his glass down. We ask if he prefers any particular beer style. “I’ll experiment a little bit,” he says. “I’m not a fan of the jalapeño, though.” He means the Jalapeño Dry Hopped Pale Ale, one of the brewery’s limited-time-only cask beers. It’s an acquired taste.

What Baucus is saying: Herbert and Pease spend most of the evening asking Baucus if there’s any intel he needs to help steer congressional talk on brewery laws. The answer is no. Baucus is up to date on an effort to decrease the excise tax on craft beer in the country. He’s a booster. Not so much with the CARE Act, which would inhibit the ability of small breweries and wineries to ship directly to customers. “Sen. Baucus’s knowledge on our issues was far and away greater than any of the other senators I’ve met with,” Pease says.

What’s next: There’s a boom in Montana brewing. The state now has 34 registered breweries, with two more set to open this year. The industry employs 240 people statewide. At this rate, Montana could soon topple Vermont for most breweries per capita. The thought excites Baucus almost as much as the beer. “We’re going to go for it,” he says. “We’re going to be number one.” With that, Baucus tries the Scepter Head IPA.

Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, e-mail editor@missoulanews.com.

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