Later nights brewing 

Most Montana microbrew drinkers have probably experienced this: They walk into a brewery for the first time, have a few beers and, just as they’re getting comfortable, they learn about Montana’s law against microbreweries staying open past 8 p.m.

Roger Scott Jackson, a Bigfork resident who describes himself as a beer aficionado unconnected to any Montana microbreweries, has started breweryhours.com, a new grassroots organization and website that plans to fight during the 2009 legislative session for  longer brewery hours. Jackson hopes to see breweries allowed to stay open until midnight.

During the 2005 legislative session, Montana’s brewers made an attempt to change the post-prohibition brewery laws, but their bill failed miserably, dying in committee after garnering just four of 18 possible votes.

Brewers said the legislation was attacked on two fronts, by the Montana Tavern Association (MTA), which lobbied against them, and by Montana tavern owners, who they say intimidated them.

Brewers who spoke to the Independent in 2005 claimed they were threatened that if they didn’t drop the fight for longer hours, they would lose their access to every tap handle in Montana.

Tavern owners, it appeared then, were reluctant to allow more competition.

According to one local brewer, who wished to remain anonymous, fear of taps being pulled has prevented brewers from getting involved again. He says that although Jackson’s efforts would likely be good for Montana brewers, he and other brewery owners he has talked to plan to remain officially neutral on the subject.

But Jackson is taking a different approach, saying he represents the wishes of brewery patrons, not the breweries themselves.

“We’re basically circumventing the breweries… this involves them, but they’re not involved in it,” Jackson says.

Not only does the strategy theoretically protect breweries from having their beers pulled off taps, but Jackson believes it will also help defeat the MTA’s lobbying efforts.

Politicians may find it easy to side with one self-interested group of businesses over another, he says, but “The express political will of a sufficient number of voters is really, really hard for politicians to ignore. We’re simply making the consumers heard.”
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