Campus buzz: UM gets a grizzly new brew 

In 1993, Montana's two flagship universities each produced commemorative wines to celebrate their centennial anniversaries, lending their names to an alcoholic beverage for the special occasion the way parents let teens sip champagne on New Year's Eve.

Much has changed in the 24 years since: There's greater awareness of the harm caused by drunk driving, and of alcohol's role in sexual violence. And much hasn't changed: Montana still has one of the nation's highest rates of alcohol-related death. The year those centennial wines were corked, Missoula had only one craft brewery. Today, the industry is so ingrained in our self-image that UM chief marketing officer Mario Schulzke can describe the locally produced inebriants as "part of who we are" with full confidence that most newspaper readers will nod in approval.

Now approaching their 125th anniversaries, UM and MSU are again in a celebratory mood, and to commemorate the occasion, both have ... well, take a guess.

On Aug. 22, Big Sky Brewing contracted with UM to release Griz Montana Lager, making UM one of a small but growing number of schools to license a craft beer. While UM has long licensed its trademarks for drinkware such as growlers and shot glasses, it, like most universities, has avoided the alcohol itself.

click to enlarge i35rez.jpg

But Schulzke, who has been looking to expand UM's already sizeable licensing program, reportedly worth $460,000 last year, figured the quasquicentennial was the perfect occasion to sneak a sip. He found an ideal partner in Big Sky cofounder Bjorn Nabozney, class of '93, who drew up the brewery's business plan as his final project for a UM business course. Schulzke agreed to earmark $5,000 in licensing royalties for late-night campus buses and alcohol-abuse prevention programming at Curry Health, and interim President Sheila Stearns signed on.

The concept hasn't gone down as smoothly in Bobcat country. Licensing alcohol required that MSU change a formal campus policy, thrusting the idea into public view, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The chair of the county DUI task force and student government leaders opposed aspects of the change. It was approved last spring, but as tailgating season approaches, President Waded Cruzado remains undecided about a Bobcat brew, the paper reported in August.

Schulzke says UM administrators weighed and came to terms with the risks: What happens when a celebratory imbiber gets alcohol poisoning, or police bust an underage kegger with Griz Montana Lager on tap? "There's a reputational risk attached to that and a health risk attached to that as well," he says.

UM will receive 12 percent of wholesale revenue.

"My hope is that we end up putting some positive recognition to the university," Nabozney says. "It's been a little bit beleaguered the past couple of years."

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