Montana breweries want to extend closing time to 10 p.m.

(UM Legislative News Service) If the Legislature passes a hotly debated bill, Montana breweries could be open for two more hours, extending their closing time from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

House Bill 185, sponsored by Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, drew a small crowd to the Capitol Tuesday for its public hearing in the House Business and Labor Committee.

Matt Leow, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association, was one of 15 supporters of the bill. He said Montana breweries rely on Montana industry, so selling more beer helps more than just breweries.

“When you buy a beer in a brewery, more of those dollars stay in the state and get recirculated here,” he said. Leow also said Montana has the second most breweries per capita in the nation, and the booming industry has created jobs statewide.

“It’s not just supporting jobs behind the bar. It’s supporting jobs on the other side of the wall, in the manufacturing side of that business. It’s supporting the Montana barley and hops growers,” Leow said. “And it’s creating opportunity for folks to create new industries in this state that would not have been possible if we did not have this craft brewing industry here.

John Iverson with Montana Tavern Association, who was one of 10 opponents to the bill, said breweries are manufacturers, not retailers, and if they want to extend their hours, they should buy a retail license. He also said giving breweries more hours takes away from bar business.

“This bill is not about economic growth, it’s an economic shift,” Iverson said. “The breweries that want to retail more beer want to have their cake and eat ours too.”

The House Business and Labor Committee did not immediately vote on the bill.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.