Montana Brewers Association Festival & Technical Conference

Support and development of State Brewers Guilds remains a major focus of the Brewers Association. The addition of Acacia Coast, the trade group’s State Brewers Association Coordinator has helped the BA become more of a resource for existing and fledgling guilds. Acacia has been busy crisscrossing the country attending state brewers association meetings with many of them centered on initial guild formation.

Acacia provides and update on here trip to Montana.

In September, the Montana Brewers Association (MBA) held their 5th Annual Montana Brewers Fall Festival, alongside their MBA brewers’ technical conference. Small brewers made the journey from all over the state to celebrate the outstanding Montana beer, and stay for two additional days to learn from peers and industry members at the conference.

The Fall Fest was held in Caras Park in downtown Missoula, Montana. Eighty-seven beers were served for eight hours in a mellow, family oriented celebration. The event flowed seamlessly due to an enormous effort by the executive director, Tony Herbert, partnered with the MBA Board of Directors.

The two-day technical conference was held in the Downtown Missoula Holiday Inn. This professional and educational opportunity was made possible with support from allied trade members’ sponsorship, many who showcased their wares and services at the conference expo.

Brewers began the morning with a powerful distribution panel discussion. The panel and MBA offered resources to educate the state’s brewers on establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial distributor relationships.

Brewery sustainability was the next topic, led by a presentation from Sierra Nevada’s Cheri Chastain and partnered with several Montana brewers. Sierra Nevada is an industry leader in sustainability. Montana brewers have alsomade huge strides reducing their ecological footprint. Bayern Brewing Co shared their fascinating story of investing in reusable wax ecopack case boxes, washing their 12oz bottles for reuse, and recovering back from consumers used 6 pack holders for use again. Working towards LEEDS Gold certification (one of the highest rating for green-building), Flathead Lake Brewing Co is also certainly setting the bar high.

Resource alert! Through the work of the Brewers Association Technical Committee, the BA recently released a Sustainability Toolbox to help brewers of all sizes work towards their own sustainability measures.

Montana is certainly well known for its barley production, generating about 2/3 of the total barley grown in the US. It is the #1 barley growing state and also home to a malting facility in Great Falls. However, there are very few hops grown in the state. Tom Britz led a seminar on Montana’s brewing agriculture, sharing the process of establishing a hop research facility near Whitefish. He and his wife, Annie, are researching the feasibility of commercially grown and processed hops in Montana.

The MBA member business meeting followed. Montana’s small brewers produce somewhere around 120k bbls annually, but not without heavy regulation.There have been multiple political attacks on small breweries during previous legislative sessions. The MBA puts forth much effort to protect Montana’s small brewers each legislative session but will undoubtedly experience more resistance from their adversaries in the future.

That evening, after the close of the conference for the day, the MBA led a pub crawl through Missoula, complete with dinner, great beers and famed Missoula beer bars, and finished off with live music in a late night hospitality back at the Holiday Inn.

Day two of the conference was once again filled with informative seminars and impressive guest speakers. In the “Marketing via the Web” seminar, Max Pigman, owner of Lewis & Clark Brewing Co encouraged brewers to track their website traffic, emphasizing the importance of dedicating a trusted brewery employee the task and time to creating strong, online presence. Another seminar on health insurance gave breweries the opportunity to learn more about the new federal healthcare laws.

Montana brewers have good relationships with their governor and many of their legislators. As a result of these positive relationships, the MBA had the honor of welcoming special guest, Mike Cadis, Director of the Montana Department of Revenue.

Cadis’ enthusiasm for the Montana craft brewing industry is tangible. He said it’s exciting that brewers are generating a local product. His job, says Cadis, is to ensure that the train of innovation, change and growth keeps going.

He acknowledged that working with the regulatory agencies can often be challenging. His encouraged the Montana brewers, “Don’t underestimate your own power. You have really grown as an industry and have the ability to have a seat at the table.”

He also urged brewers to engage with their legislators, “They need to understand where brewers are coming from. The anti-alcohol opposition is certainly talking to them. They have been very smart and active and engaged in the political process. They are both your competition and your partners. The more you work with them, the better off you’ll be. You won’t always agree, but you’ll be much better off if you work together. Brewers are new to the political scene here.”

Joining Cadis was Shauna Helfert, Liquor Distribution Manager of the MT Dept of Revenue’s Liquor Control Division. She was also accompanied by a few of her staff – the Liquor Div Chief, the Bureau Chief for licensing, and more. Shawna spoke on the multiple bills that did pass in the last session, as well as new rulemakings that have an impact on Montana brewery businesses. She had kind words to say about the industry, explaining that sometimes regulating with a fair hand can be a challenge.

Next, Brian Smith of Blackfoot River Brewing Co shared information on the Small BREW Act. Twelve Montana brewers met with their legislators during the Washington DC CBC 2013 Hill Climb. It was a beneficial time where brewers had the powerful opportunity to express their concerns and also talk about their support of the federal excise tax bill. Brian and other Montana brewers will likely be present at the 2014 Savor Hill Climb, once again leveraging their compelling story of the impact of Montana’s small independent breweries.

Well done Montana Brewers Association! This was an excellent learning opportunity and an incredible resource for the Montana brewing community. Montana brewers are extraordinarily fortunate for the work and support of their MBA. The Brewers Association is immensely grateful to see these guild-sponsored technical conferences occurring more frequently across the country.

Find your state guild contact here!