I had to post this comment from Bjorn Nabozney at Big Sky Brewing Co. It explains the Montana alcohol limit law from a brewery standpoint, a distribution take and a consumer’s point of view.
Right now there are many breweries, beer distributors, beer stores and restaurants that are breaking Montana law by selling “liquor” as “beer.” Very few of these businesses know that they are breaking the law and most of them would be very surprised to learn that according to the State of Montana, any malt beverage that contains over 7% alcohol by weight (ABW) cannot legally be brewed, distributed, or sold as beer. Instead, all such beverages are classified as liquor and must meet the state’s very different laws that govern liquor rather than those that govern beer. Here is the language from the Montana Code Annotated:
16-1-102. Policy as to sale of beer. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state of Montana that the manufacture, transportation, distribution, sale, and possession of “beer”, as that term is defined in this code and which contains not more than 7% of alcohol by weight, shall be controlled and regulated as provided under this code. Beer, porter, ale, stout, and malt liquors containing more than 7% of alcohol by weight and which are defined as “liquor” shall be subject to the regulations and controls provided for liquor.
As a craft brewery, Big Sky Brewing Company feels that it is important to be able to legally brew and sell several styles of beer that traditionally contain over 7% ABW. Because we feel very strongly about this issue, we will petition the 2007 state legislature to remove the limit to the alcohol content of beer. Here is a list of some of the most common beer styles that are traditionally brewed to contain over 7% ABW.
India Pale Ale
English Old Ale
English Strong Ale
Additionally, there are over a dozen less common styles of beer that would often be brewed to over 7% ABW. While the sale of these beers would be a tiny portion of our business, it is important for Big Sky Brewing Company to be able to compete with other regional breweries in this high end market.
It also appears that any beer distributor that carries beer brands that contain over 7% ABW are violating the law. A similar problem faces the owner of a high end beer and wine store or a restaurant with only a beer and wine license that wants to carry an extensive selection of beers. Here is a list of some brands that we have found on Montana store shelves that cannot legally be sold as beer according to Montana law.
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wine
Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn
Samuel Adams Double Bock
Stone Brewing Double Bastard
Rogue Brewing Old Crustacean
Rogue Brewing Imperial Stout
It is clear that if the current law were being enforced, dozens of Montana businesses would be forced to reduce the number of fine beers they offer to their customers and Montana beer aficionados would find themselves with fewer fine brews to choose from. The fact that the current law is not enforced and that several beers with alcohol contents well in excess of 7% ABW are currently being sold in Montana indicates that if the limit was removed, there would not be a significant increase in the number of strong beers available for sale here. Instead, law abiding Montana breweries would be allowed to brew these high end beers while law abiding distributors, beer stores, and restaurants would be able to distribute and sell these great beers to their customers throughout the state.
There is not any legitimate reason to limit the alcohol content of beer. The brewing process itself limits the amount of alcohol that beer can contain. As the amount of alcohol in beer increases, the yeast that produces alcohol dies and can no longer produce additional alcohol. Because of this, well over 99.9% of all beers brewed contain less than 16% alcohol by volume (ABV). It is worth noting that the state of Montana defines table wine as containing up to 16% ABV (this is equivalent to 12.6% ABW). There is no reason for strong beers to fall under the liquor laws while wines with similar or stronger alcohol content do not.
When comparing Montana’s law to those of surrounding states, we find that Montana is much stricter than most states in the Northwest. All of the other states in our region are much less restrictive. Oregon sets its limit at 14% ABV, and North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming set no maximum alcohol content for beer. It is for all of these reasons that we intend to ask the state of Montana to remove its 7% ABW limit from beer produced, distributed, and sold in the state.
Comment by Bjorn Nabozney — February 19, 2008 @
Now that we know some of the ins and outs of the Montana Code, what’s the best course of action?
Should the state crack down on all this illegal beer? Could they? Should the brewers stand alone in petitioning the legislature to nix the seven percent limit? What’s at stake here? Is it just a few breweries and those of us who really like a broad range of beers who stand to gain or lose the right to brew and enjoy high ABV beers?
The thing I’ve noticed since I moved to Montana is that the brewers in this state are working hard. They are working hard to produce more beer, to get their products in more states, to produce good brand names and get great space on grocery story shelves. They work hard to provide local jobs and to be an integral part of their communities.
But breweries are inhibited by prohibition residuals, by state law and a powerful tavern lobby that doesn’t even understand it has nothing to lose by not fighting something so trivial as a the seven percent ABW law and by an undereducated populace that, for the most part, knows what it likes, but doesn’t know why that needs to be protected.