One thing sounded really good to me during the long, 36-hour trip home from India this week – to bend an elbow at the Kettlehouse and relive the adventures with good friends.
I probably dreamed about it a little on the plane as I drank German beers and reveled in good bread and other solid foods that didn’t have the smell of curry about them.
I figured there would be snow on the ground in Missoula, and I’d smell the brewery from around the corner, that inviting, warm-grapenuts smell of grains cooking.
I’d sidle up to the bar, and Mitch or Al, most likely Al, would rib me about something I’d blogged from India. And I’d grip a pint of Doublehaul and laugh about something Al wrote on his little whiteboard of wisdom.
Instead, I walked up to Kettlehouse last night to find a bouncer smoking at the door telling me that the brewery was at capacity, and that I would have to wait for someone to leave.
I looked into the warm, inviting interior, curiously devoid of people. I watched as people walked up to the bar and ordered drinks as if it was a Saturday afternoon.
The boisterous atmosphere of the Kettlehouse had settled to a healthy din as the new Gourds album could be heard clearly above the chatter.
“Should only be about five minutes,” the bouncer said.
Fifteen-minutes later, standing with a crowd of at least a dozen people, I finally got in, but my companion had to wait.
I stolled into the brewery wondering what kind of America I had come back to.
This is not the fault of the Kettlehouse, its owners or staff. The whole situation, as I understand it, is out of their control.
So don’t mistake me, this is not meant to slam the K-Hole, rather, it’s written out of frustration for a series of events dating back several months that have made it increasingly difficult to just go out and enjoy a craft-brewed beer.
First, the pressure on breweries to close their doors at 8 p.m. made it tough if you, like me, work late and can’t get up to the brewery for a beer until after 7:30 p.m.
Second, pressure from the MTA led to the Montana Department of Revenue raiding stores and pulling high-gravity beer off of shelves, which led to stores voluntarily removing some of the best beers in the world from their shelves.
Third, a crackdown by the Fire Marshall led to capacity controls limiting the amount of people in places like the Kettlehouse and the Rhino.
I understand the need for safety, especially in a world where lawsuits dictate policy. I understand the need for laws governing the consumption and sale of alcohol, which is a drug.
What I do not understand is why creative solutions cannot be found to help promote Montana’s craft-brew industry, which has bent whichever way both the MTA and Department of Revenue want in order to maintain good relations and to be able to operate under existing guidelines.
States that promote their craft breweries have seen a surplus in tourism dollars. California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado all benefit from their breweries. Montana still treats breweries as if they are saloons and brothels attempting to corrupt the wholesome settlers of the west.
Sadly it comes down to money. The MTA has copious amounts of it to throw at the legislature to protect its inheritance system, while the state can’t seem to get past post-prohibition laws meant to legislate morality.
We’ve come a long way in this country regarding personal rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, but we seem determined to hang on to some notion that government knows what’s best for its citizenry rather than the other way around. “Of the people, by the people and for the people.” At least that’s how I understood it.
I know it’s just beer. But the control of it remains a symbol of old and decrepit thinking instead of opportunistic optimism in the face of recession. Montana needs new revenue streams. The government needs to get out of the business of alcohol unless it is to promote the tourism industry based on the state’s craft breweries, wineries and fledgling craft-distilling industry.
For now, I’ll buy a four-pack of Doublehaul and head home to enjoy its frothy goodness. If the MTA is mistaken enough to think that by harassing breweries it will garner more business or somehow protect its dead legacy, well, I’ve got news for them. Montanans like good, local beer brewed by people who live here and who serve their product fresh.
Perhaps it’s hard to see that from the dim, smokey interior of an empty tavern.