BILLINGS -- Tavern owners and craft brewers have often had a frosty relationship in Montana, fighting for their share of thirsty beer drinkers’ money.
But on Tuesday, the two groups, along with the Montana Restaurant Association, announced a new alliance. Signs and stickers stating “Buy Local Beer Here” are popping up at bars, restaurants and breweries statewide, part of a broader campaign to highlight Montana-made brews at Montana establishments.
“We decided to focus on the 1,000 things we have in common instead of the three things we disagree on,” said John Iverson, government affairs director of the Montana Tavern Owners Association.
The tavern owners, restaurateurs and brewers produced about 6,000 stickers in this first run and are encouraging consumers to post pictures with messages on social media, said Matt Leow, director of the Montana Brewers Association.
They have hashtags, #BuyLocalBeer and #MTBeer, which they hope will get people talking on social media. There's a website, too: www.montanabrewers.org/buylocalbeer.
“Look out for the ‘Buy Local Beer Here’ sign on storefronts and slap a sticker on your car, bike, skis or boat to show support for Montana craft beer,” Josh Townsley, president of the brewers association and owner of Lakeside-based Tamarack Brewing Co., said in a statement.
Montana has 71 licensed breweries, and the number has more than doubled since the beginning of the decade, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Initially, the growth of tap rooms made tavern owners nervous. They resembled bars, but the licenses could be obtained at a fraction of the cost. However, both sides recognized that craft brewing was growing.
In 2014, the brewers, tavern owners and beer distributors began meeting to work on new craft-beer legislation, but the partnership disintegrated when the distributors and a small group of brewers broke off to write their own bill.
Both bills failed in the Legislature, but both sides say the new buy-local campaign is step forward.
“This is a foundation for future collaboration,” Iverson said.
For restaurateurs, it’s also a chance to put their mark on a growing trend, said Brad Anderson, who owns six Buffalo Wild Wings franchises in Montana, including the Helena location.
“It’s very important for us to stay relevant in the market,” he said.