US. Breweries pour millions into MT economy

  • Reading time:4 min(s) read

Beer-lovers, rejoice: The next time you crack open a cold one, you can replace any feeling of guilt with the satisfaction that you’ve just stimulated the local economy.
According to a recent study conducted by UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Montana’s craft brewing industry is rapidly growing and continues to have a substantial impact on the state’s economy.
Researchers found Montana breweries, combined, produced roughly 103,000 barrels of beer in 2011, selling for a total of $26.1 million. They paid their employees $6.4 million and totaled $18.8 million in expenditures, almost half of which was spent on Montana goods and services.
Researcher Colin Sorenson said his economic model estimated the industry has created 434 jobs in Montana, while contributing $48.4 million in private sector sales. The industry also produced $1.5 million in government revenues.
In addition to dollars already brought in, Sorenson said craft brewing could have an even bigger impact in future years because its growth rate dwarfs that of other industries.
From 2010 to 2011, the number of Montana jobs increased one percent, while the manufacturing sector grew three percent. But employment in the breweries, which is a small subsector of manufacturing, increased 39 percent during the same time frame.
“I knew the industry was growing, but I was surprised to see just how fast it was growing between 2010 and 2011,” Sorenson said. “Clearly that’s not a trend that we would expect to continue for a long time, but it shows the current rate of growth is much faster than the manufacturing sector or the state in general.”
While the industry’s growth rate may be surprising, Montana’s love affair with craft beer is no secret.
The Brewers Association announced earlier this year, Montana ranks second in the nation in breweries per capita, with one for every 30,919 citizens, only Vermont ranks higher. With Montana’s 38 operational breweries — up from 33 in 2011 — the Treasure State may take the top spot in next year’s survey.
According to the Sorenson’s research, Missoula is certainly doing its part to make Montana the craft brewing capital of the United States. Some of the state’s biggest and most established breweries reside in Missoula, including Big Sky Brewery — the state’s top producer — and Kettlehouse Brewing Co., which is almost too popular for its own good.
The producers of Montana favorites such as Cold Smoke, Double Haul and Eddy Out, Kettlehouse had to pull out of several markets to stay below the state’s 10,000 barrel limit for breweries wishing to sell on-site.
Neal Leathers, the president and cofounder of Big Sky Brewery, said the law was put in place in the 1990s, when local breweries had no intention of selling on-site. He said Big Sky was already producing more than 10,000 barrels when the law was passed, but as business around the state continues to boom, brewery owners may approach the state Legislature about changing the cap.
“We’d love to be able to sell pints at our place, and it’s annoying that when people come to Montana to visit the breweries they can drink on-premise at every brewery except ours,” Leathers said. “We’re still fine without it, but it would be nice if that got changed at some point.”
The owners can certainly make a strong case, as the four Missoula breweries — Big Sky, Kettlehouse, Bayern and Draught Works — accounted for $15.1 million in sales in 2011. Since Draught Works just opened its doors in October of last year, that number is on pace to increase substantially in 2012.
The Missoula breweries also employed 109 people last year, and as the nation climbs out of recession, Sorenson said Montana’s craft brewing industry provides hope during grim economic times.
“It’s a real encouraging sign to see an industry doing this well in an economy that’s slowly recovering,” he said.
Sorenson pointed out the industry’s success could be attributed to Montanans’ willingness to support local businesses or a larger cultural phenomenon surrounding craft beer. Or as Tony Herbert, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association, said, perhaps its success can be attributed to something much simpler.
“Montana brewers just make great beer,” Herbert said. “I mean, we are part of the pedigree of great brewers and breweries in our nation. People look forward to the next time they can have a Montana beer in their hands.”