Growth Through Alcohol


Montana for better or worse has consumed alcohol, and thus supported businesses producing and selling alcohol, at a higher than the national average for decades.  The pros and cons of alcohol consumption have been debated, documented, researched and argued over for the entire time Montana has been a state.  One trend over the past 20 years is the explosion in small craft breweries, distilleries and wineries.  Montana currently has the 2nd most breweries per capita in the nation. (Montana Brewers Association).

In the 1990’s, the Spanish Peaks Brewing Company in Bozeman was a very unique and novel business model. Their model included a restaurant that served beers they brewed and had some limited distribution of their beers in retail locations. The owner was tapped to speak to undergraduate business students (myself included) about their business model.  While Spanish Peaks may not be a common name in Montana brewing today, the business model they followed has proven successful for many other Montana brewers.

The impact of craft breweries is felt across several different industries.  One of these industries is agriculture.  Craft brewers often use barley grown in Montana and in some cases the hops are grown in Montana.  Most craft brewers produce a variety of beers, including beers that are locally or seasonally flavored with Montana grown huckleberries, honey or other ingredients. In addition to the craft brewers, some craft distillers are producing in Montana using potatoes and other Montana agriculture products.  The production of beer, wine, and hard liquor are all classified as Food and Beverage Manufacturing by the Department of Labor.  This sector of manufacturing makes up almost 12% of Montana’s total manufacturing sector with breweries employing over 700 Montanans.  Tourism also feels the impact of craft brewing across Montanan.  The Montana Brewer’s Association created a trail map with the locations of breweries across the state.  I’m not sure we can say that breweries attract tourists but many areas of Montana popular with tourists seem to have a strong craft brewing presence.  The tourist areas of Red Lodge, Bozeman, Livingston, Big Sky, Whitefish and Big Fork all have breweries.  However, areas not known to be tourist areas such as Havre, Sidney, Deer Lodge and Thompson Falls also have breweries.

A more detailed look at the industry is available from a 2016 Bureau of Business and Economic Research report titled “The Continuing Economic Impact of Craft Brewing in Montana.”

(Photo by Ruth and Dave is licensed under CC BY 4.0)


About Author

Joel Schumacher, an extension economics associate specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. Much of his research has focused on understanding the economics and public policy implications of small and community scale alternative energy projects. Joel also researches and provides extension training in retirement planning, saving and investing. Helping Montanans stay up to date on the ever changing laws and regulations affecting consumer issues is an interesting and challenging area.

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