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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Montana Brewers Relieved By Continued Tax Cut

Selling more liquor licenses would raise between $2.5 million and $4 millin for the state.

The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week and signed into law by President Donald Trump on Sunday makes tax cuts permanent for manufacturers of beer, wine and spirits. The cuts will likely help keep Montana brewers in business as they weather the rest of the pandemic.

Ethan Kohoutek is the president of the Montana Brewers Association and owns Ten Mile Creek Brewery in Helena. He says that like the rest of the hospitality industry, Montana breweries have had a rough year, including his.

"It's a bummer to not have people doing normal things in our tap rooms," Kohoutek said.

That’s why he was nervous while waiting for Congress to pass year end spending legislation. It made a 2017 cut in federal excise taxes for small brewers permanent. If it had not passed, taxes for all breweries in Montana would have doubled back to the previous rate in the new year.

For Kohoutek, that would have meant paying about $7,700 instead of about $3,500 a year.

"That's a chunk of change when you're dealing with so much, you know, COVID uncertainty," he said.

Montana Brewers Association Executive Director Matt Leow says Montana breweries have also benefited this year from other stimulus programs such as Paycheck Protection Program loans.

He also says it has helped that Montanans are drinking as much craft beer as ever, just not as much at the brewery. Some brewers can make up some of the lost sales by selling it in cans or bottles to take home, but not all of them.

"Some of these breweries are really small — the only place you can get their beer is at the brewery," Leow said.

And even the breweries that can sell to-go or at the grocery store can’t completely make up the difference those ways. Cans or bottles, plus the boxes or six pack holders they come in and the shipping fees, all add up and mean profit margins are much tighter for beer off the shelf than for a glass poured on site.

Leow also said that cans are harder to come by because so many people are taking their beer home now. That forces some brewers to buy from new distributors at double the price. He encourages customers to buy local and…

"If you're buying beer from a brewery, and they have beer either in cans or bottles, buy the bottles because the bottles are easier to come by right now," he said.

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