Rocky Mountain Brewing News October/November 2014 : Page 1
VOL.12/NO.4 OCT/NOV 2014 YEARS OF 15 By Alan McCormick he Montana Tourism Department has a program called “Get Lost,” designed to help tourists and locals alike find out-of-the-way places to explore across Montana’s vast reaches. Wherever you choose to Get Lost in Montana, odds are you’re going to run directly into hand crafted beer. That’s because 2014 is destined to go down as Montana’s Year of the Brewery. At press time, Montana’s 47th brewery had just opened. By the time you’re reading this, two more will likely have opened, making nine new breweries in 2014. Whether you stumble across one in a town of 1,000 people, or make it your beer-centric vaca-tion destination, keeping up with Montana’s brew-eries may become the next great sport. T Modern craft beer got its start in Montana in 1987 when Bayern Brewing Co. opened what is still the only German brewery in the Rocky Mountains. Bayern specializes in authentic Bavarian beer brewed using traditional German brewing techniques on German brewing equip-ment with oversight from two German Master Brewers. You can bet they still brew in strict accor-dance with the 1516 German Law of Purity, too. "R EAL G OOD B EER " Blackfoot River Brewing Co. found-ers Brad Simshaw, Greg Wermers and Brian Smith. P HOTO C OURTESY OF B LACKFOOT R IVER It would be a few more years before oth-ers joined, but the mid-1990s saw recognizable names like Kettlehouse , Great Northern , and Big Sky Brewing Co. begin operations in 1995. A few more trickled in through the late-1990s, but they all were faced with the same constricting See Lost p.3 Breweries, Constraints, and Opportunities S Story and Photos by Alan McCormick tep into Blackfoot River Brewing Company’s tap-room in Helena, Montana’s historic downtown any evening of the week and you’ll be greeted by two large crowds -one patiently waiting to fill growlers, the other filling every seat and spot to stand while drink-ing Blackfoot River’s excellent beers and catching up on the day’s news. After fifteen years in business, Blackfoot River’s fans are as passionate about the beer as the guys who started it all. Those guys are Brian Smith, Brad Simshaw, and Greg Wermers. Avid homebrewers, Brian and Brad started Helena’s Howling Wolf Homebrew Supply in 1995, admitting their main motivation was the ability to purchase malt and hops at wholesale prices. Greg joined them later and the three started kicking around the idea of starting a brewery. INSIDE Calendar ........................................2 Beer Directory .......................... 8-10 State by State News Utah.................5 Montana..........6 Wyoming.........6 Idaho.............11 Colorado Denver..............................12 Central Peaks..................13 Western Slope.................13 Four Corners...................14 Front Range................... 15 See Blackfoot p,4
Getting Lost In The Brewing Scene
The Montana Tourism Department has a program called “Get Lost,” designed to help tourists and locals alike find out-of-the-way places to explore across Montana’s vast reaches. Wherever you choose to Get Lost in Montana, odds are you’re going to run directly into hand crafted beer.
That’s because 2014 is destined to go down as Montana’s Year of the Brewery. At press time, Montana’s 47th brewery had just opened. By the time you’re reading this, two more will likely have opened, making nine new breweries in 2014. Whether you stumble across one in a town of 1,000 people, or make it your beer-centric vacation destination, keeping up with Montana’s breweries may become the next great sport.
Modern craft beer got its start in Montana in 1987 when Bayern Brewing Co. Opened what is still the only German brewery in the Rocky Mountains. Bayern specializes in authentic Bavarian beer brewed using traditional German brewing techniques on German brewing equipment with oversight from two German Master Brewers. You can bet they still brew in strict accordance with the 1516 German Law of Purity, too.
Breweries, Constraints, and Opportunities
It would be a few more years before others joined, but the mid-1990s saw recognizable names like Kettlehouse, Great Northern, and Big Sky Brewing Co. Begin operations in 1995. A few more trickled in through the late-1990s, but they all were faced with the same constricting problem. None could sell beer at the brewery for on-premise consumption.
That problem is the root of Montana’s current, oddly configured consumption rules for breweries: a maximum of 48 ounces per person, per day, and only between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Montana, you see, is a quota system state. There are only so many licenses available to allow on-premise sales and breweries were on the outside looking in. A compromise during the 1999 Montana Legislative Session led to the current rules.
Opening up Montana’s breweries for onpremise sales was critical to getting new flavors into consumer’s hands at a time when many bars and restaurants remained reluctant to embrace the microbrew “fad.”
Yet, the oddly restrictive rules also contributed to an unintentional consequence. Montana’s brewery tap rooms became familyfriendly centers that differed vastly from traditional bars which ebbed and flowed until the wee hours of the morning.
A Land Rich with Beer
Travel along Highway 12 near the central Montana community of Two Dot, or take Highway 7 south out of the eastern Montana town of Wibaux and it doesn't take much to convince you the Pony Express may very well still deliver the mail in Montana.
Yet Wibaux, population 500 (give-or-take), has a brewery. Owners Jim Devine, Russ Houck, and Sandon Stinnett, purchased an unused historic building, cleaned it up and turned it into Beaver Creek Brewery in 2008. It’s a model followed by many of Montana’s breweries.
Draught Works Brewery in Missoula’s Westside neighborhood converted an old warehouse that had served as a recycling center into a brewery with a modern-industrial feel and one of the best outdoor decks in the city. Blacksmith Brewing Co. In Stevensville took its name from the old blacksmith shop which had previously inhabited the building in Montana’s oldest town. Kalispell Brewing Co. Renovated an old car dealership on the city’s busy main street.
Head nearly 700 miles west from Wibaux to Montana’s northwest corner and the town of Libby (population 2,600) and you’ll find Cabinet Mountain Brewing, which owners Kristin Smith and Sarah Dinning opened in July. Grant Golding is the head brewer. Golding, who came to Libby from Oregon’s massive beer scene, has already noticed Montana’s communal pub-like atmosphere.
“People here seem to have more time to relax and be friendly with their neighbor rather than rush to go in, get their beer, get their food and watch the game,” says Golding. “When a stranger sits down at a tasting room bar here, locals are quick to be friendly in a curious manner, asking about where you came from, and what you’re doing and so on.”
“Whether you are a town local or not, people tend to be incredibly friendly and talkative. I haven’t been to one brewery here yet where someone hasn’t turned to me in a friendly manner and started a conversation,” Golding added.
Philipsburg Brewing Co. Head brewery Mike Elliott agrees. “To the surprise and wonderment of our residents, our brewery has become somewhat of a community center,” Elliott notes. “We understood the 'pub'
culture and hoped it would be that way, but most of the people in town - all 844 souls - had to find out for themselves.”
Philipsburg, a picturesque small town along southwest Montana’s Pintler Scenic Route, is a former mining town and now serves as a popular stopping point for travelers enjoying Montana’s outdoor recreation.
‘The locals have begun to appreciate craft beer, and are great ambassadors for our brewery,” says Elliott. “They take pride in the brewery and some are quick to help people from out of town choose which style of beer to sample. We host weekly pint nights for charities and people appreciate that. Other businesses now recognize the value of giving back to the community.”
The brewery, like most in Montana, prides itself on creating a welcoming atmosphere that is about more than just the beer. “People appreciate the atmosphere we provide,” Elliott says. “Kids and dogs are welcome, the bright interior of our historic bank building which had been vacant for twenty years is cozy, yet comfortable. We attract quite the cross section of Americana: skiers, bikers, politicians, fisherman, tourists, beer advocates and families.”
“During holidays many people return home and bring grandma and all the kids down to the brewery. Many people genuinely thank us for what we have established and done to help make Philipsburg a destination town.”
Beer fans looking to relocate might want to take note: “In honor of our residents, next year we plan to brew one barrel for every man women and child in our town,” Elliott says, explaining a production goal, not, unfortunately, a free giveaway.
New Beer in New Places
One of Montana’s newest breweries, Meadowlark Brewing Co., set up shop in Sidney, just a short drive from the border with North Dakota. The area’s oil boom had a hand in owner Travis Peterson’s decision to locate there, but brewmaster Tim Schnars was lured out from Pennsylvania for other reasons.
“Eastern Montana is what author Chris O' Brien (Fermenting Revolution) would call a beerological dead zone, and I wanted to help bolster the craft beer availability here,” says Schnars. “The wholesalers were initially reticent to bring many of the more exotic brands in, but now they understand that we can sell anything we put on tap.”
“We brewed a cream ale to cater to the light beer crowd, and people literally drank it up,” says Schnars. “Our Oat Malt Stout was also a big favorite, though a nitrogenated beer was completely alien to some people and we had to take the time to explain the mouthfeel and how it's different from a conventionally carbonated beer.”
The taproom phenomenon in Montana is very interesting. People are lining up to drink at these breweries, regardless of the three pint limit,” Schnars notes. “The public house is alive and well in America, and that's exactly what we're doing in Sidney. Children are very welcome at the Meadowlark and can enjoy our handcrafted vanilla cream soda and sarsaparilla. We most certainly want this to be a home away from home for members of this community.”
So go ahead and Get Lost in Montana. You’ll not only find great craft beer, but stop by a Montana taproom and you’ll find new friends, too.
Read the full article at http://rmbnonline.brewingnews.com/article/Getting+Lost+In+The+Brewing+Scene/1837103/229053/article.html.
"Real Good Beer"
Step into Blackfoot River Brewing Company’s taproom in Helena, Montana’s historic downtown any evening of the week and you’ll be greeted by two large crowds - one patiently waiting to fill growlers, the other filling every seat and spot to stand while drinking Blackfoot River’s excellent beers and catching up on the day’s news.
After fifteen years in business, Blackfoot River’s fans are as passionate about the beer as the guys who started it all.
Those guys are Brian Smith, Brad Simshaw, and Greg Wermers. Avid homebrewers, Brian and Brad started Helena’s Howling Wolf Homebrew Supply in 1995, admitting their main motivation was the ability to purchase malt and hops at wholesale prices.
Greg joined them later and the three started kicking around the idea of starting a brewery.
Choosing A Path
“I would finish the day at Miller's Crossing, my favorite watering hole, and have a pint,” says Simshaw. “I would watch customers come up to the bar and take note of what they ordered. The fact that craft beer cost a buck or so more than domestic beer didn't affect their choice one bit. Seeing people do that made me believe that the craft beer climate in Helena was good.”
“I figured that if people were buying good beer that was made 500 miles away from where they lived they would buy good beer that was made five miles away from where they lived,” Shimsaw said. After much planning and hard work, Blackfoot River received its final brewing permit on December 31, 1998.
The initial brewery was sandwiched into tight quarters adjacent to their current facility. “We started out with a pieced-together seven-barrel ‘brewhouse,’ one 14-barrel open fermenter, two seven-barrel Grundys as conditioning/carbonation tanks, and about 80 kegs,” recalls Smith. “At that point we could brew one seven-barrel batch per week. We self-distributed to about ten accounts in Helena and sold growlers out of the taproom.”
Finding Fans Came Quickly
“The craft – ‘micro’ back then - beer climate was certainly much smaller than today,” says Smith. “Accordingly, selection in both stores and bars and restaurants was much less. Fewer consumers as well. We opened with the focus of being a local brewery and initially had no real plans to send beer outside of Helena.”
Thanks to the area’s beer fans, it took little time for Blackfoot River to hit capacity. “Those first batches were adopted recipes from our home brewing so we knew how the beer should taste,” says Simshaw. “The thrill comes when you brew a style of beer that you have never brewed before and you think it tastes great and, even better, the customers think it tastes great. Thankfully that thrill has never gone away. It is why you become a brewer in the first place.”
Within two years, the brewery added additional conditioning tanks and fermenters, moved to a 15-barrel brewhouse, and soon began distributing to other Montana cities. In 2004, Blackfoot River purchased most of its current equipment from a defunct Colorado brewery, though it sat in storage until the new facility was completed in 2008.
“We have grown a lot in other ways as well,” Smith is quick to add. “We had to become much smarter business people, and pay a lot more attention to our organization than in the beginning. In the beginning we were just three guys who really liked beer and brewing it.”
“Providing a good product and good service won't guarantee success, but failing to do those two things will guarantee failure,” notes Simshaw. “Every decision you make affects your brand - your logo, beer names, taproom layout, method of advertising, the employees you hire, your social media. What you decide not to do can be as important as what you decide to do.”
It is clear Blackfoot River has made the most of its many decisions along the way. Two years ago, the brewery switched to style-specific glassware. And from day one the original three partners chose to serve a free pint while they clean, sanitize and fill each customer’s growler.
The practice gave patrons a reason to hang around and chat while creating a culture that is the envy of breweries in Montana and beyond.
Averaging more than one hundred growler fills each day, Blackfoot River is on pace to approach 40,000 fills this year. “It gets pretty crazy at the growler station on a Friday where we might fill a growler every 60 seconds for the entire six hours we're open,” says Smith.
Matt Miller, a beer enthusiast and frequent visitor to Blackfoot River, sums up a common experience at the brewery. “When you walk into the taproom you’ll see just about every type of person coming together to enjoy a good beer with good people, which reflects Blackfoot's motto ‘Real good beer, made by real good people’ quite well,” Miller explains. “There is really nothing quite like it. You just feel at home even if it is your first time going to the taproom.”
Staying True to Quality
Known throughout Montana for its Single Malt IPA, which uses 100% Crisp Gleneagles Maris Otter floor-malted barley and a generous dose of Simcoe and Cascade hops, Blackfoot River keeps a wide variety of beers on tap and a frequently rotating cask selection as well.
From the Belgian wit to the imperial stout and 1864 Old Ale, their philosophy for brewing has stayed the same from day one. First, use top quality ingredients like the Maris Otter and Malteurop’s Montana-grown and malted two-row Metcalfe barley. Second, be sure to leave the good stuff in the beer; all Blackfoot River beers are unfiltered, requiring extra time to produce the beer, but leaving in complex sugars which lend body, mouthfeel and a bigger malt characteristic. And third, make sure consumers get the freshest beer. With the exception of a very small quantity of specialty, bottle conditioned beers, Blackfoot River’s beers are available only on draught.
“Some craft brewers are adopting more industrial methods of making beer that I think are pushing the lines of what I would call ‘craft,’" says Smith. “There are many craft brewers that are using hop oils and extracts in their beers to improve consistency and efficiency because hops are expensive. I just don't think adding industrial CO2 extracted, concentrated hop oil to your beer is traditional or craft.”
Smith continues, “I always get suspicious when I have a beer that has been filtered bright, and yet has an intense, over-thetop bouquet of hop flavors and aromas. A lot of the lovely flavors and aromas you get from dryhopping just get stripped out from filtration, so how do they end up in that beer again?”
“It’s not my job to decide how ‘craft’ should be defined,” says Smith, “but I can say it is not something that we would ever do.”
“No matter what style of beer you enjoy, they brew it and do an incredible job doing so,” says Miller. “Every visit I leave with a smile on my face…so much so that my wife and I refer to the Blackfoot as our happy place.”
Fans clamoring for more Blackfoot River beers in their local towns might not want to hear it, but when asked what’s next for the brewery which is all but maxed out on space, Simshaw and Smith echoed each other. “We don’t want to get bigger, we want to get better.”
Read the full article at http://rmbnonline.brewingnews.com/article/%26quot%3BReal+Good+Beer%26quot%3B/1837112/229053/article.html.