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Montana Microbrew

Bozeman Brewing: The Best Possible Use of an Old Pea Cannery

The Bozeman Brewing family business team: Lisa, Todd and Morgan.

Todd Scott, owner and brewmaster at Bozeman Brewing Company thinks I have the world's second best job, traveling around visiting microbreweries, tasting some local brew, and writing about it, but of course, he also believes he has the best job, making that beer. He is, in fact, so passionate about his job and his product that he mixed some of the chocolate malt he uses to make his Plum St. Porter with the drywall texture when he refurbished a corner of his facility, a retired pea cannery, into his tasting room, which is, according to Scott, "is a little known fact." I told him I could keep his secret, but couldn't vouch anybody who used the Internet, so if you see chocolate addict chewing the taproom walls, well, you'll just have to blame it on me.

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Montana Brewing: More Medals Than Any Other Montana Brewery


As near as I can figure, after visiting 20 of Montana's 23 microbreweries, Montana Brewing is unique. The company's owners have offered craft beer fans something that comes about as close to a brewpub as possible under Montana's archaic liquor laws. Instead of a small brewery with a small taproom, which is the case with most Montana breweries, Montana Brewing is three businesses in one--a microbrewery, restaurant and sports bar, all separated but connected, right in downtown Billings.

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Score One for the Brewmasters

Dave Ayers of Glacier Brewing, one of the first to defend of microbrewing in Montana. Photo by Bill Schneider.

If you know how government works (or doesn't) and followed last week's quick reversal of a Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) proposed rule to limit taproom hours, you might be as amazed as I am. Government officials usually dig in deep and don't like to admit mistakes, but in less than a week, we saw a rapid and decisive turnaround by the DOR and even an admission that the agency hadn't properly thought out the proposed rule before throwing it out into the public arena. You might be saying, "No Big Deal," but for me, this little skirmish has a big back story.

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Revenue Department Pulls Proposed Rule Restricting Taproom Hours

Blackfoot River Brewing's always-busy taproom. Photo by Bill Schneider

Following a meeting this morning with representatives of the Montana State Brewers Association (MSBA), Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) Director Dan Bucks pulled the proposed administrative rule which was due to be hotly contested tomorrow afternoon in an official public hearing. Meeting with Bucks and his staff were Sam Hoffmann, owner of Red Lodge Ales of Red Lodge, and Brian Smith and Brad Simshaw, co-owners of Blackfoot River Brewing of Helena. Hoffmann is president and Smith vice-president of MSBA. This means tomorrow's hearing is essentially meaningless. It will be held, but will only cover minor issues of little or no concern to brewers.

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Here’s Your Chance to Support Your Local Brewer

I've been on the Montana Beer Trail for six months now, visiting 19 of our 24 microbreweries so far and writing profiles of their business operations for the Microbrew Montana series currently running on NewWest.Net and the Travel Montana website. Besides being constantly reminded of the passion the brewmasters have for their product, I've been amazed how well this micro-segment of our economy is faring in the face of today's economic downturn. All Montana microbreweries are all running profitably at capacity, experiencing double-digit growth, or doing major expansions. Three new breweries opened in 2007. So why does the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) want to knock down the microbrewing industry? Has it been too successful?

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Blackfoot River Brewing: Real Good Beer Made by Real Good People

Brad Simshaw (left) and Brian Smith, two of the three hoppy co-owners of Blackfoot River Brewing and their always-busy taproom (below). Photos by Bill Schneider

Of all Montana breweries, the taproom at Blackfoot River Brewing in Helena is one of the most popular, commonly crowded with devoted craft beer aficionados even on sweltering summer days when the inside temperatures climb so high the servers spray customers with plant misters to cool them off. But on a day soon to be determined, probably in the last week in August, Blackfoot's tiny tasting room will be rocking and stuffed with loyals for the last time because it will be the Grand Closing. The thought of it might give the Helena microbrew faithful heart attacks, but fear not. The Blackfoot isn't closing. Not hardly. It's merely moving. For the owners, it's a big move, but not for customers because it's only fifteen feet to the south. Some customers have joked that the new home of Blackfoot River Brewing, which is nearly completed, looks like a church, and co-owner Brian Smith agrees, sort of, because he calls it "The Temple of Malt." "And did I mention we'll have A/C," he adds.

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Carter’s Brewing: Riding the Rails of Instant Success

Mike Uhrich, the Young Buck Brewer of Billings. Photo by Bill Schneider

Carter's Brewing of Billings is on the rails, right out the back door, in fact. At Carter's, one of Montana's newest breweries, it's not only about making craft beer, but also about railroads and trains. If you're into railway culture and history, and happen to enjoy great microbrew, add this taproom to your pub crawl.

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Angry Hanks Brewing: A Method to His Madness

Happy Tim (above) and the Angry Hank's taproom (below), the best possible use for an old gas station. Photos by Bill Schneider.

When you meet the owner of Angry Hanks Brewing, you can quickly see that he isn't angry. In fact, he isn't even Hank. He's happy, and he's Tim. As in Tim Mohr, founder, owner and head brewer at two-year old Angry Hanks Brewing of Billings. And I'm probably about the thousandth guy to ask him why he calls it Angry Hanks.

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Yellowstone Valley Brewing: Is This a Big Racket or What?

Wild George with his big racket and shiny new still. Photo by Bill Schneider

I'm sure if you work at Yellowstone Valley Brewing, you're always wondering if there'll ever be a dull moment. It's probably not part of the business plan, but owner and head brewer George Moncure seems to prefer that never-a-dull-moment style. For him, it comes naturally, you could say. Moncure, aka Brewin' Geo, aka Brew Dude, who has a master's degree in geochemistry and lists two of his favorite pastimes as "yucking it up and love planning" owns the place--and brews the beer, books the bands, and appears to live the life of a taproom loyal. For this guitar-strumming, tennis-playing, dinosaur-digging brewer, it's always Hoppy Hour. If you ask, for example, he'll show you his big racket, which is a real, oversized tennis racket he claimed when the Yellowstone Racquet Club gave in to condos and closed. As he swings it around in his packed taproom, he uses one of his favorite lines, possibly overused for the regulars: "Is this a big racket or what?" You have the distinct impression he isn't talking about tennis.

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Bitter Root Brewing: Maker of the Last Best Brew

Above: Nicol and Tim Bozik, the daughter-father team owning and running Bitter Root Brewing. Photo courtesy of Bitter Root Brewing. Below: They offer live music too. Photo by Bill Schneider.

If you live in or travel to Montana, the Last Best Place, you need to sample the Last Best Brew, right? But you won't find it just anywhere. To find the Last Best Brew, you have to travel to western Montana and find a pub and eatery specializing in real good beer and therefore serving Montana microbrews. Or better yet, go to the source, over to downtown Hamilton, at Bitter Root Brewing, where they make it and serve it every day of the week.

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