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Montana Microbrew

Big Sky Brewing: Moose Drooling with Success

Big Sky Brewing's new, modern facility in Missoula. Photo by Loren Moulton. BELOW: Head brewer Matt Long (left) and co-founder Bjorn Nabozney enjoy a few specialty beers with Wild Bill in Montana's only beer lab. Photo by Bill Schneider.

One of the first questions I asked when I started the Microbrew Montana series was: "What's a microbrewery?" But there's no answer--no official line a brewer can cross to grow up from a microbrewery to a macrobrewery. That question sure came rushing back during my tour of Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, which is not only far and away the largest brewery in Montana, but also maker of the state's most famous beer, Moose Drool Brown Ale. And a major stretch for the word, microbrewery.

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Harvest Moon Brewing: Montana’s Small Town Brewery

Harvest Moon Brewing of Belt, America. Photo by John Ballantyne. BELOW: The four-man crew that keeps the beer flowing, from the left, Stan Guedesse (co-owner), Ole Wakeford (staff genius), John Ballantyne (co-owner), Andrew Onsager (brewer). Photo by Don Lundby.

The question everybody seems to ask when the Harvest Moon Brewery or their famous beers, Pig's Ass Porter or Beltian White, comes up is: Why Belt? So, that's the first question I asked co-owner John Ballantyne.

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Great Northern Brewing: The Tallest Brewery in Montana

The tallest, most expensive brewery building in Montana. Below: From the left, Head Brewer Joe Barberis, Taproom Manager Matthew Bussard, and General Manager Marcus Duffey. Photos by Bill Schneider.

One problem I've had out on the Microbrew Trail is finding the breweries--and not just the most remote brewery in the country, which happens to be in Montana, but most of them. Montana microbreweries tend to be tucked away in side-street warehouses or small towns you need Google Maps to find. But that's hardly the case with Great Northern Brewing, which has one of the most pricey corner lots in all of Montana right on Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish. And it has good roots, too.

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Glacier Brewing: A Taste of the Wild West

Dave Ayers, the family friendly brewer, not the bouncer. Below, the first restroom. Photos by Bill Schneider.

When you drive up the main street of Polson to Glacier Brewing, you get a little flashback to the Wild West. Swinging saloon doors always do that. The weathered BREWERY sign above the swinging doors helps, too. Later, I found it came from the historic H.S. Gilbert Brewery in Virginia City, which was Montana's first-ever brewery--and where the Virginia City Players still act out a comedy called The Brewery Follies. (The webiste touts the follies as all "satire, nonsense, foolishness and absurdity," so that sounds like something that fits into the Montana Microbrew series, don't you think?)

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Tamarack Brewing: A Brewpub, Montana Style

ABOVE: The Rack, at the junction of the Blacktail Mountain road and U.S. 93 in Lakeside. Photo by Karl Newman. MIDDLE: Brewmaster Craig Koontz and his Jim Beam bourbon barrels. BOTTOM: The Creekside Patio. Photos by Bill Schneider.

When I'm interviewing brewery owners for the Microbrew Montana series, I always ask the same question: What's different about your operation compared to the other 26 Montana breweries? When visiting Tamarack Brewing in Lakeside, a rapidly growing berg on the west shore of expansive Flathead Lake, I thought I knew the answer as soon as I walked through the front door. But when the co-owner Craig Koontz brought out the brandy snifters, I realized I knew only part of the answer.

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Lang Creek Brewing: America’s Most Remote Brewery

Above: Lang Creek Brewing. Below: Brewery Founders Sandy and John

When visiting Lang Creek Brewing, getting there is half the reward. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. The owners left a clue right on the top of their website by advertising themselves as "America's most remote brewery." So, be sure to call ahead for directions. If you don't, you might be too old to enjoy those tasty brews when you finally get there. Editor's Note: For a complete list of Microbrew Montana articles to date, click here.

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The Microbrew Montana Chronology

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In a moment of weakness, I decided to take on a new challenge, a year-long tour of Montana's microbreweries and write an article on each one, plus related news on this rapidly growing micro-industry. In addition to NewWest.Net most articles will appear on on the Travel Montana website, visitmt.com. Here's a chronologcial list of the postings so far.

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Montana Brewing Scores Big at World Beer Cup

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Montana Brewing of Billings scored big at what's considered "the most prestigious beer competition in the world," the World Beer Cup held April 19 in San Diego. World Beer Cup 2008 winners were selected by an international panel of 129 beer judges from 21 countries. A massive field of 2,864 entries from 644 breweries in 58 countries made up the competition. More than 3,800 breweries in 100 countries were invited to compete.

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Flathead Lake Brewing Wins “People’s Choice” at Montana Beer Festival

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Flathead Lake Brewing, nestled away up at Wood's Bay on its namesake, Flathead Lake, won the big prize at the second annual Montana Beer Festival, held April 11 in Bozeman for Rising Sun Espresso Porter. The participants of the beer fest decide the People's Choice Awards. At the gate, everybody received a ballot with their tasting glass and rated the brews as they sampled the 85 craft beers throughout the evening.

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Madison River Brewing: Home of the Fishing Fly Beers

From left, assistant brewer Robert Miller, head brewer Doug Frey, and owner Howard McMurry, at the bottling machine. Photo by Bill Schneider.

I've been worried about readers thinking it's a stretch for the outdoor editor to write the Microbrew Montana series, but not since my visit to Madison River Brewing of Belgrade. There, in the taproom, a long cast from its namesake, the famous, trout-rich river, you can order a Hopper, Yellow Humpy, Salmon Fly, Black Ghost, Copper John, Rubber Legged Razz, or my favorite, the Irresistible. For the non-fishaholics among us, those are all names of fishing flies, but Madison River Brewing, located in one of the hottest travel destinations in the world for fly anglers, uses them as names for their tasty, craft beers. From a marketing standpoint, you could call that connecting the dots. Editor"s Note: For a complete list of Microbrew Montana articles to date, click here.

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