If you’re like me, you’re always asking yourself how dedicated you are? Well, I’ve recently learned, I’m not dedicated enough.
When I took on the Microbrew Montana project back in February I carefully calculated the miles I’d have to drive and the amount of time it’d take to see all the microbreweries in Montana.
Then, back in July, Jim Devine called and blew up my plan. He and his two partners, Sandy Stinnett and Russell Houck, had just started the Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux, and he wondered when I’d be out to see him.
Since then, it seems, every time I mention the new member of Montana’s microbrew community, people always ask the same question: “Where’s Wibaux?”
The answer is: A loooonnng way from my keyboard. Wibaux is out in far-eastern Montana, along I-94, shouting distance from North Dakota, 485 miles or seven hours of driving from Helena.
That might even challenge Lang Creek Brewing’s claim to fame as “the most remote brewery in America.”
When Devine called, understandably excited about his new place, it sounded great, but I had to be honest and tell him driving to Wibaux wasn’t in my plan, and I might not be able to do a story on his place.
Then, Doug Doty, a loyal reader and microbrew fan, came along and saved the day. “I’m headed to Glendive for Thanksgiving and hope to make a pilgrimage to the Beaver Creek Brewing Company in Wibaux,” he said in his email. “Let me know if you want any info.”
“Definitely” was my response, and he and his buddy, Brad Zuroff, came through for us, big time.
“It’s a great brewery,” Doty wrote in his notes after visiting beautiful downtown Wibaux. “The beers are good, and the atmosphere and building are great.”
Sounds familiar, right? Like all other microbreweries, but it’s sure nice to know, it can also happen out in the tiniest of markets, far from the urban-based breweries of western Montana. It seems to me that if you can have a successful microbrewery in Wibaux, Montana, population 567, deep in the heart of Coors Country, you can have one almost anywhere. That should send an extra chilly shiver up the spines of mega-brewer CEOs.
The remoteness, for starters, makes Beaver Creek Brewing different from all other breweries in Montana. It’s also the newest, almost, opening on August 8, 2008. (Blacksmith Brewing of Stevensville opened October 29.)
During Doty’s visit, the not-so-silent owners, Jim Devine and Sandy Stinnett, told him, in response to my planted, what’s-so-different-about-you question, “We’re an oasis in a desert of no microbreweries.”
How wonderfully true, right? Who doesn’t like finding a microbrew oasis when they need one?
And think about it. Not a bad marketing plan. Beaver Creek’s market might be as big or bigger than most. They can appeal to all those long-haul travelers, heading east and west on that endless freeway. I suspect many of them wouldn’t mind stumbling across a beer oasis only three minutes off the Interstate. I can already visualize the billboard on the outskirts of Billings: BEAVER CREEK MICROBREW OASIS, 247 MILES.
I, for one, have a long trip back East planned next spring, and I’m already calculating my departure times so I can pass by the Wibaux exit during taproom hours.
During ten years of home brewing, Devine and Stinnett had lots of encouragement from friends to start selling their tasty craft beers. When they had their chance, they jumped on it. Now, they’re beavers taste better than your beavers, or at least that’s what they say on the voice mail message. And they make and sell bread, too, something you won’t get any at other Montana brewery.
Eastern Montana’s only brewery is running at capacity, which is only about 200 barrels per year, but they’ve already ordered bigger fermenters to increase the output. They already have their brew on tap at half the taverns in Wibaux that sell draught beer, one out of two, plus one in Glendive, and now, they’re trying to sell a few handles in Dickinson, Medora, Beach, and other “nearby” towns.
Future aspirations aside, Devine and Stinnett now sell almost all of their beer in the new taproom, the product of an extensive remodeling of an old main street building in Wibaux owned by Houck, the sort-of-silent partner. They did the work themselves with the help of community members, hauling away truckload after truckload of debris and basically gutting the place down to the floor, ceiling and four walls, and rebuilding it into a comfy, friendly tasting room, made even more “community” with the old church pews for seating. They plan to add a patio next summer.
“They provide a relaxed, non-smoking, non-casino environment,” Doty assured me.
So far, business is good, but not good for the owners to quit their day jobs–yet.
The taproom is often packed, according to Doty, and the owners are happily converting local beer drinkers away from those tasteless domestics.
Devine and Stinnett produce five basic beers–Wibaux Gold, Beaver Creek Pale Ale, Redheaded IPA, Rusty Beaver Wheat, and Paddlefish Stout, which is served with a chocolate chip cookie, along with a root beer. All beers are unfiltered.
“The wheat beer is outstanding,” Doty said, but Wibaux Gold is their best seller. It’s their “transition beer” that helps the owners convert those Bud and Miller drinkers to the Good Stuff.
So, now at the end of the year, at the very end of the Microbrew Trail, I’ve seen all Montana breweries, except one, but thanks to Doug Doty, you can see them all. Just click here.