Craft Beer in South Western Montana
On a recent trip with a dear friend, I managed to visit all of the breweries in and around Butte, Montana. Just before that I had reached my 500th unique brewery with my husband. We enjoy traveling around to the different breweries when we can and chatting with the owners and brewers. While we have met some incredibly hospitable folks in the last few years, nothing parallels the humbled hospitality of the people in South Western Montana.
We started out at Butte Brewing Company and enjoyed the Nelson, Gold Digger Blonde, and the Pale Ale. I was bummed that I was just missing the IPA, but I guess that means I will have to go back! We had a great little chat with the head brewer, owner, and brewers assistant. Butte Brewing Co. opened it’s doors in 2015 after the original Butte Brewing Co. had shuttered for more than fifty years.
My tour continued onto Muddy Creek where we tried their taster tray- the Crazy Beautiful Pale Ale was the fav. The taproom is located in the upstairs of an old building right in downtown Butte. They make it easy for beer travelers to take their favorite beers home in these small, plastic, recyclable bottles.
On day two of my tour we headed out to Philipsburg Brewery. The brewery and taproom are located right off the main drag in town. They opened the brewery in 2012. Up the road they have the main brewery and production facility where they brew and can (aluminum bottles) all of the beers for the wholesale market. The large brewery is a 50 barrel brew house and sits beside an old hop kiln that was built in the 1870’s. They plan to eventually turn the old hop kiln into their barrel room where they will house all of the wood barrel for their barrel aged and sour beer program.
The taproom has a cozy feel with tables and bar stools that sit right beside the small brew house allowing guests to feel like they are actually sitting inside the brewery while sipping their beers. Some folks even get to chat it up with Ben (lead brewer) while he is working on the beers.
I met one of the owners at the taproom along with head brewer, Mike, lead brewer, Ben, and sales and marketing gal, Maddy. They were all so kind, taking time out of their day to share the Philipsburg story with me and show me around both facilities. For being in such a country like setting, Philipsurg Brewery is very innovative in the technology they use and the way they package their products- they are the only craft brewery packaging their beers in aluminum bottles. It’s brilliant, they travel well just like cans, and it’s a great way to bring beer camping, boating, or to any other summer activity. The beers are all fantastic! They are all low in alcohol and loaded with flavors. Ben, the lead brewer names all of the beers, so not only does he brew his own line up and assist Mike, he gets to come up with all of the creative, fun names. The whole crew is small, like most successful family owned businesses, they all wear many hats. That aspect made the experience feel more genuine and charming.
Here are the brews I had:
- Razzui – Oregon raspberries, raspberry wheat. 5.2% ABV
- Otter water – hefe 4.5% ABV
- Gonk Amber- amber hybrid 5.8% ABV
- Corners porter- coffee porter brewed with a pound of coffee 6.6% ABV
- Irish twins session red 3.7% ABV
- Ginns Best Bitter – Named after a man who lived off the grid and was kind of scary when you’d first meet him, but was really a very nice guy – similar to a bitter beer, people see the word bitter and think it’s going to taste bitter when in fact it’s actually an older term for a sweeter style beer.
- Rope Swing – A Saison aged in Chardonnay barrels from Sonoma County! That’s a pretty cool little fact. Their distributor has contacts and clients in Sonoma County so they were able to buy barrels from local wine producers right in my own backyard. Small world. Ben has always wanted to name a summer beer rope swing. Saison means “season” and during the summer season being in the water on rope swings is what people love to do so it made sense.
Philipsburg Brewery is worth the stop if you’re in the area! Great beer, great people.
The last beer stop of the trip was Quarry Brewing – “we dig beer” is their slogan. I met with Chuck and Lyza Schnabel, owners. Chuck, the brew master showed me through all of their beers on draft as well as a few special beers that he had in barrel. He was diligent with my friend who is not a beer fan, but she does enjoy wine, so he went over several beers with her until finding one that she fell in love with (it was the sour! Most wine people end up gravitating towards the sour beers, they’re more wine-like).
Chuck is a veteran who ended up in Lakewood Washington working for Rams Restaurant and Brewery. He worked there for a number of years as the head brewer overseeing all of the restaurants beer programs. In 1998 he started the Washington Brewers Guild. Chuck and his wife later decided to move back to Montana to get away from the “rat race”. They settled back in Butte and opened Quarry Brewing in 2007 on Galena Street. When they quickly grew out of that location, they purchased the old Grand Hotel on Broadway in uptown Butte. There they have space for their brew house, the taproom, easy access from the street into the brew house for transporting malt and grain on brew days, a bakery, and a large room that is available for rent for large groups, parties, and special events.
The building was originally built to be labor temple where masons, construction workers and plumbers would sleep and live, sharing one bed among three men who would switch every eight hours – while one man was sleeping the other two were working. The brewery (the bottom floor) was an old boxing ring: High Altitude Boxing Ring.
The couple cares about the buildings and towns history and has done everything in their power to preserve what they can from reusing heater pieces and old door knobs to create accents in the updated rooms to preserving most of the original tile flooring. The building is stunning, it’s evident that a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into fixing it up and now they can be proud of the brewery space they have built.
The beer is off the charts – and they are all gluten reduced. They use a clarifying agent that they purchase from White Labs in San Diego to create a clearer beer and it happens to be the same agent that is used to make brews that are gluten reduced (just 5 parts per million). Years ago when the mines were active, Butte was about 90% Irish, and the Irish and Italians who originally came to Butte were gluten intolerant – nobody knew it at the time and they couldn’t figure out why they were all getting so sick. In later years, it was discovered that those two heritages had an intolerance to gluten. Chuck and Lyza now brew their beers with little gluten to show homage to the original Butte settlers.
My favorite brews:
Basalt India Black Ale, Galena Gold, Gneiss IPA, and the Ryolite Rye Pale Ale. They’re all amazing. I bought a growler and left it for my pal to fill up when they return in July :). I can’t wait to return to Butte and visit Quarry again to see what other cool new beers Chuck is working on.
Southern Montana is doing some great things in the craft beer realm, it was a pleasure meeting the people behind the great beers. I can’t wait to return and see all of the new things they are working on!