Digging Up Great Beer in Butte

Anybody who has ever been to Butte knows that it is a one of a kind city. It is therefore fitting that Butte’s Quarry Brewing Company, run by Chuck and Lyza Schnabel, is a one of a kind brewery. I visited Quarry’s new location on one cold Saturday in February, and after descending a staircase that appropriately made me feel as though I was heading into a mine, I found a warm, bright and quite comfortably large brick room which houses the tasting room and brewery. There are many large tables and booths throughout the room, and the brewing area is viewable through windows and glass doors, displaying the large mash tuns, fermenters and bright tanks. I followed framed newspaper articles about Butte, beer and the Quarry itself along the wall to the bar.

On tap were Quarry’s regular offerings as well as four additional seasonal beers. All year long Quarry offers five standard beers: the Galena Gold, Open Cab Copper, Shale Pale Ale, Open Pit Porter and Gneiss IPA. While normal Montana tasting room laws apply limiting you to three drinks, Quarry sells a sampler that allows you to have a sample of each of those five traditional beers, along with a seasonal beer of your choice. Not wanting to leave any beer untasted, I promptly ordered the sampler. Out of the on-tap seasonals (Malachite Mild, Bauxite Brown, Blackberry Mild and Smokey Quartz Rauch) I elected to try the Smokey Quartz Rauch.

As I was working through my sampler I was joined by Chuck Schnabel, Quarry’s brewer and owner, and had a chance to talk to him. Chuck got into brewing while he was in the service. “We didn’t get paid enough to buy good beer,” he explained, “so I had to make it myself.” After spending time as a brewer and then taster for the Ram Brewing Company, a sports bar with on-premises breweries, he found himself back in Montana. A native of Anaconda, he worked in Post Offices throughout Southwest Montana for several years while trying to find a way to get back into the brewing business. Finally he found his opportunity, and the Quarry Brewing Company was opened on September 29th, 2007. Despite his fears and uncertainties, the brewery got off to a great start with a busy grand opening and 600 people waiting to get in the door when they opened. After a slow winter the business continued to thrive, and there were 2000 people there to celebrate their 3rd year anniversary with them.

Most recently Quarry moved to a new location on 124 West Broadway Street, into what used to be the Grand Hotel. Chuck explained that this allowed them to more than double the brewery space, located in the basement, from 2400 square feet to 5000 square feet. Additionally, because they bought the whole five story building, they have some pretty grand plans for it. The first floor, right above the brewery, is to become a bakery and coffee shop, while the 2nd and 3rd floors will become a bed and breakfast. The 4th floor he plans to convert to rental space for parties and receptions, and eventually he’d like to put two condos in on the 5th floor. Chuck was kind enough to give me a brief tour of the building and his excitement was contagious. As he pointed out the changes and renovations that he and Lyza had planned, his descriptions were so vivid that I could clearly envision how the building might look in another year or
two. It will certainly warrant regular trips back.

The rest of the building aside, the move has been great for the brewery itself. Since moving into the new location in September, the in-house sales have increased 20%, and their outside sales this January were 100% higher than January of 2011.

Fortunately there’s more than just additional customer capacity to the new location. Chuck walked me through their production area and showed me the extra space that he will be able to grow into as business grows.   There is space for additional production as well as grain storage. This will allow Lyza and him to grow their business comfortably and at their own pace.

Back out in the tap room, as Chuck let me sample some of the old fashioned root beer and orange soda that they make in house, he made it clear that while Quarry is changing and growing, he has no interest in becoming a big brewery. He wants Quarry to always be a place that takes care of its customers. “Knowing my customer’s names and being a local business is my priority,” Chuck explained. “For example, Jason and Rich over there,” he pointed to a booth nearby with two patrons sitting in it. “They’re in here every Wednesday night. Jason drinks the Pale Ale, Rich drinks the Copper.”

It is clear that the extra attention he pays to his customers pays off. When I spoke with Jason and Rich they had nothing but good things to say about Chuck and the Quarry Brewing Company. “When we come down the stairs every Wednesday night, the bartenders recognize us right away and have our beers ready by the time we get to the bar,” Jason said. “It’s a place where we can be comfortable having a beer and talking to strangers, or bringing our families along.”
The next time that you’re in Butte, a stop by the Quarry Brewing Company should be high on your priority list. Whether you want good beer, good conversation, or just a good, friendly atmosphere, Quarry is the place to go. For more information about the brewery and their beers, visit http://quarrybrewing.net/.