The Montana Brewers Association: Supporting Montana Beer

Great things come from collaboration. It is with that perspective that in 2008, what began as a casual group of breweries formalized into the Montana Brewers Association. At the time, the state had around 22 breweries. In the years since then, the number has expanded to 34 breweries with more being added every year. Tony Herbert, The Montana Brewers Association’s Executive Director, describes their mission as representing the industry at large while promoting the creation of good products and the responsible enjoyment of them. The Montana Brewers Association also provides breweries the opportunity to work together and present a single, unified voice on legal and social issues surrounding craft beer.

The collaboration among the breweries and brewers in Montana doesn’t stop at the formal issues, however. “One of the great things about working in this industry is that the people who run these businesses are great individuals,” Tony said. “These guys know one another, and we constantly see breweries working together on techniques and even collaborating on beers. Despite the fact that they are in competition with one another in terms of business, they get along extremely well.” New breweries just getting started are a great representation of this collaboration, receiving lots of help from the more established breweries. “Using Bozeman as an example, Matt at the 406 Brewing Company has mentioned many times how much support the Bozeman Brewing Company has given him in getting started.” That positive statewide atmosphere of not losing sight of the ‘friendly’ in ‘friendly competition’ is no doubt a reason why we see so many successful quality breweries around the state.

In fact, according to the National Brewers Association, in 2010 Montana had the third largest number of breweries per capita in the nation behind Vermont and Oregon. And this was when Montana only had 27 breweries. When the 2011 information comes out, Montana may find itself moving even further up the list. Tony speculates that this is possible in large part due to the willingness of Montanans to support local businesses and products.

The beer brewed in this state truly is a Montana product. In fact, 50% of the barley used in Montana breweries is grown and malted right here in Montana, thanks in large part to the Malteurop malting facility in Great Falls, the newest grain malting facility in North America. “Even after the brewing process is finished,” Tony says, “many Montana brewers have arrangements with local farmers to feed the grains to their livestock,” which helps support other Montana industries. There is a lot to be said for a product with such firm origins and endings right here in this state.

The Montana Brewers Association also provides ways for Montana companies and individuals to help support breweries across Montana by offering both associate and individual memberships. “We offer associate memberships to retail businesses that our breweries work with all over the state, from taverns and restaurants that sell our beer, to companies that we purchase our ingredients and equipment from,” Tony explained. In return for an associate membership, the Montana Brewers Association offers links to the companies on their website, including a rotated “Featured Member” on their front page. It also gives the members an opportunity to have input on the future of Montana’s brewing community. Due to the positive relationships that the breweries have established with companies all over the state, the associate membership program has been doing quite well. While there are currently 33 associate members, Tony expects the number to hit 100 by the end of the year.

Similarly, individuals can purchase a lifetime membership online or at any of the participating breweries and join the Montana Brewers Association’s Brew Crew. In addition to supporting craft beer in Montana, membership for individuals includes a Brew Crew Card, which entitles the holder to one free beer at 23 different breweries around the state and to early entry into the annual Montana Brewers Festival.

The Montana Brewers Festival is an annual event put together by the Montana Brewers Association in order to bring the breweries around Montana together and to let people sample beers from all over the state. “Montana is a big place,” Tony explained, “and without things like the Montana Brewers Festival bringing all of these breweries to one place, there are lots of people who may never have the opportunity to taste some excellent beers from some excellent Montana breweries.” For its first three years the festival was held in Bozeman, but this year it is moving to Missoula. “It was always the intention to move the festival to different locations around the state,” said Tony. “That way we can bring these great beers to people all over.” In addition to showcasing the beers that are regularly available at the various breweries, Tony has been working with breweries to have new beers built, brewed, and unveiled for the first time at the Montana Brewers Festival. That would give attendees the unique opportunity to have a ‘sneak peak’ at the beers before they are commercially available.

While the conference is on October 6th this year, there will also be a post-festival conference for the first time. The conference will be geared towards professional brewers and their staff, but anyone interested in the industry, like a homebrewer, will be able to attend for $100.

It was clear talking with Tony that he is enthusiastic about Montana beer, and it will be exciting to see how the industry changes and grows within the state over the next several years. You can learn more about the Montana Brewers Association, and about their events and memberships, by visiting

Justin van Almelo works at Montana State University and spends his free time homebrewing and taking advantage of the trails around Bozeman. He can be reached at