Helena’s Lewis and Clark Brewing Company

As our state’s capital, Helena is a fantastic place to visit. The next time that you’re there you can stop by the capital building, view legislative sessions, and walk the impressive halls where the laws and policies that will shape and determine the very future of Montana are created. You can. On the other hand, perhaps Otto von Bismark was on the right track with the idea that, with both laws and sausages, it’s wise to steer clear of any firsthand exposure to their creation.

With that in mind, perhaps the next time you are in Helena, you might opt instead to visit the Lewis and Clark Brewing Company, located on 1517 Dodge Avenue. Run by Max Pigman, the Lewis and Clark Brewing Company recently moved from their original, cramped taproom to an impressively spacious and expansive new location and has been thriving there. Max acquired the brewery in 2002, when it was Sleeping Giant Brewing. He ran the company under that name for about two years, but then made the decision to rename it to the Lewis and Clark Brewing Company, named after the county it is located in.

As you walk into the new location there are several display cases, paying homage to the company’s history and to its future. Opposite the display cases, you get a hefty dose of the company’s present. There are large windows surrounding the brewing area, allowing you to see the brewing equipment. In fact, the brewing area is visible from most of the taproom, beer obviously not suffering from the same stigma as laws and sausages.

“I’ve visited and reviewed hundreds of craft breweries across the country, which was a great help while I was designing the new brewery,” Max explained. “I was able to use inspiration from all the things that I’ve liked, and make sure not to make any of the same mistakes.” This doesn’t come as any surprise as you walk through the well laid out space that has been created. The rooms flow together and it’s easy to instantly feel at ease. Max even plans to install iPads into the walls to allow visitors to take virtual tours of the brewing area, and explain what, exactly, goes into making the beer that you’re there to enjoy.

Speaking of the beers, when I made it to the bar I was impressed by the wide selection of beers available. They had their regulars, the Miner’s Gold Hefeweizen (an unfiltered wheat beer, described as their most popular), the Back Country Scottish Ale, an Amber Ale, their light Yellowstone Golden Ale, and their Tumbleweed IPA (which won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2001). They also offer a wide selection of seasonal beers that rotate throughout the year. While I were there, those beers included the Big Belt Weizenbock (a strong, malty beer), their Super Weed Imperial IPA, a ramped up (3x the malt and hops!) version of their Tumbleweed IPA, the Portage Porter, the Old Ale and, my favorite, their Anniversary Double Dry Hopped IPA, which blew me away with the fantastic floral and citrusy hop aroma and well balanced malt backbone to balance it out.

While visiting the brewery is certainly worth a stop in Helena, you don’t need to travel that far to enjoy their beers. To hold you over until you can make the trip to Helena, you can find cans of their Miner’s Gold Hefeweizen and Back Country Scottish Ale in stores right here in Bozeman, with additional offerings to hopefully start popping up on the shelves shortly!

As I sipped on my beer, Max took me on a tour of the new building. “This building has an amazing amount of character,” he explained as we walked past some impressively thick stone walls. “In 130 years it’s had 11 additions made to it and has served as everything from a smokehouse to an icehouse, and even serving briefly as a jailhouse. Most recently it spent about 70 years as the paint manufacturing facility for Columbia Paints. And Max is proud of that history, evident in the effort he put forth to preserve as much of the character as possible. As you walk past barred-jailhouse windows, smoke-stained old walls and paint-spattered staircases, the history of the building seamlessly fits in to its modern additions. Max even turned old beams that weren’t quite fit to hold the building up anymore into tables.

While we walked around it was clear that Max is extremely proud of the level of detail he’s put into every aspect of the building. The wood for the ceiling has been cut to match the contours of the rugged stone walls, the new floors have been stamped to offer an authentic feel, and even the restrooms are impressive, with the women’s room featuring marble floors and granite counters, and the men’s room containing urinals made from old kegs.

In addition to being able to get a great beer, the Lewis and Clark Brewery features live music every Thursday and Saturday, a spacious game room and soon will have an outdoor area where you’ll be able to enjoy your beer and live music on warm nights. There are also rooms that can be rented out for private events. Max even plans to serve limited food shortly, offering beer brats (made with L&C beer of course), buns made out of the grains used to make the beer, and mustard made with their weizenbock.

The brewery also hosts Ales for Charity from 5-8pm every Tuesday night, where any nonprofit can apply to have an event to raise money. On these nights, the brewery donates 75 cents for every single beer sold, with patrons being allowed to purchase up to four 12oz beers. These events have been a great way to help give to the community, with events drawing anywhere between 150 to 1500 people per Tuesday night.
To learn more about the Lewis and Clark Brewing Company, visit http://www.lewisandclarkbrewing.com        

Justin van Almelo can be reached at jvanalm@gmail.com