Craft Beer in Bozeman: Culture, History and Community
When I covered the Montana Brewer’s Association’s Spring Festival for last month’s issue, I spoke with craft brew enthusiasts, brewers and other folks in the industry. By the time I finished the piece, I had heard countless times about what people refer to as the “strong craft beer culture” we have here in our town.
Sure we have a bunch of breweries here and lots of beer drinkers, but what exactly does it mean when we talk about the beer culture in Bozeman?
The more I looked around and spoke to people, the more I noticed how multi-faceted the local breweries are in our town. Bozeman breweries are not just gathering places for socialization and beer drinking. Many of them provide high quality food along with their one-of-a-kind brews. But more importantly, they’ve begun to play significant roles in giving back to the community they serve.
Every person I spoke to for this article mentioned a sense of “community” around craft brewing and the important role local breweries play in bringing people together.
Rjika Weis has been a bartender at Bridger Brewing since it opened in March of 2013. Even before the doors opened, she was helping to paint and upholster tables and chairs. She, along with the rest of the crew there, takes an intense pride in the beer and food they serve. For Weis, the craft beer culture is “the awareness and appreciation of the ingredients that make up good beer.” Not only has Bridger Brewing focused on making great food and excellent beer, they also contribute to that sense of community. “Pints for Purpose” takes place on Mondays from 5-8pm. A dollar from each pint sold is donated to the featured nonprofit. According to Weis, “Most times a few representatives will be there to answer questions but other than that they just invite everyone they know to come enjoy some tasty beer!” Pints for Purpose is open for all non-profits to apply.
Outlaw Brewing also celebrates Pints for Purpose in their tasting room on Monday nights; 10% of beer sales go to a charity of the month. At Bozeman Brewing, helping local non-profits is called Sunday FUNDay, with 50 cents of every pint sold during operating hours going directly back to the non-profit of the day.
Other breweries in town also have relationships with local non-profits. Notably, 406 Brewing creates specific beers for organizations, with a portion of the proceeds going to that group. In mid-July, they will be featuring a re-brew of Post Bout Stout, a roller derby inspired beer, with the Gallatin Roller Girlz receiving a portion of the proceeds.
Along with the breweries themselves, other groups are getting in on the business of beer culture. Pint Pass is a Bozeman based business, comprised entirely of people who live here and are working to bring local beer lovers together and perpetuate the culture. Officially launched in March of this year, Pint Pass is a free app that aggregates information directly from breweries and provides an up-to-date list of beers on tap at participating breweries, along with information about upcoming events.
Pint Pass has a second component which is an annual paid membership that gives members benefits and rewards for drinking beer. Members accrue points for beers drank and can then use the points collected for Pint Pass merchandise or to gift a beer to a friend. Local restaurants that serve Montana beers are involved in Pint Pass as well, offering special deals to members who order local beers.
Jay Brooks is the operating and marketing manager at Pint Pass. He describes the Bozeman craft beer community as a tight knit group of people who are embarking together on the new movement of craft beer. The company is also planning beer related events such as “Pint Pedal,” which will launch later this summer. This will be a weekly event held in Bozeman that will begin with a group bike ride starting at a local brewery. The ride will have a “leader” who will take the group to an undisclosed location that will contain a band and food trucks.
On a similar note, Montana Brewer’s Association offers a “Brew Crew Card.” For an annual membership fee, members receive a card and a free beer at 32 participating breweries.
Perhaps one of the most interesting combinations of beer and culture can be found at the Museum of the Rockies Hops and History events. Now in it’s second year, Hops and History is held at MOR’s Living History Farm on the last Tuesday evening of each summer month. Each event features a local brewery serving their signature brews. Attendees receive a tasting glass and drink tickets that allow for an allotted amount of beer to be sampled by each patron (which comes out to about two pints). During the middle of each two-hour function, MOR’s Curator of History, Michael Fox, gives a twenty-minute lecture relating to the history of beer in Montana.
Fox says the idea for Hops and History was a collaboration between himself and MOR’s Education Director, Angela Weikert. Both are beer enthusiasts, and as a historian, Fox thought telling stories of early brewers in our state might be something others would be interested in. He was more than right!
According to Fox, local brewers were “wildly enthusiastic” about participating in the program. Public response has also been extremely positive, with the initial event bringing a turnout much larger than anticipated. At one point, 350 people turned out for a Hops and History event, but in the future, the events will be cut off at 250 attendees. “People are fascinated by this stuff,” explains Fox. Until his events, there wasn’t much information readily available about the history of malted barely production and brewing in Montana. His research has spurred other historians, and they are constantly coming up with new information to include in his lectures.
Last year’s lectures focused on the history of beer in Montana. This year’s lectures focus more on the type of beer being featured at each event. May’s event focused on Stouts and Porters with Bozeman Brewing Company, June’s on Ales with Madison River Brewing Company. July will feature Weiss Beers with Bridger Brewing Company, and August’s lecture will be on The Spice of Life: New Ways from Old Ingredients with 406 Brewing Company. Septembe’rs event will round out the series with Saisson and the Brewing Traditions of Belgium with Outlaw Brewing and MAP Brewing. The events are sponsored by Montana Ale Works Community Partnership.
Fox provided me with some interesting historical facts behind the recent surge in craft brewing in Montana. Although Montana had abandoned prohibition early (in 1926, though it officially ended in 1933), lawmakers scrambled to put new laws in place to regulate the production of alcohol. In 1999, the Montana State Legislature overturned the law that placed strict restrictions on the amount of beer that could be brewed by an individual brewer and the way that breweries could market their products.
The result is what we see today, which is a great surge in the popularity of craft brewing.
My first experience with craft beer was when I was in college in the late 90’s. One night at a party, I asked for a beer and was handed a bottle of Spanish Peaks Nut Brown Ale. I took one sip and said “What is this? This isn’t beer. It’s amazing!” And so began my life as a craft beer enthusiast. This past winter, I traveled with some friends from the East Coast, whose beer of choice is Budweiser in a bottle. I was teased for smelling my beer when it arrived at the table. Try as I might, I could not convince them that the thick dark liquids in my pint glass were indeed beers worthy of a sample!
I like to know what my beer is made from. I like to look at it, smell it, and talk about it. I’ve become one of the people that non-craft beer drinkers make fun of, but that’s fine with me!