Put the Lewis and Clark Brewery in Helena on your Bucket List

Pat Hill

The Lewis and Clark Brewery and Tap Room in Helena is a Montana microbrewery located in some historic digs, and a great place to stop in for a fine Treasure State brew, a snack, or some live music.

Owner Max Pigman bought what was then the Sleeping Giant Brewery in Montana’s capital city in 2001, and changed the name of his operation to the Lewis and Clark Brewery in 2005. With a passion for brewing beer and a sense that his product would soon be gaining steam, Pigman eventually relocated his business down by the train tracks crossing through Last Chance Gulch in historic Helena. Located at 1517 Dodge Avenue, the site of the old Columbia Paint Factory building, the location offers Pigman much more room to brew, as well as the ability to host many more patrons--and the history of the place goes far beyond paint.

The complex of buildings comprising the brewery have a history dating back to the 1880s, with some historic Montana names in the mix. The oldest building at the Lewis and Clark Brewery just happens to be the men’s room, which was constructed in 1885 by T.C. Power and originally served as a meat smoking house (something to keep in mind, gentlemen?). Soon after the smokehouse was built, the three-storied “packing and provisions” building was built behind the current Tap Room bar. This building, also known as the “ice house,” utilized ice removed from area lakes in the winter to keep meats and other supplies cold. After being removed from the lakes, the ice was transported by rail up the pass and into the mountains, where it was stored in caves until it was brought back down in the summer and placed on the third story of the ice house, which kept the entire building cool. After The Montana Packing and Provisions Company closed, rumor has it that the building may have been used as a jail, but history records that it did serve as a seed warehouse before its 70-odd years as The Columbia Paint Factory.

The complex of buildings took Pigman over three years to renovate, but the result is a unique multi-level indoor space with plenty of room and a variety of entertainment options, whether gaming, relaxing with friends and a fine Made-In-Montana brew, or enjoying live music both indoors and out. Their beer, pizza and bratwurst are served in a separate kitchen area, and the popcorn is free. The location also provides for a brewery with nearly four times the working space of the previous location. Since the move, business has boomed, and more brewing capability has been added to the operation, as well as more employees in both the Tap Room and the Brewery. They’ve also added canned beer to the mix, offering seven different flavors in a market that has expanded to Missoula, Bozeman, and beyond. The Tap Room has a dozen or so beers on tap to sample.

The Lewis and Clark Brewery is a popular place. When we went up in March to catch Cody Canada and The Departed there, I was impressed with the service, the beer, and the establishment itself. I kept finding new unexplored parts of the place as the evening went on, and had as much fun wandering around as I did listening to the music. The place was busy that night for the show, but that had no effect on the excellent service and the fact that the layout can handle a large crowd quite comfortably. And there’s even a large overflow parking lot at the Lewis and Clark Brewery, which is a bonus indeed in the downtown Helena area--they have no problem providing their customers with adequate parking. I was impressed with the place, and certainly enjoyed the music, with The Wench (John McClellan and Josh Keehr of The Clintons) opening for Cody Canada and The Departed. I’m looking forward to heading back for a live show on their outdoor patio this summer.

“If I could give this place 20 stars, I would,” said one patron in an enthusiastic online review. “This place is my Cheers, truly. The beer is great, the atmosphere is BEST IN TOWN for having a beer (you can sit in one of 5 areas that are distinct and spacious). The service is da bomb. There’s no comparison. I’ve been to breweries everywhere, but there truly is no place like home: Lewis and Clark Brewery.”

“Don’t let the modest structure out front (the entrance) fool you,” wrote another online fan. “This place is huge; it’s a multi-level, multi-room pub, and it would be hard to not find a place to enjoy one of their delicious pints, even on a Saturday night.”

“I can go on about all the things the Lewis and Clark Brewery is,” wrote another. “What it’s not is simple - it is not a bar. The Lewis and Clark Brewery is a meeting place. Waitstaff are friendly and helpful. Max and Karen are frequently onsite talking with customers. Great place. Go there and see what it’s all about.”

I certainly recommend The Lewis and Clark Brewery and Tap Room to anyone, whether you’re on a run into town from Canyon Ferry, or on a visit to the Capital for business. They’re easy to find, not far from the tracks just off of North Montana Avenue in Helena, and it’s easy to say that they just might become one of your favorite destinations in our state capital.

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Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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