Spring brew fest set for Thursday at fairgrounds

Re-posted from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, May 3, 2015

Just as the spring sun is starting to warm the faces of winterized Bozemanites, a spring brewing festival is coming to Bozeman to spread the taste of more than 85 Montana-made craft beers.

The Montana Brewers Association has organized a spring brew festival for this Thursday at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, the first that the group has held in Bozeman since 2011, said Tony Herbert, executive director for the group.

As of Friday, 25 breweries from across the state were confirmed to take part, bringing 86 different beers for Bozemanites’ sipping pleasure, while vendors sell food and local musicians entertain.

“When you come to our brew-fest, you get a chance to try some beers that may not be in your market and may never be in your market,” Herbert said. Brewers from as far afield as Libby, Kalispell, Sidney and Havre will be among those showcased at the festival.

Thursday’s 4 to 10 p.m. event — the first hour is VIP-only — is the 10th brew-fest the Montana Brewers Association has held since the group’s inception in 2009, and they were held in Bozeman the first three years, Herbert said.

Herbert said he’s excited to return to Bozeman, home of many “good craft beer fans,” but the event is bittersweet, as it will be his last public event at the helm of the Brewers Association.

The group is currently taking applications for a new director, and Herbert will help with the transition before stepping down July 1, he said.

“Being the director of the craft brewers (association) has been a really awesome opportunity,” Herbert said. “It’s such a cool and new business going on across the state.”

After he relinquishes the reigns, Herbert plans to go camping with his family and relax more.

“I’m going to be moving on to recreate more and work less,” he said.

Thursday’s brew-fest will be held in Haynes Pavilion at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. General admission tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate, and VIP tickets are $30 advance and $35 at the gate. A paid ticket gets admission and a 9-ounce glass good for 4-ounce samples of any beers. There’s no set limit to the number of samples, but Herbert encourages people to drink responsibly.

Admission is restricted to ages 21 and over. More information is available at www.montanabrewers.org.


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Re-post from Brewers Association, March 16th, 2015

Brewers Association Reports Annual Growth Figures for Small and Independent Brewers

Boulder, CO • March 16, 2015—The Brewers Association (BA), the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers, today released 2014 data on U.S. craft brewing¹ growth. For the first-time ever, craft brewers reached double-digit (11 percent) volume share of the marketplace.

In 2014, craft brewers produced 22.2 million barrels, and saw an 18 percent rise in volume² and a 22 percent increase in retail dollar value³.  Retail dollar value was estimated at $19.6 billion representing 19.3 percent market share.

“With the total beer market up only 0.5 percent in 2014, craft brewers are key in keeping the overall industry innovative and growing. This steady growth shows that craft brewing is part of a profound shift in American beer culture—a shift that will help craft brewers achieve their ambitious goal of 20 percent market share by 2020,” said Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association. “Small and independent brewers are deepening their connection to local beer lovers while continuing to create excitement and attract even more appreciators.”

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Additionally, the number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2014 grew 19 percent, totaling 3,464 breweries, with 3,418 considered craft broken down as follows: 1,871 microbreweries, 1,412 brewpubs and 135 regional craft breweries. Throughout the year, there were 615 new brewery openings and only 46 closings.

Combined with already existing and established breweries and brewpubs, craft brewers provided 115,469 jobs, an increase of almost 5,000 from the previous year.

“These small businesses are one of the bright spots in both our economy and culture. Craft brewers are serving their local communities, brewing up jobs and boosting tourism,” added Watson. “Craft brewers are creating high quality, differentiated beers; new brewers that match this standard will be welcomed in the market with open arms.”

Note: Numbers are preliminary. The Brewers Association will release the list of Top 50 craft brewing companies and overall brewing companies by volume sales on March 31. Additionally, a more extensive analysis will be released during the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America® in Portland, Oregon from April 14-17. The full 2014 industry analysis will be published in the May/June 2015 issue of The New Brewer, highlighting regional trends and production by individual breweries.

1 An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional. Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
2 Volume by craft brewers represent total taxable production.
3 Figure derived from comparable data set based on 2014 update of craft brewer definition.
Contact: Abby Berman (on behalf of the Brewers Association), (646) 695-7044

Sponsorships for 2015 Montana Brewers Festivals

Sponsorships for 2015 Montana Brewer Festivals; featuring only beer that’s made in Montana.

The MBA works with sponsorship partners to host events around the state to promote and support the craft beer movement in Montana. Please be in touch with us if you’d like to add your brand’s name to the line-up of companies that help us pull off great parties and support this Made in Montana economy-building industry. Scroll down to find information about the event you would like to sponsor.

MBA Festivals 2015 poster

Bozeman Festival Rate Card 2015

Helena Festival Rate Card 2015

Missoula Brewfest Rate Card 2015

2015 Montana Brewers Festivals!

MBA Festivals 2015 poster

Click on an event for more information:

Bozeman Spring Brewers Festival:

  • Thursday, May 7th, Haynes Pavillion

Helena Summer Brewers Festival:

  • Saturday, August 15th, Memorial Park

Missoula Fall Brewers Festival:

  • Friday, October 16th, Caras Park

Brewery bills fail in committee

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Re-posted from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle,  February 11, 2015.

Bills would have raised production cap, allowed brewers to hold liquor licenses

HELENA — Two bills aimed at loosening regulations around craft brewing in Montana failed narrowly in the House Business and Labor Committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 326 would have allowed brewers to hold liquor licenses in addition to their brewing license — often called license stacking — and would have lifted the cap for production with a tasting room from 10,000 barrels to 60,000 barrels annually.

House Bill 336 would have raised the production capacity without the license stacking option. HB 326 was the product of two years of work by an industry coalition that included the Montana Brewers Association and the Montana Tavern Association, two groups not known for getting along.

“It’s unfortunate that the good effort between the vast majority of brewers and the Tavern Association is able to be killed by a small minority,” said John Iverson, lobbyist for the Tavern Association, just after the vote.

The Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association pulled out of the coalition in December because of the license stacking option in the bill. Instead, the group got behind HB 336 as an alternative to the Brewers Association-backed license stacking bill, forming another coalition and arguing that the measure would force brewers into the state’s quota liquor license system. Both bills failed by a vote of 9-10 in the committee.

From Twitter:

Speaking in support of HB 326 before the vote, Rep. Chris Pope, D-Bozeman, said he hoped he didn’t regret supporting the measure but thought it was a compromise.
“I’m voting for 326 because I think it does less harm,” Pope said. “I believe there are folks who are going to be not happy with whatever we come up with here.”
The committee did not discuss HB 336 before the vote.
Several members of the committee expressed concern that neither bill had enough support from all the industry players, as several brewers had been outspoken against the license stacking bill alongside the Distributors Association. Some lawmakers proposed studying the issue for a better solution.
“We have been presented with the good faith efforts of the industry to find some compromise here,” said Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena. “But I feel compromise has not really been reached.”
The bills were tabled after the failed vote, leaving them essentially dead, though a motion to reconsider could revive them.

House Bill 326

The House Business and Labor Committee met on Friday and took up brewery bills. HB326 by Rep. Pat Noonan is the bill endorsed by the Montana Brewers Association and will provide the brewing industry with new choices that they have never had before. Brewers can operate as they currently do, grow above the current 10,000 barrel limit, and co-locate retail licenses at their breweries, if they choose.

This bill is preferable to HB336 (the beer fairness act) which only lifts the 10,000 barrel limit, was not an agreed to approach though the coalition of industry members (including the MBA), and adds other unneeded technical provisions by distributors. It is disingenuous on the part of distributors for them to now, suddenly, become supporters of lifting this limit, when they have long objected to our desire for change here, including in the coalition meetings. Distributors want no change whatsoever!.  This is because so long as brewers and retailers are fighting one another, distributors are standing in tall cotton. And the brewers and the consuming public loses.

HB326 is the Best Solution for Brewers because:

  • It is the compromise solution hammered out by industry members during the past 18 months to give brewers choices in order to grow their businesses.
  • It maintains the current operating factors for brewers to operate and grow under current law, and for new brewers to enter the market. Breweries can continue to operate just as they are, if they choose.  Retailers are done fighting us over our tap rooms.
  • It will lift the current 10,000 barrel cap in sample rooms to 60,000 barrels, clearing a major hurdle for brewers growing above this level. It provides that brewers growing over 10,000 barrels maintain modest tap rooms, with sales up to 500 barrels.
  • It allows brewers to own retail licenses, and retailers to own breweries, but limits the ownership to 3 retail licenses (one must be co-located at a brewery). Therefore, large chains may not set up vertical monopolies, and any current owner of more than 3 retail licenses may not co-locate a brewery.
  • It will not collapse the 3-Tier System. Most states in the country allow brewers to own retail licenses and the 3-Tier System is alive and well in those states.
  • 97% of all beer sold in the state is carried by Montana distributors and 3% is sold directly by Montana brewers, and this bill will not change these facts. Brewers will continue to rely upon the distribution channels to move our beer.
  • HB326 will give brewers choices for them to grow their retail abilities, expand production, and increase investments in people and facilities in our cities and towns at our main street brewery businesses.

We do not need more time to study this issue. We need the Legislature to act now to help brewers grow their businesses.  Write the committee members of the House Business and Labor Committee and ask them to Act Now and Support HB326 and help the brewing industry grow in our state. To contact the  committee members using the state’s system, click here.  Or, here is list of the committee members with their emails if you would rather send an email directly.
Thank you for supporting Montana Craft Beer!  Cheers to all Montana Brewers!

Tom Berry  (R) HD 40              tom@tomberrymt.com
Chair – Roundup

Ryan Lynch  (D) HD 76            Rep.Ryan.Lynch@mt.gov
Vice Chair – Butte

Daniel R Salomon  (R) HD 93   dansalomon12@gmail.com
Vice Chair – Ronan

Christy Clark  (R) HD 17          christy_clark@ymail.com
Member- Choteau

Willis Curdy  (D) HD 98            Rep.Willis.Curdy@mt.gov
Member – Missoula

Steve Fitzpatrick  (R) HD 20      Rep.Steve.Fitzpatrick@mt.gov
Member – Great Falls

Chuck Hunter  (D) HD 83          Rep.Chuck.Hunter@mt.gov
Member – Helena

George G Kipp  (D) HD 15         Rep.George.Kipp@mt.gov
Member – Heart Butte

Mike Lang  (R) HD 33               Rep.Mike.Lang@mt.gov
Member – Malta

David (Doc) Moore  (R) HD 92    Rep.David.Moore@mt.gov
Member -Missoula

Mark Noland  (R) HD 10            marknolandhd10@gmail.com
Member – Bigfork

Andrea Olsen  (D) HD 100         Rep.Andrea.Olsen@mt.gov
Member – Missoula

Gordon Pierson  (D) HD 78        Rep.Gordon.Pierson@mt.gov
Member – Deerlodge

Christopher Pope  (D) HD 65      Rep.Christopher.Pope@mt.gov
Member – Bozeman

Vince Ricci  (R) HD 55               Rep.Vince.Ricci@mt.gov
Member – Laurel

Tom Richmond  (R) HD 56          tomrichmondmt@gmail.com
Member – Billings

Scott Staffanson  (R) HD 35       scottstaffanson@gmail.com
Member – Sidney

Tom Steenberg  (D) HD 99         mtsteenberg@bresnan.net
Member – Missoula

Jeffrey W Welborn  (R) HD 72     jeffwelborn@hotmail.com
Member – Dillon

Missoula Breweries Raise Donations for Food Bank

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Re-posted from NBC Montana, Jan. 17th, 2015

Missoula, Mont. – Missoula breweries are challenging each other on who can raise the most food items for the Missoula Food Bank.

The competition was organized by Joe Berryman at Bayern Brewery.

Berryman says it’s typically a difficult time of the year for the food bank, after the holiday food drives have ended.

The goal for the brewery drive is 1,000 pounds of food all together, a goal two out of the four competing breweries have already exceeded.

So, Berryman set a new goal of 3,000 pounds of food by the end of January.

“It’s amazing how all the breweries in town just jump on board with it. They’re really excited to be a part of it and everybody really, really brings it together,” said Berryman.

Some breweries are offering deals with an exchange of food.

You can drop off nonperishable food donations at any of these participating breweries:

Bayern Brewery: offering $1 off a growler fill or a beer with every three items of food you bring

Draught Works Brewery: This Wednesday, the brewery will be offering half-off of all growler fills throughout the day if you bring any amount of nonperishable food items

KettleHouse Brewing Company (both Northside and Southside locations): you can drop off nonperishable food donations

The drive goes until the end of January.

The 2015 Montana Brewers Act

The 2015 Montana Brewers Act will allow Montana’s craft brewing industry to grow within the current three-tier system that regulates the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol in the state. The goal of the legislation is to allow microbreweries to keep their tap rooms and employees as they grow, and to provide brewers with choices about how they can grow their business. It will ensure that brewers, their businesses, and employees are not penalized for success by current artificial limits.

“I am proud to sponsor legislation that will allow the craft brewing industry to grow and continue employing people in my district and across Montana,” stated Representative Pat Noonan, D-Anaconda. “This bill is a common-sense-solution that allows the craft brewing industry to become an even greater point of pride than it already is in our communities and our state. This bill will provide a boost to the Montana economy by providing brewers with clear paths to grow and expand their businesses, grow jobs, and produce more beer for in state and out of state distribution. ” continued Noonan.

The Montana Brewers Act is a product of collaboration of industry members who met throughout this past interim to hammer out a solution. This industry coalition included 15 members, including the Montana Brewers Association, the Montana Tavern Association, the Montana Restaurant Association, the Gaming Industry Association, the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association, and the state’s Alcohol Control Division, and is a solution that most industry members support. The solution lifts the 10,000 barrel sample room limit to 60,000 and allows breweries to grow beyond 10,000 barrels and not cause them to close their tap rooms and forfeit the ability to sell their beer on premise. Brewers exceeding 10,000 barrels will be able to operate modest tap rooms with on-premise consumption of not more than 500 barrels annually.  Additionally, the bill allows brewers to co-locate a retail license, if they choose, under the brewer’s name for those brewers that prefer to sell their beer past 8pm and to have greater retail ability. Sam Hoffmann owner of Red Lodge Ales in Red Lodge, and a member of the coalition said: “I am happy to have worked with our partners in the industry on this compromise bill. Retail-focused breweries can participate in Montana’s retail system, and production breweries can continue growing without shutting down their popular tap rooms.”

And current taverns who would like to get into the brewing side of things and purchase a brewers license and hold them under the same name, and to provide stability co-located license holders are limited to holding only two additional retail licenses.  “Some of our taverns and restaurants would like the opportunity to serve their customers a beer that was crafted in house and to transition their businesses more toward the brewpub model and this compromise will allow them to do just that” said Mike Hope President of the Montana Tavern Association.   Brad Anderson, representing the Restaurant Association on the coalition, and owner of Montana Buffalo Wild Wings in Montana stated, “This bill supports the three tier system and allows all members to participate in the growth in the industry, while placing parity on the industry”.

Josh Townsley, President of the Montana Brewers Association said, “Our goal is to give our members options. Current brewers and new entrants can continue to operate tap rooms, and are not forced to give them up as they grow. Craft Brewers have developed a reputation for providing outstanding craft beer in our communities, and the local and visiting public enjoys sampling our beers at our breweries. This bill will provide needed choice for brewers to successfully grow these small main street businesses in Montana”.

The only known opposition to the proposed legislation is the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association consisting of the 22 beer and wine distributors in Montana.  Originally a member of the coalition of industry members who met throughout the interim, the MBWDA has since pulled out of the coalition in December of 2014, citing concerns about how the bill would affect the integrity of the three-tier system. Other industry members do not share this concern and point out that breweries in other states throughout the country are able to own retail licenses without disruption to the three-tier system, and that the “middle” tier is doing fine in those states. “Our brewers want and need our distribution partners in Montana, and we’d like them back at the table. This bill will not change the facts one bit that 97 % of all beer sold in Montana goes through the distributors, and only 3 % is sold directly by our brewers. To the contrary, it is likely that passage of this bill will send more beer through the distribution tier, added Townsley”.
For further information contact:

Tony Herbert, Executive Director of the Montana Brewers Association, 406-439-8075, tony@montanabrewers.org,

John Iverson, Government Affairs Director of the Montana Taverns Association, 406-459-3344, iversonmontana@gmail.com.

Beverage Breakdown

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Re-posted from The Missoula Independent, Jan. 8th, 2015

Nearly two years have passed since Montana brewers and tavern owners clashed over a legislative proposal to radically reform the state’s craft beer industry. House Bill 616, referred to by some as the “brewery killing bill,” would have forced breweries to either purchase a retail license or restrict the amount of beer sold in taprooms. The bill failed in committee, and from its ashes rose a new Alcohol Beverage Coalition aimed at finding compromise among the players in Montana’s alcohol industry ahead of the 2015 Legislature.Whatever unity those players may have established began to fall apart months ago as the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association grew increasingly troubled with the coalition’s direction. Kristi Blazer, the association’s executive director, says it became clear early on that the Montana Tavern Association and the Montana Brewers Association intended to pursue a regulatory change that would permit stacking of licenses—in other words, allowing brewers to hold a retail license and bars to hold a brewery license. Despite protests by her and others, Blazer adds, the coalition’s path seemed “pre-ordained.”

“If we were to say right now what our goal is, it’s to preserve economic fairness,” Blazer says. “We see that the stacked license bill, which is currently being proposed, will do exactly the opposite. It will give a few big players an economic advantage to the detriment of others in the system.”

The distributors publicly backed out of the coalition in December. Brian Clark, president of Kalispell-based Fun Beverage, says the association sent coalition members a letter as early as last April expressing disapproval with the stacked license approach, and reiterated the position directly during a meeting in August. He adds that the group felt withdrawing was the only way to avoid having its continued presence on the coalition misconstrued as support for the pending bill. “Anybody would prefer to have a seat at the table if there’s true negotiation and discussion than to walk away,” Clark says. “But there was no discussion or negotiation after that.”

The “vigorous opposition,” as Blazer calls it, on the part of the distributors stems from the fear that allowing businesses to stack licenses will “distort and destroy” the system of checks and balances that’s been in place for decades. Montana’s alcohol industry is split into three tiers—manufacturing, retail and distribution—and existing laws prevent any one entity from occupying more than two. Since small brewers are legally allowed to self distribute, Blazer says, stacked licenses create the potential for “vertical monopolies,” or businesses occupying all three tiers.

“Rather than wreck a whole system and throw into chaos the economic balance that currently exists, we suggest take care of the problem at its heart,” Blazer says, adding her association instead supports increasing the 10,000-barrel production cap on small brewers.

At least two brewers have also come out against license stacking: Blackfoot River Brewing in Helena and Bayern in Missoula. MTA lobbyist and coalition member John Iverson acknowledges that support wasn’t unanimous among tavern owners either, though a majority of MTA members favored the proposal.

“What’s neat about this bill relative to [HB 616] is it doesn’t require anyone to change if they choose not to,” Iverson says. “Every person that’s currently operating in the business can continue to do what they’re doing. Nobody has to change anything. It simply creates extra opportunities for brewers and extra opportunities for tavern owners that choose to exercise that opportunity.”

According to Iverson, several bar owners in the state have already expressed a desire to act on that opportunity. Frank Chounet and his wife, Melissa, purchased the Timber Bar in Big Timber last fall with the goal of one day opening a brewery as well. But under current Montana law, Chounet’s status as a bar owner forbids him from obtaining a brewery license. S ubsequently, Chounet says he’s a “big proponent” of the coalition’s stacked license proposal.

He adds he’s aware that there is a precedent for working around the current restrictions. Several breweries across Montana have undergone complex legal restructuring in order to obtain retail licenses for their taprooms. “I knew that with some long-term planning there were ways to do it, and I’d already researched and kind of come up with a plan on how to achieve that without this new legislation,” Chounet says. “It was going to be a little longer, maybe three to five years, to be able to do that.”

Those still on board with the coalition have expressed disappointment with the distributors’ decision to walk away. “We continue to try to reach out to the wholesalers to try to bring them back to the table,” says Josh Townsley, Tamarack Brewing co-owner and president of the MBA. Iverson agrees that having the distributors back at the table is a desired outcome, particularly since he sees the coalition’s work continuing beyond the current session. In his eyes, the coalition represents “a new day for alcohol regulation in Montana.” But unless the approach changes, Blazer doesn’t anticipate a reconciliation during the 2015 session.

“It doesn’t do anybody any good for us to be in there pounding our head against the wall,” she says, “because all they want to talk about is the stacked license bill.”

Starting over in Darby: Couple opens nano-brewery, finds joy in new simpler small town life

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 9.28.13 PMJC and Hilary McDowell hope their new Bandit Brewery in Darby will become a family-friendly meeting place for the community.

Re-Post by the Ravalli Republic

DARBY – It’s no secret that the Great Recession turned many people’s lives upside down.  Afterwards, some wallowed in grief over what they’d lost. Others simply gave up.  And then there were those who decided there was no better time to stop, take a deep breath and reconsider what was really important in this life.

After considering the lessons learned during that upheaval, some folks opted to move forward to reinvent themselves and create a new life from the ashes of the old.  Down at the end of Darby’s Tanner Street, there’s an old building where Conner Logging’s mechanics once repaired helicopters and diesel trucks.

Today, people walking through its doors aren’t met with the smell of grease and oil. Instead inside this building now reborn, the aroma of hops and grain fills the air of the simply set, brand-new nano-brewery called Bandit Brewing.  For JC and Hilary McDowell, this place with its huge barrel stove over in the corner and recycled corrugated metal roof (purchased from a farmer in Arlee) is an important piece of the new life they’ve been working to build.

Before the recession, JC was a successful developer who thought he had hit the housing market just right in the Atlanta area. He and his wife saw their life savings disappear when the market turned south.  They lost their house and moved what they had left to their sailboat. Over the course of a few weeks on the water, they set a new course for their lives.

“One of the advantages of losing everything is that you don’t have a lot of overhead,” JC said. “When we made our million and lost it by age 40, we decided it was time to consider the quality of our lives. I couldn’t invest another 30 years in building another business only to lose it.”

“I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life,” JC said. “In my mind, getting a job would be the worst thing that could happen to me. I’ve always been self-employed.”

And so they bought a food concession truck and began following the fair circuit. Along the way, they kept looking for new opportunities.  With their own young children in tow, they noticed that most fairs didn’t have a nice place for parents with children too young to ride the carnival rides.  JC went to work and built a Wild West Fun Theme Park that the couple began booking at fairs around the West.

“I’ve learned that you follow the money,” he said. “When one thing works well, build on that.”

All the time while traveling from one fair to the next, they were looking for a new place to land.  After working the Ravalli County Fair, fair manager Deb Rogala offered them a place to stay two winters ago to see if they might like life in the southern Bitterroot.  They liked it so much that they decided to make it their new home.

“We were looking for a small town where we could raise our girls,” he said. “We wanted it to be a place where there was no Walmart or Home Depot. With a population of 733, Darby seemed a good fit.”

Both agree they came here because of what Darby is already. They had lived the big city life and that’s not what they wanted for their two youngsters. They wanted that sense of community that comes with small-town life.  They bought the old shop at the end of Tanner to store their fun park props. The property had another small building that they turned into their home.  It was first time they had a place of their own on dry land since 2007.

When they started considering the options for the portion of the shop not needed for storage, the couple decided it might work as a small brewery.  The zoning for the building fit that use. The necessary power was already in place.

“When we started, we agreed that we would do this, but not go into debt making it happen,” JC said. “I’d rather go slow than go broke.”

Using construction skills that he’d acquired throughout his life, JC put together the equipment necessary to operate a small brewery that would fit right in with the couple’s new small-town home.  Their idea was to take a step back in time in a town that treasures its past and recreate an old-time neighborhood pub where families could gather.

“We didn’t come here to change this community,” JC said.

“We wanted to keep this building intact as much as we could. It’s part of Darby’s history. That’s important.”

The couple knew they wanted to create a family-friendly place.

“We wanted it to be a community-based gathering place for families,” Hilary said. “We have our own two young children. … We plan to have a lot activities for children here.”

To make that clear to everyone in Darby, in their first week of business, they brought in Santa and offered free photographs. Their 7-year-old offered memberships to her lemonade mug club in one corner of the tasting room. Their youngest daughter wants them to host a cartoon night sometime soon.

They believe their brewery may be the smallest in the state.  JC serves as the brew master. His equipment allows him to brew 40 gallons at a time.  In comparison, JC said Bitterroot Brewing can brew more than 1,000 gallons in a day.

“We’re not in competition with any of the big brewers,” he said. “We’re not in competition with the local bars either.”

The brewery’s tasting room only stays open from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.  At their recent opener, their tasting room was filled with people from the town and the surrounding area.

“It was really a lot of fun,” Hilary said. “No one was drunk. It was more like a big block party. That’s what we want this place to be.”

Both hope their business will play an important role in an economic resurgence in their new hometown.  In a small community like Darby, the same $5 bill can get a lot mileage, JC said.

It might start out paying for a haircut down on Main Street. By afternoon, it could end up in the cash register at one of the local restaurants. And later that same day, it could be buying a brew at Bandit Brewery.

“We know that’s how it works,” he said. “We also need to find ways to bring money in from the outside. That’s what our business can do through tourism. We all just need to work together to ensure that people stop here and see what we have to offer.

“We already have the traffic coming through town,” said JC. “We just need to get them to stop.”

The couple plans to offer specials to skiers and others traveling through town. Their brewery will also be added to a tourism map that includes all the breweries in the state.  They also plan to do what they can to help out local causes. In the near future, JC plans to brew a Darby Tiger Ale. They’ll donate a portion of the sales to the school system.

“Breweries have a long tradition of giving back to their community,” he said. “We want to continue that.”

The McDowells are happy they’ve found this new niche that will still leave them with time to slip away each year for a couple of months of sailing south of the border.

“Our daughters have really embraced their new lives in the West,” he said. “And they’re pretty good sailors too.”