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.”

Missoula Craft Beer Facts

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Re-posted from Destination Missoula

Big Sky Country is known for fresh air, wide open spaces, and views that dreams are made of but what may surprise some is that Montana is also 2nd in craft breweries per capita in the country. With over 40 breweries in the state of Montana, it is no wonder that several have settled into the Missoula area and that Missoulians are welcoming new breweries every year.


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Read the full article at Destination

Beer Institute: One Brewery Job Supports 45 More in Other Industries

Beer Institue postThis article appeared on on  August 26, 2014 by David Eisenberg

A new study from the Beer Institute has found that for every one job created by a brewery, an additional 45 jobs are supported in other industries, ranging from agriculture to transportation.

To conduct the analysis, the Beer Institute commissioned the economic research firm John Dunham & Associations to look at the state-by-state excise tax collections on beer and compared those figures with the number of employees in any given business.


Montana’s craft beer industry booming

This article appeared in The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 7:30 pm

LaNette Jones, left, and her husband, Brice Jones, owners of Katabatic Brewing Co., have spent two-and-a-half years researching and remodeling a historic building to open their brewery in Livingston this fall. A recent study found the craft beer industry has more than doubled in size in the past four years.

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The Growing Economic Impact of Craft Brewing in Montana

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This report was produced and authored by Colin Sorenson, research economist at the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, with the support of the Montana Brewers Association (MBA). The BBER would like to thank MBA Executive Director Tony Herbert and the MBA board members for providing helpful information as we developed and carried out the study plan and for their assistance in the data collection phase. Any errors and omissions are, of course, our own.


The Latest on Montana Breweries from Growler Fills

See this post from Growler Fills with the latest beer news from around the state, including Beaverhead’s opening in Dillon!

Also news on brewery progress in Butte, Lolo, Kalispell, Sidney, and Missoula.

Congrats to Montana’s newest brewery, Beaverhead Brewing Co., which quietly opened in Dillon this past weekend.  Their official grand opening is set for Saturday, June 21, 2014. If you’re near Dillon this weekend you’ll find them at 218 S. Montana Street …

Read more on Growler Fills


Jeff Grant from Draughtworks makes the list: 20 Under 40

20 Under 40: Honoring young western Montanans making a difference

5390b43077e21.preview-620This article appeared in The Missoulian on June 8th, 2014:

Stirring the mash early on a weekday morning, Jeff Grant considered the beer to come. More than 430 gallons of water mixed with 1,200 pounds of grain will yield roughly 15 barrels of a seasonal IPA in a few short weeks.


Grant, a University of Montana graduate, isn’t a newcomer to the craft of brewing. As the son of eastern Montana brewers, he was practically born into the trade….

Read the full article at The Missoulian

June 2014 MBA Newsletter

Dear Montana Beer Lovers,

Lots of great happenings in the beer world of the great state of Montana!

Our next festival is in Helena in honor of the city’s 150th Birthday. It’s the marquee event this summer celebrating our state’s capital. The event poster is below, please help us spread the word by RSVPing on Facebook and inviting your friends!

As of now we have 600 people invited, and 218 attending on the Facebook page…we’d love your help in boosting those numbers!

We’re also planning for the 2014 Montana Brewers Festival and Conference in Missoula. The festival will be Saturday, October 11 followed by two days of conference for brewers. This is our biggest event of the year, and we’re excited to be back in Missoula with our family of brewers for good times, great beer, and a lot of learning at our conference. For the first time, brewers from other states will be welcome to register for our conference, as most of the sessions apply to all breweries, with just a few Montana-specific topics. Please help us spread the word about these events as well. Here’s the link to our Brewers Festival: Brewers Festival in Missoula Oct 11.

Montana Brewers are also in the news all over the state, with new breweries opening, and member breweries getting recognition for their great work. You can see these items of interest on our website in our “news” section, and lots more coverage on our Facebook Page and our Twitter Account.

We also recently joined Instagram, and you can find us under “MontanaBrewers“. If you’re on Instagram, and take pictures of Montana beer, please tag them with #mtbeer, and they’ll show up on our Instagram Facebook feed. We’re loving seeing your pictures on there!

Please visit the news section on our website to read about the following:

Also, check out our Associate Members and consider giving these folks your business. Those who support Montana breweries should be supported in return! Many thanks.

We are always looking for more Associate Members to boost our efforts, so if your business would like to show some support, please visit this page to sign up: Membership.

Welcome our newest Associate Members:

The MBA is also seeking sponsors for our Helena Festival. If you’d like your business to have a presence at our festival, please see sponsorship information below and be in touch no later than July 1.

Last but not least, our Trail Map is getting a lot of attention! We now have the map downloadable on our site, so please print yourself out a copy for your next road trip, or send along to folks traveling through the state this summer. Please share this on Facebook as well…we posted this on our page and so far it has 144 shares and 187 likes…so we’re getting the message that folks like this tool, and I’m happy to say we needed to add a section this year to accommodate for all the new breweries! Bravo!

Get your MBA Trail Map here! Special thanks to Steffen Rasile of our Associate Member company sra Design Studios in Helena for updating the MBA website and creating the downloadable Trail Map! Cheers.

I hope there are lots of delicious Montana-made brews in your near future.

Best regards,

Tony Herbert, Executive Director
Montana Brewers Association
Helena, Montana

Winners: Montana Posts Strong Showing At North American Beer Awards

Winners: Montana Posts Strong Showing At North American Beer Awards

(Re-post with permission from Growler Fills)

Winners: Montana Posts Strong Showing At North American Beer Awards

Held each year in June, the annual 2014 North American Beer Awards took place last weekend in conjunction with the Mountain Brewers Beer Fest in Idaho Falls, ID.  The competition organized by the North American Brewers Association is conducted as a single blind sampling followed by rank ordering of the entries within a category.

It’s a big deal, too, annually receiving more than 1,400 entries, including many of the best from around the western U.S. and beyond.  Montana’s breweries put on a strong showing once again.  Here are the Montana winners:

Big Sky Brewing Company

  • Gold – Bobo’s Robust Porter – Robust Porter
  • Gold – Summer Honey – Honey Beer

Bitterroot Brewing

  • Silver –  Nut Brown Ale – English-Style Brown Ale
  • Silver –  Bitterroot Oatmeal Stout – Oatmeal Stout

Canyon Creek Brewing

  • Silver – One Night Stand – Golden or Blonde Ale

Carter’s Brewing

  • Bronze – Switchyard Scottish Ale – Scottish-Style Export
  • Bronze – Frambeaux – Lambic
  • Silver – Biere de Mars 2014 – Biere de Garde
  • Gold – Rob Moore Abbey Ale – Dubbel
  • Gold – The Golden Boy – Tripel

Draught Works

  • Bronze – That’s What She Said – Cream Ale
  • Gold – Backdraught – German-Style Rauchbier

Flathead Lake Brewing Co.

  • Bronze – Dirty Ginger – Other Belgian-Style Ales
  • Gold – Montucky Sour Brown – Flanders-Style Red or Brown Ale

Great Northern Brewing Co.

  • Gold – Wheatfish – Hefeweizen

Kettlehouse Brewing Co.

  • Bronze – Fresh Bongwater – English-Style Summer Ale
  • Silver – Double Haul – English-Style India Pale Ale

Madison River Brewing Co.

  • Bronze – Frostbite Barley Wine 12 – American-Style Barley Wine

Montana Brewing Co.

  • Bronze – Whitetail Wheat – Hefeweizen
  • Bronze – Custer’s Last Stout – Oatmeal Stout
  • Bronze – Beartooth Espresso Porter – Coffee Beers

Philipsburg Brewing Company

  • Silver – Corners Porter – Coffee Beers

Red Lodge Ales Brewing Co.

  • Silver – Liver Eatin’ Ale – Dark Hefeweizen

Tamarack Brewing Co.

  • Gold – Blue Jay White IPA – Hybrid Style Beers
  • Silver – Training Wheels Rootbeer – Carbonated Soft Drinks


  • Silver – Alt 0220 – Altbier
  • Bronze – Black Hops Tactical IPA – Cascadian Style Dark Ale


Walsh sponsors legislation to cut taxes for Montana brewers and distillers

Measures would help reduce overhead so small businesses can grow and create more jobs

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator John Walsh today sponsored legislation to reduce taxes for Montana brewers, building on his work to support one of Montana’s growing industries and help create good-paying jobs in Montana.

“Montana’s industry of brewers and distillers contribute to our local economies, strengthen our state and create good-paying jobs – it’s our job to help them thrive,” Walsh said.  “Cutting taxes brewers and distillers pay will reduce their overhead so they can return the investment in their businesses, grow their operation and add unbeatable Made in Montana products to shelves across the state and country.”

The bipartisan BEER Act will halve the excise tax on all beer from $18 a barrel to $9 – approximately 2.5 cents per can, down from five cents – and lower rates for small brewers from $7 to $3.50 or less.  All Montana brewers would benefit from this adjustment.

The bipartisan Small BREW Act is targeted specifically to lowering the excise tax for smaller brewers.  It would halve the excise tax on the first 60,000 barrels of beer produced by small brewers from $7 to $3.50, and it would give a $2 break for small breweries for every barrel they produce between 60,000 and 2 million.

With 46 breweries, and at least six more expected to open later this year, Montana has the third-highest number of small breweries per capita in the nation.  Brewers use over 6 million pounds of malted grain, much of which is grown in Montana. The breweries employ more than 500 Montanans. In 2013 alone, craft beer production increased 15% in Montana in 2013.

Senator Jon Tester is a cosponsor of the BEER Act and the Small BREW Act.

Montana is also home to a burgeoning distillery industry.  Last month, Walsh announced the creation of the Small Distillers Caucus at Headframe Spirits in his hometown of Butte, where he heard from owner Jeff McKee about the amount of taxes his business paid – often at the expense of covering other costs. Walsh supports the Distillery Excise Tax Reform Act to reduce the excise rate for distilled spirits to only $2.70 for the first 100,000 proof gallons produced.  Every gallon above 100,000 would continue to be taxed at the rate under current law of $13.50 per proof gallon.  Montana currently has 16 distilleries in operation and they would all benefit from a reduction in the excise tax.

Here is what Montanans are saying about Walsh’s support for lowering taxes on distillers and brewers:

“Microbreweries and distilleries represent a fast-growing segment of the Montana economy that not only support a renewal of domestic manufacturing, but also Montana’s agriculture by increasing demand for locally-grown ingredients.  A reduction in the tax burden faced by small breweries and distilleries will help these businesses grow.  We applaud Sen. Walsh’s continued support of Montana-based small business and agriculture.”

- Matt Muth and Phil Sullivan, 406 Brewing Company and WildRye Distilling, Bozeman

“Beer plays a big part in Montana’s agricultural economy. Both large and small U.S. brewers benefit from Montana grown barley. We applaud Senator Walsh for cosponsoring the Small Brew Act because it will help us keep more dollars in Missoula’s economy.”

– Tim O’Leary, Kettlehouse Brewing Company,  Missoula

“The Small BREW Act is a great bill for the Montana craft beer industry and it is a great bill for each community in the state that is home to a local brewery.  By the end of this year, Blackfoot River Brewing Company will have been in business for sixteen years and in that time we will have paid a quarter of a million dollars in federal beer excise tax.  At Blackfoot River Brewing Company we take great pride in being an active part of our community.  I appreciate Senator Walsh’s support for the Small BREW Act that will allow us to spend more money in our community instead of sending it to Washington D.C.”

– Brad Simshaw, Blackfoot River Brewing Company, Helena