Montana Brewers Association

Winter Newsletter

February 2020

Montana Professional Brewer Apprenticeship Program offers hands-on learning with national certification

In December, Montana Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) officials visited Blackfoot River Brewing Company to award Nicholas Balcken with a certified national credential. Balcken became the first apprentice to complete the Montana Professional Brewer Apprenticeship Program.

“Apprenticeship continues to provide the opportunities Montana’s workers need to succeed and have meaningful careers,” Lt. Governor Mike Cooney said. “We are continuing to reach out to new sponsors in a variety of new career fields beyond the trades to build tomorrow’s workforce today.”

Through DLI’s Registered Apprenticeship program, Blackfoot River Brewing Company is offering its workers a new pathway to becoming a professional brewer. An apprentice will receive two to three years of hands-on learning in the brewery and complete approximately 140 hours of online courses through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

The launch of this apprenticeship program marks the first time DLI’s Incumbent Worker Training Program and Registered Apprenticeship Program partnered to support a Montana business. Blackfoot River Brewing Company applied and received funding from the Incumbent Worker Training Program to help offset the cost of additional educational opportunities for their apprentice.

“This program has given me the motivation to gain industry certification and education. I think it is really beneficial and I hope to stay at Blackfoot for the rest of my career,” Balcken said. “Now we have a way to train someone to work toward the credentials they need while working on the job, just like I did. I hope ten years down the road this sets the apprenticeship standard across the board for Montana’s breweries.”

Lt. Gov. Cooney presents Nicholas Balcken with his certificate for completing the Professional Brewer Apprenticeship Program (Photo courtesy of Montana Department of Labor and Industry)

Breweries are an important driver of Montana’s economy, generating $496 million of economic impact in 2018 according the research from the Brewers Association. Montana ranks second in the nation for breweries per capita with 11.4 breweries per 100,000 21+ adults.

“It’s a big booming grassroots industry in this state that employs a lot of people,” said Tim Chisman, head brewer and production manager at Blackfoot River Brewing Company. “We would love to see other breweries jump on this to help us make it a better apprenticeship program. It’s just going to continue to help the state of Montana be in the forefront of amazing beer.”

The Montana Registered Apprenticeship program is currently working to foster new partnerships to expand and diversify into new occupation fields, including at Montana breweries. Kalispell Brewing Company recently became the second brewery to participate in DLI’s Registered Apprenticeship program.

For more information on the Montana Registered Apprenticeship Program, visit

For more information on the Incumbent Worker Training Program, visit

Fire destroys Muddy Creek Brewery

Community rallies to help

On Thursday, Jan. 23 the Montana craft brewing world awoke to news that Muddy Creek Brewery was destroyed in a structure fire. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze, but the brewery staff and owners are all feeling the impact of the disaster.

Firefighters working to put out the blaze at Muddy Creek. (Photo courtesy of Muddy Creek Brewery)

The Uptown Butte brewery, about to celebrate five years in business, was located in a historic building that once housed The Butte Daily Post newspaper. In recent years, the building was home to The Irish Times bar and The Post wine and martini bar along with the brewery. The fire caused extensive damage to the entire building forcing all three businesses to close.

One month after the fire, the future of the brewery remains unclear. It’s a slow process for those involved, waiting on insurance companies to complete their investigations before settling claims. In the meantime, 11 Muddy Creek employees have lost their employment. For some of them, it was their only source of income.

But the Butte community and the broader craft brewing world, both in Montana and beyond, are rallying to help those affected by the fire and subsequent loss of employment. Two days after the fire, Slainte Butte America Pub held a pint night. Then on Feb. 1, Butte Brewing Company also held a pint night. Bottleshare, a nonprofit based in Georgia, got involved setting up this Facebook fundraiser with a goal of raising $25,000 for the cause. According to Muddy Creek co-owner Chris Sherman, more than $6,000 has been raised from all sources thus far.

The Montana Brewers Association made its own cash donation to help support the affected staff. We also stand ready to assist Muddy Creek in getting back on their feet should the owners decide to reopen the brewery. We’ll never get to experience the charm of Muddy Creek’s unique and historic taproom again, but we sure hope the brewery and their great beer make a comeback.

MBA draws winning tickets for 2019 raffle at Livingston event

Grand Prize Sherpa Bigfoot camper trailer parked in front of Katabatic Brewing Co.

On Friday, Jan. 10, we drew the winning tickets for the 2019 Montana Brewers Raffle at an event hosted by Katabatic Brewing Co. in Livingston. The event brought to a close the raffle that had been going for nearly a year with just over 1,000 tickets sold.

It was a snowy day in Livingston and the interstate was closed to traffic just outside town due to high winds. In other words, it was just your average winter day in Livingston, certainly not enough to dissuade locals from showing up for the event.

More than fifty people filled the taproom to have a pint, enjoy music from local singer/songwriter Danny Bee and witness the drawing in person. Hundreds more streamed the drawing on Facebook Live, eager to find out if they had a winning ticket. With the help of a volunteer from the audience who drew tickets from the pot, MBA Executive Director Matt Leow announced the names of the winners:

Grand Prize: Bigfoot custom camper trailer from Sherpa – Peter Hingle

1st Prize: Inflatable Kayak from Aire – Alex Gallegos

2nd Prize: Guided fishing trip from Crosscurrents and a Sage fly rod and reel – Robert Holter

3rd Prize: Concert tickets (worth $700) from Logjam Presents – Shelia Schenk

4th Prize: YETI cooler filled with Montana craft beer – Ann Lansing

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2019 Montana Brewers Raffle!

The MBA is holding another raffle this year, but we’re making some changes for 2020. Rather than sell tickets for the entire year, the 2020 raffle will run from late April to early October with the drawing taking place at the Montana Brewers Fall Rendezvous in Missoula on Saturday, Oct. 3. The fall brewfest is our culminating event for the year and is always a great time for craft beer lovers, with special release beers available for guests and awards in multiple categories for breweries. We’re excited to add the raffle drawing to this year’s Fall Rendezvous.

The Sherpa camper trailer is back by popular demand and will once again be the grand prize for this year’s raffle. We’re working with Sherpa to get the camper built and ready to show off at our Spring Rendezvous in Bozeman on May 8.

Stay tuned for more details on the raffle including the announcment of the rest of the prizes before we launch the raffle in April.

“Good Beer Here”

Montana Historical Society exhibit celebrates brewing history

Montana’s complicated yet longtime love affair with beer is the subject of a new exhibit “Good Beer Here: Montana’s Brewing History” opening Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Montana Historical Society in Helena.

Records of human-produced beer date back as far as 7,000 years. In Montana, immigrants were brewing beer based on Old World recipes from central Europe almost four decades before the Treasure State formally existed.

Amanda Streeter Trum, curator of collections at the Montana Historical Society (MHS), said that brewers set up shop in or near mining camps, offering cold beers, mainly lagers, to weary workers beginning in the 1860s.

Anneliese Warhank, an MHS archivist and oral historian, added that the remote locations of many of the camps forced brewers to be creative. “They had to make sure they had plenty of supplies when heading into the mountains, because come wintertime they couldn’t readily get into town to pick up items like barley and hops,” Warhank said. “So they used ingredients like tree bark and grass to bitter the beer instead.”

Roberta Jones-Wallace, the exhibit specialist, noted that the health benefits of beer often were touted for entire families, from infants to elders. “They said it was better than water, because after being processed it was considered safer than water,” Jones-Wallace said. “It was like a pork chop in a bottle, nutritious and encouraged for the whole family in the early 20th century.”

The exhibit walks visitors through the earliest beer brewing years and the 1916 passage of the state law prohibiting alcohol sales by 1918. It shows how many of Montana’s brewers turned to dairy or soda products, and other small breweries closed shop. When the national prohibition of alcohol ended in 1933, only a handful of breweries remained.

That wasn’t the end of Montana’s connection to brewing, however. The exhibit also explores the synergies between beer and agriculture as the state grew to become an industry leader in barley production, which is used by brewing giants like Budweiser.

Historic sign from Lewistown Brewing Company, which operated from 1894 to 1938. (Photo courtesy of the Montana Historical Society)

In addition, the exhibit reviews the recent rise in home brewing and microbreweries, featuring oral histories with some of those instrumental in passing legislation that legalized brewery taprooms in Montana and those who hopped on board during the newest brewing boom in the 1990s. Displays include historic cans, bottles and beer steins; a home refrigerated “Serv-O-Draft” keg case from the 1930s; and a risqué life-size Italian marble statue that is believed to have graced one of Helena’s barrooms along with a wide range of historic brewery signs.

The exhibit’s opening, which takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, is a free, family-friendly event that celebrates Montana’s beer history with trivia, games, free snacks, Montana craft brews, and samples of root beer from Canyon Ferry Brewing in Townsend, Montana.

Bozeman brewfest kicks off three-stop Rendezvous Tour

Spring Rendezvous May 8

Spring is just around the corner and that means it’s almost time for the Montana Brewers Rendezvous Tour. The three-stop tour kicks off in Bozeman on May 8, then swings through Helena on Aug. 1 and wraps up in Missoula on Oct. 3.  The Fall Rendezvous in Missoula also caps off our annual Montana Brewers Conference which will be held Oct. 1 and 2 in Missoula.

Our first stop on the tour, the 2020 Montana Brewers Spring Rendezvous, is just over two months away. Brewers from across Montana will be pouring samples in Haynes Pavilion at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds on Friday, May 8 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. We’ll have a VIP hour from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., with general admission starting at 5:00 pm. The event will feature music by the Dodgy Mountain Men, food vendors, Beer School and, of course, plenty of great Montana craft beer.

Tickets for the Spring Rendezvous will go on sale at noon on Tuesday, Mar. 3 with a limited presale that runs through Friday, Mar. 6. You’ll save big if you buy early during the limited presale with tickets priced at $25 for General Admission and $35 for VIP. That’s $5 off the regular presale rates of $30 GA/$40 VIP and $10 off the gate prices of $35 GA/$45 VIP. RSVP to the Facebook event to recieve reminders about the limited presale.

A commemorative glass and samples of Montana craft beer are all included with admission. We do not use beer tokens or tickets at our events. This cuts down on the standing in line and allows our guests more time to hang out with friends, enjoy the music and talk with the brewers while sampling the best Montana breweries have to offer.

So, check out our event schedule, mark your calendar and raise your glass with us at one of our 2020 Montana Brewers Rendezvous.

Spring Rendezvous – May 8 – Bozeman

  • Haynes Pavilion, Gallatin County Fairgrounds
  • VIP hour 4 – 5 p.m., GA 5 – 9 p.m.

Summer Rendezvous – Aug. 1 – Helena

  • Memorial Park
  • VIP hour 3 – 4 p.m., GA 4 – 8 p.m.

Fall Rendezvous – Oct. 3 – Missoula

  • Caras Park
  • VIP hour 3 – 4 p.m., GA 4 – 8 p.m.

Montana Brewers Association

Montana Brewers Association

P.O. Box 8591

Missoula, MT 59807

406-948-BREW (2739)