Montana Brewers Association

Fall Newsletter

November 2020

Montana Beers for Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Big Sky’s Moose Drool Brown Ale may be Montana’s most famous beer outside of the Big Sky State. It also just so happens that brown ales go great with turkey. Moose Drool even got a shout out in Spruce Eats The 10 Best Beers for Thanksgiving Dinner in 2020.

Those of us lucky enough to live in Montana have a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is access to an incredible selection of local craft beer. Here are some other great options for Montana beers to enjoy with Thanksgiving dinner.

Paired with Turkey

Amber ales are a perfect pairing for turkey and Bozeman Brewing Company has just the ticket with their flagship Bozone Select Amber Ale. As noted above, brown ales also go great with turkey and Bitter Root Brewing has a great option for you with their Barley Ridge Nut Brown Ale.

Now, if you plan to smoke that bird, a scotch ale or a scottish ale would make a good pairing. Fortunately, Montana has no shortage of options in those styles. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that it has the word “smoke” in it but KettleHouse’s ever-popular Cold Smoke Scotch Ale makes for a great pairing with smoked turkey. It also helps to get you in the mood for the upcoming ski season which has already arrived for some. But Cold Smoke is not the only game in town, Lewis & Clark’s Back Country Scottish Ale and Überbrew’s The Bruce Scotch Ale brought home gold and silver respectively at this year’s Great American Beer Festival (see Montana Breweries Win Actual Awards at Virtual GABF). You can’t go wrong with either of those options.

Paired with Smoked Ham

Though turkey is the ubiquitous main course for Thanksgiving dinner, let’s not ignore ham, another popular option for holiday feasts. If ham will be on your dining room table this Thursday, try Bayern Brewing’s Pilsener. Montana’s own German brewery brews their beers in strict accordance with the German Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) of 1516, which predates Thanksgiving by more than 100 years. Now that’s old.  Or maybe try Kalispell Brewing’s Two Ski Brewski Pilsner, another traditional German-style pilsner.

For Dessert

Beer pairings aren’t just for the main course. Dessert deserves beer too. Try Draught Works Last Rites Mexican Chocolate Porter or the Vanilla Porter from Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Company. Both beers pair well with desserts like pumpkin pie, or if you prefer, these beers can be the dessert.

Pumpkin Beer

And while we’re on the topic of pumpkin, did you hear Philipsburg Brewing Company’s 5 Phantoms Pumpkin Spice Barleywine has medaled at four of the last five GABFs? Well, it’s kind of a big deal and worth repeating.

These are just some of the great options for Montana craft beer to enjoy this Thanksgiving. We kept this list to beers in cans or bottles that you can find on store shelves (except for 5 Phantoms, which is only available in bottles at the brewery). Montana breweries also have a variety of mainstays, seasonal and specialty beers on tap that you can take home in a growler or crowler. Show your thanks this Thanksgiving by supporting your local breweries and have a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Montana Breweries Win Actual Awards at Virtual GABF

Montana breweries made another strong showing at the 2020 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Three Montana breweries brought home three medals – one gold and two silvers. 

The event, which took place virtually this year due to COVID-19, occurred over October 16-17th. Under normal circumstances, GABF is the largest ticketed beer festival in North America and one of the largest events of its kind in the world. COVID forced the event to be held online and virtually, but that didn’t stop Montana breweries from a strong showing. 

By the numbers: the 2020 GABF Professional Judge Panel saw more than 8,000 submissions from over 400 breweries contested, with 272 medals over 91 categories being awarded. The Professional Judge Panel awards gold, silver and bronze medals, each are recognized around the world as symbols of brewing excellence. These awards are among the most coveted in the industry and heralded by the winning brewers. A quick breakdown of medals: 

Gold A world-class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance.
Silver An excellent beer that may vary slightly from style parameters while maintaining close adherence to the style and displaying excellent taste, aroma and appearance.
Bronze  A fine example of the style that may vary slightly from style parameters and/or have minor deviations in taste, aroma or appearance.


Three Montana breweries rose to the top in this crowded competition, earning the following 2020 medals in their respective categories:


Back Country from Lewis & Clark Brewing Company, Helena




The Bruce from Überbrew, Billings




5 Phantoms 2018 from Philipsburg Brewing Company, Philipsburg



A HUGE congratulations goes out to these Montana breweries for their achievements!

Montana breweries have a strong track record at GABF, with Montana beer earning medals in every competition since 2001. On top of that, a Montana brewery has won Small Brewery of the Year or Very Small Brewery of the Year in three of the last seven years. It should come as no surprise two of those breweries once again won awards this year.

Überbrew won the prestigious Small Brewery of the Year award at the 2016 GABF and has medaled each of the last four years. This year they captured silver in the Scotch Ale category with “The Bruce.” Congrats! 

Lewis & Clark Brewing Co. is another perennial winner. They won the Small Brewery of the Year award in 2016 and their Back Country Ale took home the only gold awarded to a Montana brewery for their excellent execution of a Scottish-Style Ale. Big ups! 

Philipsburg Brewing Co. snagged silver for their ever popular 5 Phantoms Pumpkin Spice Barleywine. They’re doing something right with that brew, because it’s won at GABF four out of the past five years!

Next time you visit Lewis & Clark, Philipsburg or Überbrew be sure to congratulate them for their award winning beers, and give those brews a taste while you’re at it! 

For the full list of 2020 medal winners or to explore previous GABF results, go to the Brewers Association GABF Winners page.

#TakeYourBeerOutside Photo Contest A Hit

Over the summer, MBA created a fun social media photo contest called #TakeYourBeerOutside, encouraging followers and craft beer lovers across the state to showcase their favorite beer on an outdoor adventure. Participants snapped photos of their adventures with Montana craft beer – floating, fishing, hiking, backpacking, trail running, mountain biking and in general, exploring all the beauty and uniqueness that Montana’s wild public lands offer.

To be entered to win, followers needed to post a photo to social media, tag the brewery and MBA, and use the hashtags #takeyourbeeroutside and #MTbeer. We offered up some sweet prizes for the most likes and shares – winners received custom MBA lanyard koozies and custom MBA hats from the Montana Brewery Shop. 

The response was incredible! 62 of you participated, posting 115 photos from dozens of Montana breweries generating thousands of likes and shares. 

At the end of the summer, we tallied up the likes and shares and we’re thrilled to announce, with 229 likes, our first place winner was @montanabeergirl

The second place winner, by a very narrow margin, with 223 likes was @callmethebreeze_

#TakeYourBeerOutside was a fun way to interact with our followers, and it showed just how enthusiastic Montana beer lovers are about their favorite beers and their favorite places. Thanks to all who participated!

For Five Raffle Ticket Holders, Friday the 13th Was Their Lucky Day

On Friday, Nov. 13th, we drew the winning tickets for the 2020 Montana Brewers Raffle live at  Lolo Peak Brewery and Grill in Lolo, MT. The event marked the end to our annual raffle which has been running since July. 

On the heels of a snowstorm that dumped over six inches across western Montana, a handful of hearty souls swung by Lolo Peak Brewery to have a pint, enjoy some pub grub and witness the drawing in-person. Over 400 people streamed the drawing on Facebook Live, eager to find out if they had a winning ticket. Molly, a Lolo Peak Brewery bartender, drew the winning tickets while MBA Executive Director Matt Leow announced the names of the winners:

Grand Prize: Bigfoot custom camper trailer from Sherpa – Hank Hedrich (ticket purchased at 2 Basset Brewery)

1st Prize: Tomcat Tandem Inflatable Kayak from Tributary with pump and paddles – Brittany Arvish (ticket purchased at Smelter City Brewing)

2nd Prize: Dual tap kegerator with custom tap handles and two kegs of Montana craft beer – Kirk Gentry (ticket purchased at Sacred Waters Brewing)

3rd Prize: – Backcountry Access Float 22 airbag pack for backcountry skiing and snowboarding – Jay Ewan (ticket purchased at Smelter City Brewing)

4th Prize: – YETI Cooler filled with an assortment of Montana craft beer – Jenna Cuda (tickets purchased from the MBA)

For the second year in a row, the winner of the grand prize purchased their ticket at 2 Basset Brewery, apparently making the White Sulphur Springs brewery the go to place to buy your MBA raffle tickets. Thanks to all who purchased tickets. The raffle is an important fundraiser for the MBA, and we sincerely appreciate your support.

What's Brewing For the Upcoming Legislative Session

At their September 10 meeting, the Economic Affairs Interim Committee of the Montana State Legislature voted to move forward with a bill to reduce obstacles for closely-held licenses. On an 8-1 vote, the interim committee approved the draft legislation as a committee bill, meaning it will be considered during the upcoming session at the request of the interim committee. Rep. Joshua Kassmier (R-Fort Benton) will sponsor the bill.

The proposal was born as a compromise proposal from the Montana Alcohol Industry Coalition, which worked over the past year and a half to identify legislative solutions that could be supported by all of the various industry groups for the 2021 session. After abandoning the idea of doing a buyout to end the quota system, a proposal to create a new brewpub license, and a proposal to allow breweries and other manufacturers to own a liquor license, the coalition settled on this “Light Reform” proposal. The Coalition is made up of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana, the Liquor Store Owners Association of Montana, the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association, the Montana Brewers Association, the Montana Distillers Guild, the Montana Restaurant Association, and the Montana Tavern Association, plus representatives from Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors.

The Coalition has in fact been working together for more than six years, making this the fourth cycle the groups have worked together in advance of the session. There are inherent competing interests between the groups, making it difficult to find consensus. That’s what makes this proposal such a big deal – the groups have finally found consensus, even if the change is modest.

A little background on Montana alcohol laws is in order. Montana’s brewery laws are quite restrictive when it comes to on-premises retail sales. Breweries are allowed to sell up to 48 oz (three pints) per customer per day for on-premises consumption between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.. Of course breweries and beer lovers alike would love to see those restrictions loosened, particularly to allow breweries to serve beer past 8 p.m., but that has proven easier said than done.

The greatest obstacle to change has nothing to do with brewery laws specifically. It has to do with the quota system for retail alcohol licenses required for bars and restaurants in Montana. The licenses are privately held and can be resold to the highest bidder, while the availability is limited by the quota, which in turn can make them very expensive, particularly in larger cities. While bars and restaurants are required to own these licenses, breweries and other craft beverage manufacturers are explicitly prohibited from owning them. Brewers’ privilege to serve beers in their taprooms comes from an exception that is granted to manufacturers, and it comes with the hours and ounce limitations that we are all familiar with. Past efforts to increase hours and/or ounces have been met with stiff opposition from bars and restaurants, who see it as a fight to defend the value of their licenses.

Many Montana breweries have taken another path, opting to engage in an arrangement commonly known as a “closely-held license” in which the taproom is no longer associated with the brewery and, under separate ownership, operates as a tavern with either a Beer and Wine License or an All-Beverages License. If you were wondering how some breweries are able to serve past 8 p.m., this is how. You’ll find this arrangement at GILD, Jeremiah Johnson, KettleHouse’s original Myrtle Street Taphouse, Lewis & Clark, Mighty Mo, Tamarack, Thirsty Street, and several other Montana breweries. However, this arrangement comes with certain obstacles that make it difficult if not impossible for some.

Federal law prohibits a tavern from leasing their space from a manufacturer, so a brewery that owns their building is not allowed to lease to a neighboring tavern (under a closely held license or not). Rules in Montana currently require a permanent floor-to-ceiling separation between the brewery and a neighboring tavern. For some breweries their floor plan is already in compliance, for others the changes would be minor, but for some the necessary changes would be somewhere between difficult and impossible.

Finally, Montana law not only prohibits a manufacturer from owning a retail license, it extends that prohibition to the immediate family (spouse or dependent child). Most closely held licenses are held by a parent or adult child, but for some breweries that is not an option. Some couples who own a brewery have actually contemplated divorce in order to get around this obstacle.

The “Light Reform” bill would address two of these three obstacles (the federal issue cannot be addressed by the Montana Legislature). It would provide more flexibility in the physical separation required between the two businesses (the brewery and the taproom) allowing for gates, doors or windows that can be left open during business hours. It also would allow for the spouse of a brewery owner to own the retail license, making a closely held license a more viable option for some breweries.

The “Light Reform” bill won’t resolve all the differences among industry groups nor will it lay to rest the issue of additional hours for breweries. But it is progress that helps breweries achieve greater retail privileges, while doing it in a way that our industry partners can support. It’s not often that we see all the alcohol industry groups get behind a legislative proposal. That alone is progress.

Be Team Players to Stop the Spread

In early November, several papers ran the following opinion piece from Montana craft beverage manufacturers. When the guest column ran, Montana was just starting to see daily COVID-19 cases break 1,000. That trend has not only continued, it has worsened, making this plea for Montanans and local businesses to follow the health rules all the more timely and important.

COVID-19 cases in Montana are on the rise, with daily cases approaching 1,000. The public health crisis is real and Montana is now one of the most impacted states. In the early days of the pandemic, we enjoyed a false sense of security that Montana, with our wide-open spaces and relatively sparse population, would avoid the worst. Now, the reality of COVID-19, and its impacts to local businesses, is staring us in the face.

Montanans are community-minded; we are hardworking, generous and we look out for each other. We need to tap into the best of who we are to get through this crisis. After all, we are in this together.

Craft beverage manufacturers, and the rest of the hospitality industry, are some of the most deeply impacted by this pandemic. We have been hit hard by the rules necessary to protect public health, which inherently limit the amount of business we can do. We also face the reality that many of our customers just don’t feel comfortable coming into our businesses due to the risks associated with crowded indoor spaces. We rely on crowded breweries, distilleries and cideries to make a profit, and that’s just not possible right now.

 Our industries have been team players, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, complying with capacity limitations, table spacing, mask rules, cleaning protocols and other steps to keep our staff and customers safe. We led the way by innovating with curbside delivery, take out, and contactless delivery. We appreciate the flexibility of regulators who removed obstacles, allowing our businesses to get creative to maintain sources of revenue and meet consumer demand, all while conducting business in a way that reduces the spread of COVID-19.

 But not everyone has been part of the team. Those who refuse to wear masks or believe that it is a personal choice for business owners and customers to decide for themselves are only making a bad situation worse. Businesses that flout the rules, set a bad example and risk becoming a source of community spread.

 It’s also unfair to their competitors who are being responsible. Compliance has increased costs and reduced revenue, from additional staff time and cost of materials to limitations on seating capacity and reduced hours. Frankly, those who don’t follow the rules are making a buck while the rest of us pay the price.

 The closures last spring were tough for food and beverage establishments, but what’s proven to be worse is a prolonged pandemic that lasts years rather than weeks or months. We were largely able to weather the storm for the first few months of the pandemic and we had a decent summer; but with winter upon us and an uncertain future, we are bracing for some tough months ahead. Some businesses have already closed for the winter.

 In order to avoid the worst-case scenario, we all need to work together – state and local governments, business owners, and Montanans from all walks of life. If we each do our part, we can minimize the negative impacts to public health, local businesses and the broader economy. That includes respecting local health department mandates to wear masks inside businesses.

 The worst-case scenario could involve another round of closures and a prolonged loss of revenue that many small businesses won’t be able to survive, not to mention the illnesses and deaths of our neighbors, friends and family members.

 Let’s collectively decide that our businesses and communities are worth the inconvenience of following the rules. Let’s do what it takes to slow the spread. Our future selves will thank us for it.

Jon Clarenbach is a member of the board of the Northwest Cider Association and owner of Western Cider in Missoula. Jim Harris is the president of the Montana Distillers Guild and owner of Bozeman Spirits Distillery in Bozeman. Ethan Kohoutek is the president of the Montana Brewers Association and co-owner of Ten Mile Creek Brewery in Helena. Nolan Smith is the vice president of the Montana Brewers Association. Nolan and Cathy Smith are co-owners of Philipsburg Brewing Company in Philipsburg.

Montana Brewers Association

Montana Brewers Association

P.O. Box 8591

Missoula, MT 59807

406-948-BREW (2739)