Each fall, the Montana Brewers Association concludes our Montana Brewers Rendezvous Tour with a judged competition during our final brewfest of the year. At our Fall Rendezvous, held September 24 in Bozeman, awards were given to brewers for the best beer in each of 20 style categories plus an overall Best of Fest award.
Six of those 21 awards went to three breweries making only their second appearance at our annual fall event, with each taking home two awards – Burnt Tree (opened 2019 in Ennis), Old Bull (opened 2019 in Frenchtown) and Sacred Waters (opened 2018 in Kalispell). Sacred Waters also took home the Best of Fest award for their Party Hat Barrel-Aged Sour, a beer the judges could not stop raving about (and tasting).
Outlaw Brewing is building a reputation for brewing a great Oktoberfest. This year they picked up two awards, for the Festbier and Stout categories, making it their second win in a row (2019 and 2021) in the Festbier (or Oktoberfest) category. In 2019, the Outlaw Oktoberfest also won the Best of Fest award.
Here’s the full list of the 2019 winners:
Amber/Red: Burnt Tree Brewing – Red Knuckles
Belgian: Philipsburg Brewing Company – Rustic Saison
ESB: Burnt Tree Brewing – Pubcrawl
Festbier: Outlaw Brewing – Outlaw Oktoberfest
Fresh Hop: Copper Furrow Brewing – Green Squeeze
Fruit Beer: Kalispell Brewing Company – Raspberry Wheat
Hazy: Old Bull Brewing – Fresh Track
IPA: MAP Brewing Co. – Red Point IPA
Lager: Blackfoot River Brewing – Japanese Lager
Pale Ale: Lewis & Clark Brewing Company – Prickly Pear Pale Ale
Pils/Kölsch: Kalispell Brewing Company – Two Ski Brewski
Porter: Old Bull Brewing – Hollow Pony Porter
Scottish: Lewis & Clark Brewing Company – Back Country Scottish Ale
Seltzer: Zesty Booch – Wild Grapefruit Hard Kombucha Seltzer
Sour: Bozeman Brewing Company – Vieux Bois Lambic Inspired with Raspberry and Cherry
Specialty: Highlander Beer – Autumn Amber
Stout: Outlaw Brewing – Capone
Strong Beer: Bozeman Brewing Company – Great One Double Red Ale
Wheat: Bayern Brewing – St. Walter Weizen
Wood Aged Beer: Sacred Waters Brewing Company – Party Hat Barrel-Aged Sour
Best of Fest: Sacred Waters Brewing Company – Party Hat Barrel-Aged Sour
We were pleased to be able to resume our schedule of annual brewfests this year after canceling all in-person events in 2020. The 2021 Montana Brewers Rendezvous Tour consisted of two events – the Montana Brewers Summer Rendezvous in Helena on August 14 and the Montana Brewers Fall Rendezvous in Bozeman on September 24.
Both brewfests were held outdoors, with perfect weather, allowing us to safely hold these much-anticipated events Montana craft beer lovers look forward to each year. In light of the ongoing pandemic we took certain precautions, including additional handwashing stations and hand sanitizer available at each drinking water station, to keep attendees, volunteers and brewers safe. During our Bozeman brewfest, the MBA partnered with Best Practices Medicine to provide a mobile vaccine clinic at the event, with discounted tickets available to those who took advantage of the opportunity to get the jab.
The Summer Rendezvous in Helena was perhaps our most anticipated brewfest ever being our first brewfest after a nearly two-year hiatus. The event featured 30 breweries pouring more than 90 beers in Helena’s beautiful Memorial Park with musical guests 710 Ashbury and Dan Henry. As we’ve come to expect, Helena beer lovers showed up in force with lawn games, camp chairs and positive vibes, with many dancing to the music of the Grateful Dead performed by 710 Ashbury.
Just six short weeks later, we brought the party to Bozeman for the Fall Rendezvous, held in conjunction with our annual Montana Brewers Conference. Our Bozeman event is typically held indoors each spring at Gallatin County Fairgrounds’ Haynes Pavilion, but this year we moved the event outside (still at the Fairgrounds), due to the pandemic and Haynes Pavilion not being available during hockey season. Of course, late September in Montana can bring any type of weather. Fortunately, we were blessed with a lovely, mild fall day, making it a perfect day for an outdoors event.
The Fall Rendezvous featured 123 beers from 31 breweries, music from Hardwood Heart and John Floridis, and awards in 21 different categories. Our fall event traditionally includes a judged competition, but that event is always held in Missoula, at least until this year. Due to scheduling challenges and disruption caused by the COVID pandemic, we moved the event to Bozeman for 2021, giving Bozeman beer lovers a chance to enjoy our culminating event of the year, complete with awards (see: Sacred Waters wins ‘Best of Fest’ at Fall Rendezvous). Missoula’s loss was Bozeman’s gain, but never fear Missoula, we’ll be back for the 2022 Fall Rendezvous.
Montana Brewers Rendezvous provided a welcome return to normal. While the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives and create uncertainty, that shared experience can also make us more appreciative of things we once took for granted. After nearly two years away, it was extra special to be back together again to enjoy Montana craft beer with friends old and new.
Three Montana breweries proved winning is a habit at this year’s Great American Beer Festival® (GABF), bringing home medals with beers that had each won in previous years. Congratulations to Lewis & Clark Brewing Co., Madison River Brewing Co., and Überbrew for their GABF success.
For the second year in a row, the Brewers Association (BA) cancelled the festival component of GABF due to the obvious health and safety concerns associated with holding North America’s largest brewfest, an indoor event, during a pandemic. However, the competition portion of GABF proceeded, complete with an awards ceremony on September 10 in Denver.
Überbrew picked up silver for White Noise in the American Wheat Beer category, while Lewis & Clark’s Miner’s Gold won bronze in the same category. The two breweries are no strangers to the GABF awards ceremony.
This marks the sixth year in a row Überbrew won at GABF and makes it their tenth medal since 2014, including a gold medal for White Noise in 2016. Similarly, Lewis & Clark has brought home eight medals from GABF since 2014, including previous gold for Miner’s Gold in both 2017 and 2018. Both breweries also won the prestigious Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year award in previous years – Überbrew in 2016 and Lewis & Clark in 2018.
While Überbrew and Lewis and Clark were busy claiming the majority of the awards for the American Wheat Beer category, Madison River went ahead and brought back yet another medal to Montana for the Scottish-Style Ale category. This year’s silver was the second GABF medal for Madison River’s Copper John Scotch Ale, after winning gold in 2015. Montana has quite the track record in the Scottish-Style Ale category with KettleHouse’s Cold Smoke winning silver in 2015 and bronze in 2009, plus Lewis & Clark’s Back Country picking up gold in 2020 and silver in 2014.
Even without the festival portion of GABF, this year’s competition was the biggest yet, with 170 judges evaluating 9,680 entries from 2,192 breweries from all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Check out the 2021 GABF Winners page for the full list of winners.
After a virtual conference in 2020, we were thrilled to gather in-person once again with Montana craft brewers and industry partners from around the state and across the country for our annual Montana Brewers Conference September 22-23. In a break from tradition, we held the 2021 Montana Brewers Conference in Bozeman for the first time ever with over 125 brewers and industry partners coming together for two days of educational presentations, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities.
We were delighted to feature beer historian Steve Lozar in his humorous and informative keynote address on Montana’s beer history, “Yarns From the Old Breweries: Is That Really True?” Lozar is a retired anthropologist who grew up in a “beer family” going back to when his great grandfather was a Nick Kessler Brewery associate in the 1800s. He describes brewing and Montana history as his lifelong passions and has spent the last 50 years collecting Montana brewery and historical information with his wife, Keryl. Their collection is currently housed in a free museum they operate together in Polson, the Joe Lozar Montana Brewery Museum. It was a pleasure to learn from Lozar’s decades of Montana brewery wisdom.
Both days of the conference featured three tracks of breakout sessions covering brewing/technical information, business management guidance, and techniques to improve front of house operations.
Sessions included everything from an exploration of the hops industry lead by growers from across the state to a beer and food pairing to demonstrate how to build a thoughtful and delicious menu. We heard from Wipfli on employee benefits and retention, McDantim on pouring and draught troubleshooting training for FOH employees, the MSU Brewing Lab on the nuances of malt and barley, and more. We also featured Montana brewers in multiple sessions on exploring hard seltzers and kombucha, navigating closely held licenses, and learning to improve efficiency and quality with 5s Lean Manufacturing techniques.
Among our featured speakers was Rich Higgins, the only certified Master Cicerone® in Montana and one of 19 worldwide. Higgins led two popular beer tasting workshops including a fun and educational tasting seminar on today’s most important beer styles and a deeper dive into sour, barrel-aged, fruited and fermentation-driven beer styles. Higgins worked with attendees to taste and generate descriptions of beers for a service setting.
Conference attendees also connected at several offsite events and tours. The MSU Barley, Malt & Brewing Lab offered tours of their facility each day and in the evenings, we had lively networking socials, first a fun and informative tour of the Bozeman Underground, the barrel-aged sour program at Bozeman Brewing. The final day wrapped up at the Hop Lounge over their signature “beer, chicken, & vinyl.”
Looking to the future, we’re excited to come together once again next year with our brewing community and partners for the annual Montana Brewers Conference in Missoula from September 29-30, 2022.
We’d like to thank the 21 sponsors who made the 2021 Montana Brewers Conference possible:
TOUR SPONSORS: Gallatin Valley Malt, McDantim, Montana Craft Malt; GOLD SPONSORS: ABS Commercial, First West, Glacier Hops Ranch, Montana Brewery Shop, Montana Press, Silverman Law, WIPFLI; SILVER SPONSORS: Anderson Forklift, Northwest Pump; BRONZE SPONSORS: Amoretti, Anton Paar, MSU Barley, Malt & Brewing Lab, Briess Malt, Malteurop, Montana Craft Beer Connection, Northwestern Extract Company, Stockman, Waypoint Wealth Management- Northwestern Mutual
Nearly two years into this pandemic, the state of Montana craft beer is strong. Despite these challenging times, Montana’s craft brewing industry has continued to evolve, grow and even thrive.
That’s not to say it’s all been smooth sailing; 18 months ago, there was a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and cause for concern in the industry. In early 2020, we heard dire projections that up to half of all breweries in the state could close due to the pandemic. Such concerns were not unreasonable, considering the unprecedented challenges brewers and the broader hospitality industry faced.
Nationally, craft brewers have seen production, sales and market share numbers down. According to the Brewers Association (BA), overall U.S. beer volume sales were down 3% in 2020 and craft fared worse, with craft brewer volume sales down 9%. Small and independent brewers’ share of the U.S. beer market by volume shrank from 13.6% to 12.3%. Meanwhile, we saw a shift in beer sales from bars and restaurants to packaged beer, which contributed to an overall decrease in retail dollar sales of craft beer by 22%.
State data from the BA show Montana’s craft brewing industry also saw production decrease between 2019 and 2020, down 7%, while the number of breweries in the state and its economic impact increased. The industry’s economic impact in Montana went from $442 million in 2019 to $498 million in 2020, and on a per capita basis, increased from $564 to $628.
We consistently heard from members that brewers figured out how to do more with less, and that COVID forced brewers to think seriously about return on investment. Volume may be down but brewers have made the most of it through innovation and being nimble, and thanks to loyal craft beer lovers who continue to support their local breweries. That loyal support for Montana breweries has allowed new breweries to open even during these uncertain times.
Today, there are 98 breweries open and operating in Montana (more than 100 if you count additional facilities), with several more breweries in planning and coming soon. That’s up from 73 breweries in the state just four years ago. New breweries are not just opening in the major population centers either. In fact, 52 communities across Montana are now home to at least one brewery.
Just last year, Missouri River Brewing Company opened in East Helena, making them one of the newest breweries on the scene, and putting East Helena on the craft beer map. As if starting a new business isn’t challenging enough, they added a degree of difficulty by doing so during a pandemic.
“We opened our facility in the middle of a global pandemic which was not a part of the business plan,” says Missouri River Brewing Owner and Brewer Scott Hansing. “Luckily, our large tap room gave us the ability to spread people out and we were able to open our doors and move forward.”
They may have opened just last year, but they’ve started strong and are growing fast, thanks to the warm welcome they’ve received from the local community. They’re currently in the process of adding 50 barrel fermenters and a canning line, and are preparing to open a second location at the former Snowhop Brewery in Helena.
Innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit are alive and well in this industry, as demonstrated by craft beer’s continued success in Montana, in spite of everything the past year has thrown at us. But not all the credit goes to those in the industry. Montanans’ steadfast support of their local breweries has enabled this industry to grow and these Main Street businesses to thrive, and for that we are very grateful.