The 2023 Montana Brewers Rendezvous Tour wrapped up in Missoula on Friday, September 29th, with the Fall Rendezvous brewfest. 37 Montana craft breweries poured into Caras Park, bringing with them over 130 beers. Over 1,400 craft beer enthusiasts packed the pavilion and enjoyed brews, excellent performances from musical guests North Fork Crossing and Cactus Cuts, and delicious eats from local food vendors.
The Fall Rendezvous capped off a year of craft celebrations across Montana, which began in Bozeman, stopped in Helena, and culminated in Missoula. This year’s Rendezvous brewfest tour has been organized under the central theme of “Rooted in Montana,” to celebrate the connections independent breweries foster across the state.
Breweries are vital players in communities throughout Montana, while local agriculture producers connect breweries to the ingredients needed to create the unique and finely crafted beers Montana is famous for. Rendezvous brewfests themselves give beer lovers from throughout the state the opportunity to meet and speak with brewers while sampling their craft.
The Fall Rendezvous was paired with a judged beer competition registered with the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Qualified judges from across the state blindly sampled and scored the host of brews available at the Rendezvous.
The awards spanned 14 style categories, as well as a Best in Show award for the overall best beer. The Key Lime Pie Sour by Draught Works Brewery, which combines lime juice, puree, and zest with “a dash of cinnamon and a sprinkle of sea salt,” was awarded Best Sour and Best in Show.
Draught Works sales manager Katie Seaman shared that “we are immensely honored to have been awarded three accolades this year,” as Draught Works’ Water Works was also named the Best Hard Seltzer/Kombucha. “The Fall Rendezvous is always a very popular one for our staff to attend to taste incredible brews from across the state.”
Ronan Cooperative Brewery, Best in Show winner at last year’s Fall Rendezvous, tied for the most medaled brewery with Draught Works. Ronan’s head brewer, Jim Myers, simply stated that “it’s exciting” to see Montana’s vibrant craft beer community show up at the Rendezvous brewfests. “Montana has some of the most dedicated microbrew enthusiasts,” while “the quality and range of beers being produced in Montana and in our area has improved so much over the last 10 years.”
The following breweries were presented with awards at the Fall Rendezvous:
In 2023, Montana’s craft beer scene continued to punch above its weight. According to statistics compiled by the Brewers Association, Montana ranks third in the nation for breweries per capita, with 12.5 craft producers for every 100,000 Montanans aged 21 and older. As we inch closer to the new year, let’s review the latest openings and expansions of Montana’s breweries throughout the year.
On Saturday, October 7th, the latest addition to our state’s craft brewing community, Sawdust and Steel Brewery, opened its doors to the public. Nestled in Three Forks, this brewery features a name and building which pay homage to owners Cody and Kari Ham’s previous role as owner-operators of a local construction company. Cody Ham said he is “grateful for all of the support” for the newly opened brewery. “Our Grand Opening was a great time and a great turnout.”
Ham “wanted this brewery to be an opportunity for creativity,” and used the brewery’s bar wall, table stands, foot rests, and gutters to pay homage to several historic bridges crossing rivers in the Gallatin Valley. Sawdust and Steel’s flights have been a very popular item as customers get acquainted with the brewery, but already its Headwaters Hazy, Piledriver Pale Ale, Jefferson Wheat, and Hi-Vis Hazy have emerged as popular brews.
Beyond new breweries opening their doors, established brewing businesses are looking to grow their operations this year.
A bill passed by the Legislature this spring allows breweries that obtain a retail license to access greater privileges and has set the stage for Montana’s local brewers to pursue expansions. As covered in our summer newsletter, breweries like Beehive Basin Brewery and Bridger Brewing have already taken advantage of this new opportunity, with many more breweries, such as Bias Brewing and Draught Works, currently navigating the approval process.
Also with operational expansions in the works, Missoula’s Cranky Sam Public House was established in May 2020, but since then has been looking for ways to bring food into the brewery. “Since we opened we’ve had plans to expand,” Cranky Sam owner Jennifer Heggen explains, but these were “delayed because of the pandemic.” Now, though, Cranky Sam is inching closer to adding restaurants to its operations.
It’s “taken over two years to get to this point,” Heggen added, but now kitchen equipment is on-track to be installed in December. If all goes to plan, elevated gastropub-style food will be added to Cranky Sam’s menus in January 2024, while another establishment called “The Stables” will offer a wine bar and upper-end dining to Cranky Sam’s patrons in March.
In addition to expanding retail opportunities, Montana breweries have added additional brewery locations during 2023. Missoula’s Highlander Beer added a second location this April in another river town, Salmon, Idaho. For Highlander President Hannah Talbott, Salmon was a natural choice for the company’s second location. “Most of our team loves and values rivers, wilderness areas, and the recreation that goes along with that,” Talbott shares. The Idaho location features some unique brews not available at their Missoula taproom such as their house beer, the Salmon Pale Ale. Kalispell’s SunRift Beer Company is also on track to open a second brewery in Whitefish this winter. Golden Triangle Brewing Co. relocated their operations at the beginning of the year, making the move west from Fort Benton to Bigfork.
Brewery professionals and industry partners gathered in Missoula for two days of professional development and networking at the annual Montana Brewers Conference from September 27-28. This conference is a chance to advance Montana craft beer and forge connections amongst Montana craft brewers and industry partners from around the state and across the country.
With around 160 participants, this 2-day event featured educational seminars and workshops, engaging keynote addresses from industry leaders, and opportunities to network during trade show activities and socials.
The volunteer brewery members who steer our events chose the theme “Rooted In Montana” this year. Montana craft beer is deeply anchored in our state. Breweries are at the heart of so many of our communities, the local watering holes that bring people together and often plant the seeds for economic activity on our Main Streets. Roots also symbolize the connection to the ingredients that come from the land, from agricultural products to pristine waters that are essential for craft beer. And at its heart, people from across the industry are truly what make Montana beer world-class. Montana craft is rooted in the people who work and do business in our state.
This year’s conference boasted three exciting keynote addresses from Chief Commercial Officer Joe Whitney of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., author and organic farmer Bob Quinn, and State Policy Manager (and UM alumnus, go Griz!) from the national Brewers Association, Sam DeWitt. Each brought a unique perspective on industry resilience, envisioning the future, and the role that craft beer plays in our communities.
We were also delighted to offer a full roster of almost 20 educational sessions for brewing industry professionals in a wide range of roles.
Starting with a new pre-conference session, Drs. Bob Hall and Chris Palmer lead a half-day workshop at the University of Montana on brewing water chemistry Tuesday to strengthen brewers lab skills, resulting in many calls to make a lab workshop an annual fixture at the Conference.
Wednesday and Thursday offered two full afternoons of breakout sessions.
Technical sessions included an exposition of propagating and repitching yeast for the small brewer by Propagate Labs, a tutorial about setting up a QA/QC system on a budget by Jared Long of Black Tooth Brewing Co. (Wyoming), and a feedback session with the MSU Barley, Malt & Brewing Quality Lab on heirloom malt varieties of interest to brewers for further development. Brewers also had the chance to learn about other topics, ranging from oxygen control in brewing and packaging to hops nuances. Back by popular demand, breweries also had the opportunity to receive substantive peer feedback on a beer they produce through the Montana Brewers Roundtable technical tasting session. These topics help attendees improve their brewing operations with new efficiencies, innovations, and techniques to brew the very best beer.
Offerings geared at managers and owners included HR topics, like safety, retention, and discipline, from experts at Employer Flexible, SG Long Financial Services, and the KettleHouse HR department. The Department of Revenue Alcoholic Beverage Control Division also held a session on new legislation passed in the 2023 session, especially discussing compliance topics related to retail alcohol licenses that breweries are newly eligible to hold. Applicable to any employee, Jumpstart Training & Development led a training on navigating difficult conversations in the workplace. These important sessions help brewery leaders better manage employees, build successful workplace cultures, and steer their businesses towards financial success.
Educational sessions also included topics of interest to Front of House staff and beyond. Master Cicerone and beer consultant, Rich Higgins, presented on expertly setting up and troubleshooting your draft system, while Montana Craft Beer Connection owner and editor-in-chief, Sara Killeen, covered important training topics for beertenders to improve sales. Julia Herz, Executive Director of the American Homebrewers Association and author of “Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros,” presented a workshop on matching up complimentary flavor profiles with food and beer. Finally, John Faunce of Tuscola Branding helped participants brush up on using their digital design assets. These offerings help breweries enhance customer experience and provide tools to increase sales.
In addition to the educational opportunities, theConference is not complete without the trade show. More than 30 vendors participated in the two-day trade show, bringing their knowledge from across the state and nation. Vendors were able to showcase and discuss their products and services, generating great conversations and networking opportunities!
We’re also grateful to the Dram Shop for the hosting a Montana craft beer tap takeover at their downtown location to kick off the Conference, Cambie Taphouse for hosting us at their Sawmill location for an excellent private party, and Highlander Beer for providing an amazing outdoor space and live music for our final evening social.
The Montana Brewers Conference is about learning, connection, fun and strengthening craft beer in Montana– we’re looking forward to gathering again next year! Keep an eye out for 2024 Conference dates coming soon.
Thank you to our 2023 fall sponsors who helped make this event possible.
TOUR SPONSORS: Big Sky Hops Farm, Gallatin Valley Malt, General Distributing Co., Propagate Labs
GOLD SPONSORS: Anderson Forklift, Inc., Flathead Valley Hops, McDantim, Montana Wheat & Barley Committee, Toast, Townsquare Media
SILVER SPONSORS: ABS Commercial, BSG, First West Insurance, Montana Craft Beer Connection, Montana Craft Malt, Montana Safety & Health Consultation Program, Northwestern Extract, Pentair, Wipfli
BRONZE SPONSORS: Anton Paar, Briess, G4 Kegs, Harvest Hosts, Hollingbery & Son, Hopsteiner, Malteurop, Ripley Stainless, SG Long, Sonderen Packaging, Stockman Insurance, Vessel Packaging
MBA members chose their leadership in an election for three board seats, with two returning members and one new face. Hannah Turner, from the MSU Barley, Malt and Brewing Quality Lab, joined incumbent board members Hannah Talbott (Highlander Beer) and Bob Hall (Ronan Co-op Brewery) in being elected to the MBA board of directors. Ethan Kohoutek (Ten Mile Creek Brewing), while not up for election to the board, was re-elected by the membership to continue serving as board president.
Turner serves as director of the MSU Barley, Malt and Brewing Quality Lab. With experience serving on other boards and her technical background, she is a welcome addition to the board. Hall similarly brings technical expertise as a professor at the University of Montana’s Division of Biological Sciences. Though Hall was already serving on the board, this was also his first election. He originally joined the board in December 2022 by appointment, filling the seat vacated with the resignation of Chad Broderius (formerly with sister breweries Überbrew and By All Means).
Ronan Co-op Brewery and the MSU Barley, Malt and Brewing Quality Lab are two of Montana’s more unique breweries, the former utilizing an unconventional cooperative ownership structure and the latter functioning as a research and testing lab at MSU that only recently was permitted to brew beer under Montana law. The diversity of breweries represented on our board of directors is reflective of the continually evolving and innovative industry of Montana craft breweries.
The MSU Barley, Malt and Brewing Quality Lab has long been an MBA associate member as well as an important industry partner, but only recently qualifies as a full-fledged brewery member due to passage of HB 31 during this year’s legislative session. That bill expanded Montana’s academic brewer license to include MSU. The Barley, Malt and Brewing Quality Lab will begin brewing in early 2024.
Yet another new face to the board, Luke Steadman (Smelter City Brewing), was appointed in June to fill a seat vacated by the resignation of Daniel Pollard (formerly with Bridger Brewing).
In addition to Kohoutek continuing as president, the rest of the executive committee will remain the same. During its first meeting following the election, the MBA board of directors voted to continue with Nolan Smith (Philipsburg Brewing) as vice president and Talbott as treasurer/secretary.
Every two years, during the annual membership meeting, MBA brewery members elect members to serve four-year terms on the board of directors. The seats up for election are divided, with three seats up one year and four seats filled two years later. The next board election will be held in fall of 2025.
The premier event celebrating craft beer in the United States, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), returned to Denver, Colorado this September 21-23. Presented by the Brewers Association, the GABF combines three days of public beer tasting with the largest professional craft beer competition in the country.
This year marked a departure from previous editions of the Festival, with the addition of a variety of non-beer options for attendees. Breweries were for the first time able to bring beverages such as ciders, seltzers, or kombuchas, and festival-goers could visit brand new sections of the event, such as the Non-Alcohol Oasis or Gluten-Free Garden.
The 37th iteration of the GABF competition featured 9,298 total entries from breweries representing all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Montana breweries have a track record of success at the competition, with a brewery representing our state having won a GABF medal every year since 2001.
With over one hundred beer categories in the competition, breweries from the Treasure State brought home two silver and two bronze medals. Congratulations to Copper Furrow Brewing, Lewis & Clark Brewing Co., MAP Brewing Co., and Outlaw Brewing Co. for being awarded medals at the 2023 GABF competition!
Copper Furrow, brewing in Helena, received its first-ever GABF medal this year, a silver in the International Dark Lager category. Their medal-winning Tmavé Pivo is created by pairing Vienna and black malts with Cz Saaz hops. This creates a Czech dark lager that “showcases bread crust, caramel, and subtle coffee roast in the finish.”
One of Montana’s most-medaled beers received another accolade at this year’s GABF. The Prickly Pear Pale Ale from Lewis & Clark Brewing Co., also hailing from Helena, has now received six awards at major beer competitions. This spring the beer received a silver medal at the World Beer Cup, and at this GABF was awarded a bronze in the English Ale category. Lewis & Clark is no stranger to success at the GABF, either. This year’s win brings Lewis & Clark’s all-time medal tally at previous competitions to nine total medals.
Bozeman’s MAP Brewing Co. earned a bronze medal in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category for their Speedy G. MAP head brewer Doug Child credits assistant brewer Ted Brower for the success. Ted “had experience with oak aged beers when he worked for Against the Grain,” a Kentucky-based brewery, “and he has really upped our game in that regard.” This beer is made by aging a Gose that features the right amount of “acidity and salt,” with oak cubes and lime zest to create “a margarita-like beer.” This marks the second year in a row MAP has been awarded a GABF medal, having won a bronze for Experimental Beer in 2022.
Outlaw, a first-time medalist also from Bozeman, had its Snow Crest Pale Ale honored with a silver medal for American-Style Pale Ales. This hoppy Pale Ale gets ever-so-close to becoming a Session IPA with its “dank tropical hop notes.” But, this is balanced with “a mellow bitterness and light malt note to the body,” to make a highly drinkable brew.
GABF medals are “among the most sought-after accolades within the brewing community,” and it is an honor for these breweries to have won. For more information on the GABF competition visit https://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com.
This competition will be devoted to any commercially made beers produced entirely in the state of Montana. Any Montana brewery, whether a member of the MBA or not, will have an opportunity to submit their unique, finely crafted, and innovative brews for judging and a chance to win a medal in this all-state competition.
The Montana craft beer industry is maturing, but there’s currently no statewide competition in Montana to meet the demand for high quality feedback from judges and recognition for excellence in our thriving craft beer scene. MBA members are enthusiastic about the opportunity for a statewide craft beer competition.
“The Montana Beer Awards is an exciting chance for Montana breweries to come together and to compete with their colleagues and get feedback on their beers,” said Sacred Waters Brewing Co. Head Brewer Seth Orr. “It’s also an opportunity for our highly qualified pool of local beer judges to gain more competition experience close to home.”
High quality feedback is important for breweries to continue to improve and keep the standard for Montana made beer high. Relatedly, recognizing excellence in beer in our state engages consumer interest and helps the industry thrive.
Loy Maierhauser, COO of MAP Brewing Co., Advanced Cicerone, and regular on the beer judging circuit, led the effort to begin a statewide beer competition after being reminded how special Montana craft really is.
“After a trip to a small town in my home state a few years ago where there was no local brewery, I was suddenly made aware of the incredible craft beer community we have here,” Maierhauser says. “Montana’s passion for locally crafted beer runs deep– most small towns in the state are home to a brewery. Montana has such a unique, thriving, passionate craft beer industry, and what better way to celebrate that than with a Montana-only, commercial beer competition?”
Maierhauser is “excited that this will offer an opportunity for all Montana Breweries, not just Association members, to showcase their work and receive high-quality feedback from experienced judges and industry professionals.”
More information about the competition will be coming soon, but for now, here’s some key dates to remember coming up in early 2024:
Sponsorship opportunities coming soon!
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