IPAs may still dominate the beer lists at taprooms, bars, and restaurants, but there’s more to craft beer than those hoppy pale ales, with their myriad of variations, that have proliferated the American craft beer scene. After all, IPAs were created for export to and consumption in the warm climate of the then British colony of India, a far cry from our cold Montana winters.
When the snow falls, temperatures drop and it’s time to get cozy by the fire, consider a winter beer that has been crafted to fit the mood and flavors of the season—something darker, stronger, warming, barrel-aged, maybe even spiced. Fortunately, Montana brewers provide great choices for you to check out, especially if you stop by the taproom at your local brewery. Here are some of the winter beer offerings available around Montana right now:
Porters & Stouts
Porters and stouts offer perhaps the most obvious choice for a winter beer. Dark, rich and well-suited to the cold temperatures, porters and stouts are closely related styles (porters use malted barley, while stouts use unmalted roasted barley). Porters, due to the use of chocolate malt, tend to bring a chocolate character, while stouts tend toward coffee flavors.
2 Basset Brewery – Stanley Stout
This oatmeal stout is one of 2 Basset’s flagship beers that they had on tap when they opened their doors six years ago. It is named after one of their basset hounds, Stanley. With hints of chocolate, coffee and roasted barley, it tastes like a stout but drinks like a lager.
Blacksmith Brewing – Bellows Baltic Porter (ABV – 8.5%, IBU – 26)
Traditionally brewed by countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, this high alcoholic beer is cold fermented with lager yeast to produce a smooth, warming body and features a complex malt character with notes of chocolate, toasted marshmallow, graham cracker, dark fruit and burnt caramel.
Bozeman Brewing Company – Buzzkill Java Stout (ABV 6.6%, IBU 40)
This robust stout, comprised of six different malts, is cold steeped with Rockford Coffee’s Dark House Blend. The result: a delightful BUZZ the folks at Bozeman Brewing have all come to love. This stout is coffee, this coffee is stout.
Sacred Waters Brewing Company – Moose Tippin’ Bourbon Porter (7% ABV, 20 IBU)
This is an English Style Robust Porter aged in Whistling Andy’s Bourbon Barrels. The bourbon barrels were brought back from Whistling Andy’s right after their bottling session and immediately filled with the English Style Robust Porter. After four months for the beer to age, this specific batch of beer was released on February 3.
Dark German Beers
When we think of German-style beer, our minds typically gravitate to the lighter styles of hefeweizen, helles lager, Marzen, or pilsner. But for the cold months, German brewers have long produced darker, maltier, richer, more full-bodied beers. What Hefeweizens are to summer, Dunkelweizens are to winter. These dark German-style wheat beers (weizen is German for wheat) bring a richer malt flavor and deeper color than their warm weather cousins. Doppelbocks, originally brewed by Bavarian monks to sustain themselves through times of fasting, are similarly darker and maltier with enough residual sugars to serve as a liquid lunch fit for a monk. Meanwhile, the Schwarzbier is a black lager. It’s darker, yet drier and lighter bodied, than the other beers included in this broad category of dark german beers.
Bayern Brewing – Face Plant Doppelweizen (ABV: 7.5%, IBUs: 18)
Bayern (which means Bavaria in German) brews beer in the Bavarian tradition, so their beer list would not be complete without a Doppelweizen. This unfiltered Wheat Bock beer is the counterpart to Bayern’s famous Doppelbock Lager and is decoction-brewed, a technique used often in Bavaria but seldom in the US. The recipe uses five types of malt—Wheat, Pilsener, Carmel, Munich and Chocolate. As with all Bayern wheat beers, Face Plant surprises with its complex flavor. German Hallertauer Perle hops give this hearty bock beer a perfectly balanced sweetness. The formulation for this delicate beer came from the Brauerei zum Schiff in Kaufbeuren, Bavaria. Bayern Brewing’s proprietor, Jürgen Knöller, was one of the last of five brewers that brewed this special beer in 1979 before the brewery, which was founded in 1540, sadly closed its doors due to the owner’s passing, but Doppelweizen has been revived right here in Montana. Enjoy a piece of living beer history and a specialty beer that is truly rare, even in the Northwest’s highly diversified beer landscape.
Philipsburg Brewing Company – Boss Lady Dunkelweizen (ABV: 5.1%, IBUs: 10)
This Dark Hefe is the one beer “Boss Lady” Cathy has been waiting for to be in the tank for years! Brewed with love by long time employee, Maxwell, who originally came up with her nickname—“Boss Lady.” It’s sweet like Cathy’s personality, dark like her long hair, and very, very low bitterness like her temperament. Munich, Vienna, and Wheat make up most of the malt profile with very little Willamette hops to add some moderate spice and to compliment the malt-forward beer. On tap now at The Vault!
Burnt Tree Brewing – West Fork Dark Wheat (ABV: 6%)
Get down to the taproom and try their latest creation, “West Fork Dark Wheat,” a collab with Gallatin Valley Malt. Based broadly on the Dunkleweizen style, this 6% American Dark Wheat beer is made from 100% Montana-grown-and-malted ingredients, featuring Vienna, Munich, and Wheat Malts, with a hint of Roasted Wheat, all locally-sourced from Gallatin Valley Malt. A light touch of Magnum hops from Bell Crossing Farms and a clean-fermenting American ale strain help to showcase the malts in this tasty and easy-drinking beer. See for yourself!
Kalispell Brewing – Ator Doppelbock (ABV: 7.4%, IBUs: 28)
This is a big beer with a ton of body. It’s malty, with plenty of caramel flavor. While there is a hint of bitterness and hops aroma present, it’s really the melanoidins (the compounds responsible for malty, biscuity flavors) that balance out the sweetness of this beer. A quick note about the name “Ator.” Paulaner Brewery in Munich released the first Doppelbock, “Salvator” in the 17th century and shortly thereafter other German breweries followed suit, producing their own Doppelbocks with names that ended in the suffix “-ator.” So you’ll see names like “Celebrator” (Ayinger) and “Kulminator” (EKU). Kalispell Brewing decided to forgo the prefix and just name their Doppelbock “Ator.”
Draught Works – Graupelbock Doppelbock (ABV: 8.1%, IBUs: 25)
The malt-forward Graupelbock Doppelbock is inspired by cozy conversations, changing seasons, and cooler temperatures. This strong, exceptionally rich, German-style lager is brimming with flavor and aroma of toasted bread, raisin, prune, walnut, and maple. Mahogany in color, with a hearty cream head, Graupelbock Doppelbock is here to spread some good cheer!
Ronan Cooperative Brewery – Schwarzbier (ABV: 5.2%)
Ronan Cooperative Brewery will be releasing its Schwarzbier toward the end of February. Made with plenty of Munich Malt and, as is sometimes said, “a judicious amount” of Carafa, this lager’s roastiness is balanced by Saaz hops and goes nicely with a pair of warm socks and a fire. Coming in at 5.2% ABV, it offers a hint of spicy aroma backed with a bready body and slightly caramel finish and will make the mystical memories of Winter seem just a little more magical.
Winter ales are simply ales dressed up for the season. Much like we layer up with cozy shirts and sweaters to beat the winter chill, winter ales layer up with extra malt and extra hops to create a more full-bodied beer. Sometimes, winter ales are even spiced with seasonal spices such as cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
Blackfoot River Brewing Company – Winter Pale Ale (Gluten Reduced, ABV: 5.2%, IBUs: 45)
A heavily hopped pale ale that is a rich, copper-orange color. The body has a balanced malt profile with a crisp semi-dry finish. Nelson Sauvin, Azacca, Amarillo, and Crystal hops create a hoppy aroma and flavor of citrus fruit characteristics with a spicy, piney undertone. The Winter Pale Ale is crafted to remove gluten.
Blackfoot River Brewing Company – Belgian Dark Strong Ale (ABV: 9.8%, IBUs: 32)
Belgian Dark Strong Ale is brewed with complex malts, dark Belgian candy sugar, and brown sugar to create a malty ale with notes of deep caramel, dark dried fruits, and subtle Belgian esters. The Belgian Dark Strong Ale is crafted to remove gluten.
Neptune’s Brewery – Winterfest Ale (ABV: 6.5%, IBUs: 21)
A classic nut brown combined with cinnamon, nutmeg, and Neptune’s own Willie’s Bighorn Bourbon vanilla extract create a full-bodied beer with a smooth, creamy finish. Perfect for those cold winter evenings.
Speakeasy 41 – Winter Ale (ABV: 8.5%)
This is a traditional winter ale with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg that compliments a rich body and big alcohol at 8.5%. Brewed and on tap at the new Speakeasy 41 brewery, this is the perfect beer to warm you up on a cold Montana day.
For those diehard hopheads, disinclined to give up their IPAs for the winter, brewers have just the answer—winter IPAs. It’s a darker, stronger take on the ubiquitous IPA.
Blackfoot River Brewing Company – Winter IPA (ABV: 7%, IBUs: 82)
A stronger, darker, and hoppier style of IPA that is perfect for these cold days of winter. This hop forward beer is brewed with Centennial, Chinook, Idaho 7, and Amarillo hops. The hop flavor and aroma spans a
wide profile of piney, spicy, and grapefruit, with a noticeable bitterness. The complex grain bill gives it a rich amber color, a full body, and a dry finish.
Blacksmith Brewing – Chair 4 Rye IPA (ABV: 6.7%, IBUs: 60)
An American IPA brewed with locally grown hops which produce pine and grapefruit characteristics, blended with spicy notes of rye malt to complement all your winter adventures.
Draught Works – Shreddy Day Winter IPA (ABV: 7.3%, IBUs: 65)
You know that day, the one with your whole squad on the hill. Homies be lit, pow be epic, and beer be flowin’. Thank Jah it be snowin’. Well…, maybe you don’t know that day but at least this winter IPA can ease your pain. Shreddy Day is bursting with citrus and floral hop aromas which are supported by a deep crystal malt body and a clean dry finish. The balance is hop forward with enough malt character to stand up to those epic days in the snow.
Drinking seasonally is a great way to get out of your beer rut, try new things and maybe fall in love with a new beer, so stop by your local brewery and check out what they have on tap for winter.
Last year, Montana brewers came together to brew our first MBA collaboration beer, the Last Best Pale Ale. The project was so well received we decided to give it another go with plans to once again release the beer in the spring, this time on Montana Day, April 6, which also happens to be New Beer’s Eve.
The collab grew out of a need to diversify fundraising opportunities for the MBA during a time of uncertainty and canceled events, and a desire to bring Montana brewers, maltsters, hop growers and craft beer lovers together around something we can all support—a 100% made-in-Montana beer. The Last Best Pale Ale is a Montana craft beer brewed using Montana grown hops and malt to celebrate Montana’s tastiest industry, while raising money for both the brewers’ state guild and scholarships for students in MSU’s Barley Breeding Program.
The MBA used revenue from the 2021 Last Best Pale Ale to make a donation of $1,500 to MSU for those scholarships. We hope to raise even more this year and make this an ongoing way to support brewing education in Montana.
Nineteen breweries participated last year and we expect even greater participation this year. We’ve already brought in additional suppliers, with Big Sky Hops and Flathead Valley Hops joining others who participated last year—Farm Power Malt, Gallatin Valley Malt, Montana Craft Malt, and Crooked Yard Hops. More suppliers, offering more ingredients gives brewers more opportunity to get creative with the version of the Last Best Pale Ale.
Unlike most collab beers, the Last Best Pale Ale does not have a set recipe, rather brewers are asked to brew a pale ale, using ingredients from Montana suppliers. The rest is up to them. That flexibility gives brewers lots of freedom to get creative, while craft beer lovers get to try out a different Last Best Pale Ale from each participating brewery. We also hope to showcase various breweries’ take on the Last Best Pale Ale at our Spring Rendezvous in Bozeman on May 14.
The Last Best Pale Ale is a true Montana brewing collaboration, bringing together farmers, maltsters, hop growers and brewers to produce a uniquely Montana beer. Mark your calendar for April 6 (that’s 4/06) and celebrate Montana with us.
Brewing education opportunities in Montana have grown over the past year with the start of the Brewing Sciences program at the University of Montana in Missoula. The Brewing Sciences certificate program is offered through the Chemistry and Biochemistry department at UM. Chris Palmer, chair of the Chemistry department, saw an opportunity to benefit both students and breweries through collaboration with local breweries and the university.
During the fall 2021 semester, students in the program got to tour several breweries in addition to gaining hands-on experience creating a collaborative craft beer—a German-style Hefeweizen—with Draught Works in Missoula.
According to Kyle Sillars, head brewer at Draught Works, the certificate students got a “grain-to-glass tour” to see how beer is created.
“The students voted on a style and came up with the name. They wanted to do a unique style, but keep it simple, and didn’t want to overload it with hops. They wanted to taste the nuances of the malt, so they decided on a German-style Hefeweizen,” says Sillars.
The students decided to name the beer “Brauenbären,” which translates to “Brew Bears” in German. The Brauenbären collaboration beer is currently on tap at Draught Works.
Getting new people involved in the brewing industry means that more people can bring new concepts to the table, buthe certificate program is very chemistry-heavy, so it can be intimidating.
“The background is such a good crossover for those students,” says Sillars of the certificate program. “It has a chance to shine because there are very few programs that teach people how to run the science and quality control side of things. There’s lots of training to be brewers on hot-sides and navigate the industry side, but not so much quality control or brewery lab science, especially in Montana. Education around that is a huge opportunity because there’s demand, and ultimately, it helps us make better beer.”
Greg Howard, owner of Great Burn Brewing, was quick to offer a tour of a smaller brewery to UM students in the Brewing Science program and also expressed excitement about having more brewers with backgrounds in the science of brewing.
“It is great to have students being trained about the actual science of brewing,” says Howard. “The brewing industry needs more qualified brewers and having this type of foundation is a great asset for a future workforce.”
The students also got to tour Big Sky Brewing Company. Matt Long, brewmaster and brewing manager at Big Sky, thinks the program is a good resource to find new people. On the brewery’s side of things, they gain an additional pool of knowledge to hire from. At Big Sky, they prioritize hiring people who are local.
“If we put out a job posting, people all over the country and internationally apply. But, localized knowledge is important,” says Long, adding that the Brewing Science program “theoretically [introduces us to] 12-15 people I could possibly hire… There are only so many brewing jobs available in the area, but we need a pipeline of qualified people to fill those spots when they come open [and] quality control training is a good leg-up in standing out as a brewer because you’re more valuable all-around.”
Rylee Markham, a senior at UM who is in the Brewing Sciences certificate program, was hired at Big Sky Brewing. For students like Markham, earning a certificate like the one offered at UM provides a strong head start in the brewing industry.
“The program ropes in people that are passionate and then gets them the education they need,” says Long. “Hands-on brewing experience is a great [but] brewing science education ensures consistency.”
With beer especially, consistency is key, and the key to consistency is quality control.
“In winemaking you can blame vintages of grapes, but our raw materials don’t vary quite as much,” says Long. “If someone is willing to work in a brew house…moving beer around and getting it to the point to get packaged, we can teach those things. The lab stuff is a bit trickier [to teach].”
Local education opportunities in brewing not only help breweries meet their needs by partnering with students and universities, but open up exciting career prospects for young people who will stay in Montana to work in our vibrant craft brewing industry. And best of all, as Long puts it, “Ultimately, it makes better beer.”
The MBA is thrilled to announce we will be back to full force this year with three brewfest across Montana, including our annual judged beer competition, and our annual Montana Brewers Conference. After canceling all in-person events in 2020, we tested the waters with two brewfests last year, dropping our Missoula event. We couldn’t be more excited to return to our normal schedule with three brewfests—the Spring Rendezvous in Bozeman, the Summer Rendezvous in Helena, and the Fall Rendezvous in Missoula.
We can’t wait for you to join us as we celebrate local beer, along with local food and local jams, with our 2022 event season. Live music, custom collectible glassware, and Montana craft beer samples are all included with your ticket (that’s right, no waiting in line to buy beer tokens!)
-Rendezvous Ticket Prices-
Presale: $35 VIP/$25 GA
Advance: $40 VIP/$30 GA
Day of the event: $45 VIP/ $35 GA
Spring Rendezvous Brewfest
Saturday, May 14, 2022
Haynes Pavilion, Gallatin County Fairgrounds, Bozeman
Kick off the MBA events season with us in Bozeman featuring Bozeman rock n’ roll band The Wild Signs to compliment the Montana-made beer.
Be the first to get your tickets for the Spring Rendezvous brewfest in Bozeman and save $10 off of gate price during our limited presale event! Mark your calendars for March 14 and keep your eyes peeled for our special, limited presale code.
For free entry, sign up to volunteer!
Summer Rendezvous Brewfest
Saturday, August 6, 2022
Memorial Park, Helena
Join the MBA for some fun in the sun at the second stop on our tour in Helena! Featuring music from Helena Grateful Dead enthusiasts 710 Ashbury and VIP hour musical stylings courtesy of John Floridis. For free entry, don’t wait to sign up to volunteer!
Fall Rendezvous Brewfest
Saturday, October 1, 2022
Caras Park, Missoula
Don’t miss out on the final brewfest of our tour in Missoula. We’ll enjoy live music during VIP hour by solo artist John Floridis followed by string band Hardwood Heart to finish out the night. Sign up to volunteer now for free entry!
2022 Montana Brewers Conference
Thursday, September 29 – Friday, September 30
Holiday Inn Downtown, Missoula
We’re looking forward to gathering with our brewing community and industry partners for 2 days of connection, education, and fun at our annual conference.
Support Montana craft beer and network with industry leaders as an event sponsor. We’re inviting businesses and organizations to partner with us for our 2022 events with a variety of sponsorship opportunities for our three brewfests and annual conference, including a package rate to sponsor all events as a Tour Sponsor. Check out our 2022 Events Sponsorship Rate Card for details. Contact [email protected] with any questions.
Montana Brewers Association
P.O. Box 8591
Missoula, MT 59807