Montana Brewers Association

Winter 2024 Newsletter

February 2024

Breweries to Compete at Montana Beer Awards

Inaugural Event This February

Craft beer enthusiasts, brewers, and industry professionals will gather this winter to toast to the vibrant craft beer culture of the Big Sky State. Later this month, Lewis & Clark Brewing Company in Helena will host Montana’s first commercial, state-wide beer competition. The awards ceremony promises to showcase exceptional beers made across the state – a true celebration of the creativity and craftsmanship of Montana’s thriving brewing community.  

Spearheaded by the Montana Brewers Association, these inaugural awards will highlight breweries with gold, silver, and bronze medals in 19 different categories.  55 breweries from across the state have entered over 350 beers to be judged by a panel of industry experts, certified beer judges, and professional brewers. The judging will take place in Helena prior to the awards ceremony on February 22nd and 23rd.  

Judges from across the country will be spending over two days carefully assessing each beer before choosing the top submissions in each category.  Although the judging is a behind-the-scenes affair, breweries, their employees, and the general public are warmly invited to attend the ceremony on Saturday, February 24th, at Lewis & Clark Brewing Company from 6:30-7:30 pm. Aside from unveiling  the winners, the ceremony will also crown the Small, Medium, and Large Brewery of the Year, and in addition, one brewery will be recognized with the 2024 Community Impact Award.  The festivities will include guest taps from breweries around Montana and live music from Ten Years Gone starting at 8 pm. 

“Montanans are so dedicated to and passionate about their local craft beer.  We’re already seeing how excited people are to take time to appreciate the remarkable work of our breweries,” competition organizer Loy Maierhauser said.  “Montana often gets recognition for our stunning landscapes and outdoor adventures, but for a state that ranks third in the nation in breweries per capita, it’s high time we shine a spotlight on our beer too.”

More information on the awards ceremony can be found on the Facebook event. Sponsorship opportunities are available until February 12.

Imagine Nation Meets Growing Demand With First Montana NA Beer


Imagine Nation has made history, producing Montana’s first craft NA beer, joining a growing list of craft breweries across the country vying for a piece of the burgeoning non-alcoholic (NA) beer market.

We’ve been quietly researching and trialing different brewing processes and recipes to finally share with you our house-made non-alcoholic brew that lives up to our expectations for what we can happily introduce as Lupujus ZERO,” says Imagine Nation owner Tim Graham.

Mention NA beer a few years back and folks would most likely think of O’Doul’s, an Anheuser-Busch brand that hit the market in 1990, or maybe a European brand like Kaliber or Clausthaler. Today, American craft breweries are getting in on the action. Connecticut’s Athletic Brewing, offering NA beers in a wide variety of styles, has become the standard bearer, while other popular craft breweries, like Deschutes and Sierra Nevada are also brewing low-octane beers. Now, Montanans have a local option to enjoy a beer without the alcohol.

Last August, Imagine Nation introduced an NA version of their popular Lupujus, a New England IPA. Then in January, they made the NA version of their flagship beer available to-go in crowlers. With many Montanans giving up alcohol or reducing their consumption for Dry January, the timing was perfect.

NA beer is certainly having a moment. While still a small portion of the overall beer market, NA beer is growing fast. Revenue of the NA beer segment in the U.S. grew from $3 billion in 2016 to nearly $6 billion in 2022, according to data from Statista, an increase of nearly 100% over just six years. While it’s still just a small sliver of the overall beer market, it’s become the fastest growing segment. NA beer now even has its own style category at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), and the BA debuted a Non-Alcohol Oasis for attendees to enjoy at the 2023 GABF event. 

Imagine Nation’s first batch of Lupujus ZERO crowlers sold out in two weeks.

All this new demand for NA beers has spurred the emergence of craft NA beers, as brewers look to capitalize on the opportunity while tackling the challenge it presents. It’s one thing to make a nonalcoholic beer, it’s another thing to make a good beer that happens to not have any alcohol.

“We wanted Lupujus Zero to express the same hoppy deliciousness of its siblings, so we threw restraint to the wayside and used 3 lbs. per barrel of the same Citra, Mosaic, and Strata hops that are in the rest of our Lupujus series,” says Graham.

Alcohol can be removed by vacuum distillation (evaporation), but this significantly alters the flavor. Alcohol can also be removed through filtration, but this requires expensive equipment and can be cost prohibitive for small brewers. Nonstandard yeast strains that produce little alcohol during fermentation offer a third, more feasible option for craft brewers. But Imagine Nation isn’t using any of those methods.

“Our brewers at Imagine Nation chose to approach brewing an NA from a different direction, from the ground up in the traditional brewing way,” says Graham. “We found a process that is in line with our brewing standards.”

With demographic trends forecasting continued decline in alcohol consumption, NA beers look like they’re here to stay. Gen Z and Millennials are drinking less than previous generations, while Baby Boomers are following the standard trend of drinking less as they age. Additionally, the U.S. market, where NA beer makes up less than 1% of beer sales, is playing catch up with Western Europe, where the NA segment accounts for 5.8% of sales. That gap indicates plenty of room for growth in the U.S. NA market. Imagine Nation may be the first Montana brewery to enter the NA beer market, but they probably won’t be the last.

What Happened to Those Beer Tickets?

Retail License Expands Opportunities for Brewers, Customers

Craft beer lovers are seeing the emergence of a new trend in Montana’s craft brewery landscape, breweries serving beer after 8pm, offering other products like wine and cider and the disappearance of beer tickets. This was all made possible by a change to the law that took effect on July 1, removing the obstacle that prevented brewers from owning a retail license. Brewers and craft beer lovers have a lot to celebrate with this new opportunity for expanded retail privileges.

“Being able to purchase a beer and wine license was a game-changer for Highlander,” says Hannah Talbott, president of Highlander Beer. “We are a production brewery, but our taproom business is equally, if not more important to the success of our overall business. This license provides us the opportunity to grow all sides of our retail business, so we can invest back into our company and our employees.”    

Highlander Beer toasts beer tickets goodbye with new license.

Highlander Beer was able to close on their new license and put it to use in January, one of several breweries that made the leap this winter. Bias Brewing and Draught Works started operating their taprooms under beer licenses in December. Also in December, Beehive Basin and Cranky Sam started operating under all-beverage licenses, allowing them to serve liquor in addition to beer, wine and cider.

 Not only have we bid farewell to the 48-ounce ticket system, but our expanded beverage selection now includes a delightful and diverse array of wines and ciders from our esteemed neighbors at Western Cider,” says Draught Works co-owner Jeff Grant. 

Draught Works is now open until 10 pm daily, with further extensions planned for the spring and summer. Grant says they are eager to cater to those looking for a post-adventure beverage after a full day of enjoying the great outdoors. That sentiment is a common one among brewers who recently obtained a retail license.

“For us, I believe the best thing to come out of this will be the ability to stay open past 8 in the summer,” say Scott Kelley, owner of Burnt Tree Brewing. “Shutting the doors at 8 when the sun is still high in the sky has been frustrating for us and our customers. Having an extra couple of hours each day to generate revenue during the high season should be impactful.”

Ennis’ Burnt Tree Brewing’s gained an all beverage license last fall.

Burnt Tree was able to start operating under their all-beverage license back in October. The process was a bit quicker for them because they were already operating in a closely-held license arrangement with their neighbor on Ennis’s Main St., the Gravel Bar. Since the license was already held by the Gravel Bar, they did not need to go out on the market and find an available license, figure out financing and complete the sale. Instead, the change had more to do with altering floor plans and getting approval for the change from the Montana Department of Revenue Alcohol Beverage Control Division.

Nearly 30 Montana breweries were already in closely-held license arrangements before the law changed last July; some of them are also interested in making the change to “stack” the two licenses (brewer and retail) at their breweries. Gally’s Brewing in Harlowton, Bridger Brewing in Three Forks and Katabatic in Livingston are all in similar situations and are looking to do the same. A major advantage of stacking licenses that are currently closely-held is simplifying the finances, no longer needing to have two separate businesses with separate bank accounts and ownership.

Brewers in Montana already had limited retail privileges that come with their brewer license. These are the limits Montanans have become familiar with since selling a pint in a Montana brewery taproom became a thing in 1999. Any Montana small brewery may serve each customer up to 48 ounces of beer, serve only beer that is brewed on site, and not serve past 8 pm. HB 305, sponsored by Rep. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls), creates a new option for brewers. By purchasing a retail license, either a beer license or an all-beverage license, Montana brewers and their customers may now enjoy all the privileges that license affords.

For breweries without a retail license, the existing limited retail privileges remain in effect. For the MBA, that was an essential component of the policy agreement worked out last legislative session between the various Montana alcohol industry groups. By preserving existing retail privileges for brewers, while also allowing brewers to buy a license, the policy change creates a new retail opportunity without disrupting what brewers were already able to do in Montana.

Celebrate Montana Day With the Peaks to Prairie Collab Beer

The Peaks to Prairie collaboration beer is returning to breweries across Montana for the fourth consecutive year. This project brings Montana’s brewers, maltsters, hop growers, and craft beer lovers together to produce and enjoy a beer produced with entirely Montana-made ingredients. The collaboration is scheduled to release on Montana Day, April 6, 2024, with a portion of the beer’s sales to be donated to MBA. Make sure to celebrate all things local with a pint of Peaks to Prairie!

This year’s collab features a new twist from previous iterations of the brew. Previously known as the Last Best Pale Ale before becoming the Peaks to Prairie IPA in 2023, brewers participating in the collaboration have been limited to brewing a specific beer style. That requirement was lifted for 2024, meaning that breweries can now brew with any style they wish to fit their preferences and production schedule.

Breweries who participate in the collaboration use discounted ingredients from local agriculture producers to create a 100% local brew. Participating maltsters for this year’s collab are Farm Power Malt, Malteurop Malting Co., and Montana Craft Malt, while Bell Crossing Farms, Big Sky Hops, Crooked Yard Hops, and Flathead Valley Hops are supplying brewers with hops.

In addition to supporting the Montana Brewers Association and local agriculture, the Peaks to Prairie beer supports brewing research, education, and outreach at Montana State University’s Barley, Malt & Brewing Quality Lab. The MBA donates a portion of breweries’ Peaks to Prairie contributions to support student research scholarships at the Lab.

Make sure to celebrate Montana Day by supporting the MBA, Montana’s independent craft brewers, agricultural suppliers, and brewing educators by stopping into a participating brewery and getting a pint of Peaks to Prairie. Stay tuned for a list of participating breweries. We can’t wait to enjoy this brew with you!

Mark Your Calendars - 2024 Tour Dates Are Here!

We’re gearing up for the 2024 Rendezvous brewfest tour. Thousands of craft beer lovers flock to Rendezvous each year to enjoy quality Montana brews, food and music. Whether you come for one or all, you’re sure to enjoy the camaraderie of Montana’s craft beer community. Enjoy a cold brew after a river float or pick up a snack from one of our local food trucks. Dance the afternoon away under the Big Sky with our great local musical guests. You won’t want to miss the Rendezvous Brewfests this year!

Homebrewers, established breweries and industry partners alike are welcome to join the MBA Conference this fall. Make connections with fellow beer connoisseurs and learn how to better your brew. Our keynote speakers and workshop ensure you’ll walk away with a new wealth of knowledge and skill set. Check out the dates below!

Spring Rendezvous Brewfest at Gallatin County Fairgrounds, Bozeman | Saturday, May 11, 2024

Summer Rendezvous Brewfest at Memorial Park, Helena | Saturday, August 3, 2024

Montana Brewers Conference at Hilton Garden Inn, Missoula | Thursday and Friday, September 19 & 20, 2024

Fall Rendezvous Brewfest at Caras Park, Missoula | Saturday, September 21, 2024

Craft beer lovers gather at the 2023 Spring Rendezvous in Bozeman

Montana Brewers Association Opens Ranks to Homebrewers

The MBA has rolled out a new membership option for individual Montanans to join their state’s guild of independent craft brewers. Starting in 2024, both individual homebrewers and homebrewing clubs can gain membership status in the Montana Brewers Association.

With a membership in the MBA, homebrewers across the state can access benefits curated to serve their zymurgical interests. Among these are discounted passes to the annual Montana Brewers Conference, where hundreds of brewers and industry partners gather to elevate their craft, hone their skills, and celebrate brewing in Montana. For $100 a year, MBA homebrewer members will also gain discounts on tickets to MBA Rendezvous brewfests, Brew Crew cards, merch, and more.

Homebrewing clubs are also able to tap into the MBA’s resources to grow their club. These include access to the MBA’s brewery contacts, a personalized associate member webpage, inclusion in the MBA’s membership directory, among others.

To view member benefits for individual homebrewers click here, or for homebrewing clubs click here. If you are a homebrewer interested in joining the MBA, reach out to [email protected]

Montana Brewers Association

Montana Brewers Association

P.O. Box 8591

Missoula, MT 59807

406-948-BREW (2739)