Local Beer on Tap

Twenty-two different breweries brought a few beers each to the third annual Montana Brewers Festival last Friday, allowing Bozemanites to sample over 75 different brews. Held at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, the event allowed attendees to sample as many beers as they wanted during the five and a half hours of general admission.

The most interesting aspect of the festival was its focus on high-quality craft brews made right here in Montana. Except for Missoula’s Big Sky Brewing, all of the larger, expected breweries were present.

Well-established breweries like Yellowstone Valley from Billings, Bozeman Brewing and Kettlehouse from Missoula served up their beers, but smaller breweries turned out strong for the event as well. While many Montanans regularly enjoy brews from the larger companies, this festival presented an excellent opportunity to sample hard-to-find beers.

Breweries from small towns like Wibaux and Red Lodge brought kegs of their beer to the festival. Due to limited distribution, these beers are often difficult to find even inside Montana. Beer from Glacier Brewing in Polson, for example, is available only in towns at about a three-hour radius from Polson.

The variety of breweries attests to the importance of beer in the Montana economy. Billings, the state’s largest city, hosts four microbreweries, but even tiny Wibaux, with a population of 589 people, opened up a new brewery in 2008.

Bozeman Brewing Company has called Bozeman home since 2001, while Madison River has been operating in nearby Belgrade since 2005. The 406 Brewing Company started up in Bozeman in January 2011. All three local breweries brought their beers to the festival.

Ranking third overall in the nation for number of breweries per capita, Montana takes its beer seriously. And so do its citizens: At 30.5 gallons of beer per year, the average Montanan’s consumption is second in the nation. Clearly, Montanans are drinking a lot of beer – and a lot of Montana beer, at that.