New Brewery Combines Craft Beer and Craft Pizza

Bridger Brewing became the newest addition to Bozeman’s collection of microbreweries this Saturday, March 2. Located in the Town & Country complex just a block away from the MSU campus, the brewery is serving up “craft beer with craft pizza,” according to General Manager and Owner David Breck.

Last night, Bridger Brewing held a family and friends night as a trial run, but today is their first day open to the public. Business was brisk, but not crowded as a group of friends and I were seated in a cozy corner table right away.

The brewpub’s ambiance is a significant shift away from any of the others in town. Large floor-to-ceiling windows shower the entrance in light, but the back of the building opens up into a cavernous seating area with low mood lighting and sleek black tables.

Ample seating adds immensely to Bridger’s appeal, with several different sections of booths, high-top tables, and chairs that belly up to the bar.

Handcrafted Ales

The ambiance is great, but the real reason to drop by Bridger Brewing is the beer and the food. Right now, they have four beers on tap: blonde, amber, IPA, and porter. Here are some tasting notes so you can decide which beer to try when you visit:

  • Bridger Blonde Ale: 5.0% ABV. A lighter choice for those who enjoy a good session beer, the blonde has a surprisingly strong flavor. Its light, sweet aroma belies a hint of pear, and the highly carbonated body has a good straw malt flavor with a hint of spice. The finish is dry and refreshing.
  • Session Amber Ale: 4.8% ABV. This amber has a bit of a bite, but needs a stronger malt backbone. It finishes smooth and is unique in its use of roasted malt, but this batch didn’t quite stand up to its sister brews. Head Brewer Daniel Pollard explained that this was the first beer they ever brewed — without a pilot-scale attempt — and the specific gravity didn’t quite hit what they wanted, so the ABV and flavor are a tad low.
  • Vigilante IPA: 6.5% ABV. I’m not normally an IPA guy, but I’d order this any day. It has a tantalizing tart/sweet citrus aroma. This beer definitely has an IPA bite, but it’s expertly balanced by a melt-in-your-mouth sweet malt backbone. Breck mentioned that they focused on the nose with this beer and not on creating an overwhelmingly bitter “tongue-scraper” IPA.
  • Bridger Porter: 4.5% ABV. A traditional English-style porter, this beer balances a nice combination of traits.  It has a smoky roasted malt flavor, with perhaps hints of coffee, but a surprisingly light body. The flavor is great, and you could drink three of these without blowing up like Violet Beauregard.

In short, they’re all great beers, and none will leave you disappointed. If you still can’t make up your mind, ask for a sampler, where you’ll receive four small glasses with 4 oz. of each beer.

The food might even give the beer a run for its money. Bridger offers handmade thin crust pizza by the slice or by the pie, and has a nice combination offer with a hearty slice of pizza, a salad, and a beer for a reasonable price.

Kitchen Manager Jim Eberhard is responsible for much of the success on that front. His grandmother is originally from Italy, and Bridger added a bit of local flair to her traditional recipes.

If you like meat, then you’ll love some of the toppings. Bridger sources their bison from Whitehall, lamb from Big Timber, and pork from Wilsall. And all of it tastes excellent on your pizza. The meat is put on the pizza raw, so all the juices cook down together. The pizza tastes fresh and isn’t at all greasy, with a thin crust that manages to be both chewy and crunchy.

Labor of Love

Opening Bridger Brewing has been a labor of love for all involved, but especially for Breck, who’s been homebrewing since he was 19 and dreamed of opening a brewery for nearly as long. He lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while, but then moved to Bozeman to pursue graduate studies in civil engineering.

He “cut his teeth” working for the old Spanish Peaks Brewing Company, a company that started in Bozeman but moved to California in 2001, and developed his interest in beer. After graduating, Breck helped found Spanish Peaks Engineering and Consulting with his partner David Sigler. Sigler eventually took over the engineering firm, while Breck worked on making Bridger Brewing a reality.

The Importance of Place

“It was very important,” Breck explained, “to get the right location.” They were two weeks away from signing a contract to take over the Artcraft Printers building downtown, but that deal fell through. It was “devastating” at the time, but led to the current location, which Breck is very happy with.

He wants to create a community-focused restaurant and pub where MSU students rub shoulders with families and everyone is comfortable. There are no TVs or blaring music because the focus is on cultivating conversation — and the beer and pizza. And the area is full of energy, he said, with the campus so close.

Head Brewer Daniel Pollard explained that over the course of a year, they hope to offer 20 to 25 different beers, with a wide variety of seasonals. Right now, he’s brewing a pale ale and is planning to start a brown ale and a stout later this week. Many of these recipes, Breck added, have been in development for 10 years.

Pollard, who moved here with his family from Pacific City, Ore., is excited to experiment with “high-quality beers.” He’s hoping to start aging some in whiskey and wine barrels.

When asked what beers he’s most excited to brew in the future, a bit of a wry smile peeked through his full beard. “I’ve got a few,” he said, “but I’m keeping them close to my chest.”

IF YOU GO:

  • Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for beer and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for pizza every day.
  • Location: 1609 S. 11th Ave., right next to Town & Country.
  • They’re trying to catch their beer production up to demand, so leave your growler behind for now.