News

Building a beer castle

Montana's smallest craft brewery has big aspirations

by

comment

The kettle inside Dunluce Brewing, in Superior, is no bigger than a sedan's gas tank, but the steam rising from it keeps the entire brewery toasty on a cold day. The brewery is no castle, though. About the size of a New York City studio apartment, it makes Montana's legion of microbreweries look downright palatial.

"Not much to see here," owner Adam Hauge says.

Hauge doesn't need to give a tour because everything's in view from the open screen door. There's no taproom or bottling equipment, just a half-barrel brewing system along one wall, a cooler chilling some 5-gallon kegs against another, a commercial sink across the room and four fermentation tanks on wheels. The place, a brewery in model-train scale, is so unassuming that any beer enthusiast who finds his way to this unmarked horse barn an hour northwest of Missoula is likely to step inside and think, "I could do this, too."

A similar attitude inspired Hauge and his wife, Lauren, to launch what's likely the smallest commercial brewery in the state. The pair was vacationing in Ireland, visiting Dunluce Castle, when the idea coalesced. "As we finished touring the castle in Ireland, we kind of had our epiphany," Hauge says.

Hauge had been homebrewing at the time, and both he and his wife were interested in a career change that could bring Adam closer to his agricultural roots and Lauren to her family in Superior. So they resolved to turn Adam's hobby into the family business.

That was two years ago this month, yet Dunluce remains relatively hidden in Montana's craft beer scene. Many brewers at the recent Montana Brewers Association convention in Missoula hadn't heard of him, Hauge says, including those with Darby's Bandit Brewing, which had fancied itself the state's smallest brewery. Dunluce has flown below the radar in part because of its unique model. The beer is made in homebrew-sized batches and is available only on tap at a half-dozen bars in Mineral County, population 4,200.

Adam Hauge, owner of Dunluce Brewing, runs his Superior nanobrewery in a remodeled portion of a storage barn on a horse ranch. He distributes his beers to local bars and sells growlers at customers’ doorsteps. - PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • photo by Derek Brouwer
  • Adam Hauge, owner of Dunluce Brewing, runs his Superior nanobrewery in a remodeled portion of a storage barn on a horse ranch. He distributes his beers to local bars and sells growlers at customers’ doorsteps.

Hauge says his model was born out of necessity, as a way to begin brewing commercially without large upfront costs. So-called nanobreweries constitute a distinct niche within the industry nationally, and some, such as Dogfish Head in Delaware, have grown to become craft beer leaders. But bootstrapping beer isn't easy.

"I think the economics are tough," says MBA Executive Director Matt Leow. "You certainly get some economies of scale when you go bigger, even slightly bigger."

Starting small is Hauge's way of buying time so he can develop Dunluce's bigger idea: making beers from start to finish, or, as he calls it, from "farm to fermentation."

Hauge grew up on a wheat and barley farm, and over the last several years he and his father have experimented with barley strains that he hopes can eventually serve as the source for Dunluce beers. Lauren's mother is helping propagate yeasts, and hops already grip the backside of the barn.

"At some point, I would like this to be the family income," Hauge says.

At the moment, Hauge and his wife still live in Liberty Lake, Wash., two hours away. Adam brews on weekends and distributes 5-gallon kegs to bars staggered along I-90. He also takes orders for growlers, swapping them out at customer front doors much like a milkman.

At Four Aces bar down the road, Dunluce's tap handle, with "Pilsner" written across it in chalk, looks almost out of place alongside the standard sports bar domestics. Seven men crowd the bar on a Monday afternoon, watching NASCAR and chatting about how the country has gone to hell. One man grips a fly swatter between sips. After pouring a pilsner, the bartender confesses she's more of a Bud Light girl, at least when she's not drinking shots.

Yet owner Ronna LaPierre says having Dunluce on tap has been "really good for business." Four Aces was the first bar to serve Hauge's brews, rotating styles based on whatever Adam hauls in that day.

"There are some people that really like it and come in for it," she says. "I'm talking to him about making sure I have a backup keg."

LaPierre says she's also not a fan of microbrews—the only other local tap belongs to Kettlehouse's Cold Smoke.

"But I do like the dill pickle one (Hauge) has," she says.

Tags

Add a comment