A steady stream of drinkers angle into a barn off Highway 93 in Stevensville on a recent Monday evening. Odds are they were drawn by rumor rather than by the inconspicuous sandwich board at the head of the dirt driveway that reads "Wildwood Brewing." Blink and you might miss it entirely.
Jim Lueders works the tap handles, which he made from whitebark pine scraps he collected on St. Mary's Peak. Customers slug Discerning Pilsner and Bodacious Bock as if they've been waiting a long time for the chance. They have. Lueders started work on the brewery back in 2002, when he bought the brewhouse from Oregon's defunct Saxer Brewing. He poured the first pint less than two weeks ago.
"I was at Blacksmith [Brewing] earlier and people were asking if I'd been over here yet," says Skip Rosenthal. "I didn't even know they'd opened."
Lueders kept Wildwood's March 23 cold-open pretty quiet. But word spreads fast in the microbrew community, and a week later the place was jammed. Even with the modest trickle of beer drinkers Monday, every seat is full. The small taproom is situated in one corner of the barn next to the brewhouse. Rosenthal says it reminds him of Bitterroot Brewing's early days, when everything smelled like beer. Lueders is hoping to keep that "house party" vibe.
"It seems like places get popular and then they get busy," Rosenthal says. "This place has seven seats. Hopefully, it won't get corrupted."
Chatter about Lueders's beer is overwhelmingly positive. Don't expect any hop-heavy IPAs, though. His brews, which he plans to can as early as this summer, are largely German-style. The pilsner isn't far from what you'd find in alehouses in Munich, where Lueders attended the Doemens Brewing Academy. The stout is modeled after a microbrew out of Cork, Ireland. He's had the recipes prepped for years now. So far there's no clear favorite.
"The pilsner was the first keg to blow," Lueders says. "But then another blew pretty quickly after that. It's neck-and-neck."