Passing the bar

21 things to learn from brewery book's sudsy history



Montanans pride themselves on many things, and fine craft beer is at or near the top of that list. With that local pride comes a certain sense of ingrained knowledge about our hometown breweries. It's widely known, for instance, that Bayern Brewing is the state's oldest continuously operating brewery. It's also common knowledge that Big Sky Brewing is the state's largest brewery, with distribution as far east as Illinois. And most everyone knows the rapidly expanding Kettlehouse Brewing—which just remodeled its Myrtle Street taproom and reorganized its entire business to meet demand—started as a U-brew for patrons to make their own beer. These are the kinds of facts that get dropped to impress visiting relatives over a pint, but they don't begin to scratch the surface of Missoula's—or Montana's—rich brewing tradition.

"All of our United States beer history runs through Montana," says Ryan Newhouse, author of the new book, Montana Beer: A Guide to Breweries in Big Sky Country. "I think one of the things I found out was how closely Montana is tied to the national beer scene."


Newhouse's new book is the natural extension of the state's booming craft beer industry. Montana now boasts 38 licensed breweries, second most per-capita in the nation. The state also produces more barley than any other in the country, supplying both craft brewers and major mainstream brands.

Newhouse captures this burgeoning beer business with a fact-filled brewery-by-brewery guide, as well as a bit of pre-Prohibition history on Montana's earliest brewing operations. With Newhouse's help, we picked out 21 things you're bound to learn from reading his bookand that could come in handy next time you're trying to impress an out-of-towner at the taproom.

Ryan Newhouse hosts a tasting and book signing at Shakespeare & Co. Friday, Sept. 6, at 6 p.m.


1. The H.S. Gilbert Brewery opened in Virginia City in 1863, making it Montana's first official brewery.

2. Garden City Brewing received permission to name its signature beer Highlander in 1910, but only after getting the okay from a New York baseball team. The New York Highlanders became the Yankees in 1913.


3. In 1902, Montana breweries produced 5 million barrels of beer, or roughly 21 gallons for every resident in the state at the time (including children).

4. Miller Brewing's "High Life" brand was originally used by Capital Brewing and Malting Co. in Helena.


5. Montana is the nation's top barley-producing state.

6. American Brewing Company in Great Falls targeted women drinkers, with one print ad noting the woman of the house is burdened by chores and prone to a "breakdown." "Such a result may be avoided by moderate use of AMERICAN BEER," the ad stated.

7. Olympia Brewing's slogan, "It's the Water," was first used by Red Lodge Brewing Company for its Glacier Beer.

8. Kettlehouse's Cold Smoke Scotch Ale claims 180 taps in Missoula, second only to Bud Light.

9. Red Lodge Ales' distribution trucks run on used grease collected from the bars and restaurants the brewery delivers to.

10. In 1905, Butte was home to five different breweries, including Centennial Brewing Company, which claimed to serve 1 million glasses a day.

11. By 1907, Billings had 42 saloons serving Billings Brewery's beer—and just 8,000 residents.

12. Big Sky Brewing originally wanted to be named Rogue Elephant Enterprises, but ran into issues with Oregon's already established Rogue Ales.

13. Desert Mountain Brewing and Draughthaus in Columbia Falls designates the 13th of every month as Flannel Day. Those wearing flannel get 50 cents off each pint.

14. Pabst Blue Ribbon once bottled its product in Troy so the Milwaukee-based company could avoid paying a tariff for transporting beer across state lines.


15. Great Falls Select, a light lager and once the state's most popular brew, was re-released in 2008, 40 years after it went out of production, by Harvest Moon Brewing. The new version is a pale ale.


16. Billings Brewery president Phil Grein built a large beer bottle car—think Wienermobile—in 1910 to promote his Old Fashioned Beer.

17. Great Falls is home to the largest maltster in North America, Malteurop, which processes 260,000 tons of barley each year.

18. Big Sky was the only brewery in the Americas using glass-bottle-shaped aluminum vessels for its beer between 2003 and 2006.

19. Kettlehouse's Eddy Out Pale Ale was originally named Bitters Pale Ale after a customer's dog.

20. Bitter Root Brewing, which opened in 1998, claims to be Montana's first brewery to produce an India Pale Ale.

21. Missouri Breaks Brewing founder Mark "Doc Z" Zilkoski is Wolf Point's town doctor and has nine children and 17 grandchildren. His family also runs the local coffee shop.

This story was updated Thursday, Sept. 5.


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