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Montana Brewing

More Medals Than Any Other Montana Brewery

From newwest.net, 8-15-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Montana Brewing: More Medals Than Any Other Montana Brewery, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with Newwest.net. All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)

Tanks at Montana Brewing.

Photo by Bill Schneider.

As near as I can figure, after visiting every Montana craft brewery except Missouri Breaks in Wolf Point, Montana Brewing is unique. The company's owners have offered craft beer fans something that comes about as close to a brewpub as possible under Montana's archaic liquor laws.

Instead of a small brewery with a small taproom, which is the case with most Montana breweries, Montana Brewing is three businesses in one--a microbrewery, restaurant and sports bar, all separated but connected, right at street level in downtown Billings.

The owners, a group of Billings investors, have an all-beverage liquor license for Montana Brewing, which is essentially a restaurant, not a brewery. Technically, the brewery is called Billings Brewing, but does business as Montana Brewing. The restaurant serves as the brewery's "taproom" and has a "beer-friendly menu," but unlike true taprooms, it has regular tavern hours and offers other brands, even domestics, but with a strong sales emphasis on beer brewed on premises, of course.

Those interested in watching sports on television and playing gaming machines can walk next door (without going outside) to Hooligan's Sports Bar..

"No other Montana brewery can offer what we offer here," agreed owner Sean Graves. " No other Montana brewery has an all-beverage liquor license or stays open to 2 am every night and serves top-quality food.

"We don't really have a taproom," Graves emphasized. "We're more of a brewpub. We aren't restricted to a certain time when we can sell beer, and we can serve more than three beers."

Under current Montana law, owners of a brewery license can only sell beer until 8 pm and only sell three pints to a single customer, but those restrictions don't apply to holders of all-beverage licenses.

This might seem a bit complicated, but it won't seem like it when you're there. At Montana Brewing, you can simply enjoy some great microbrew in a pleasant environment where you watch head brewer Evan Taylor make it next door. The owners have successfully combined the concepts of a small brewery and brewpub to bring you what they call "a new and unique dining experience." (Click here to see the menu.)

Montana Brewing is part of the de facto Brewery District in downtown Billings, where four breweries (Angry Hanks, Carter's, Montana and Yellowstone Valley) thrive within four blocks of each other, making it convenient to stay at a downtown hotel and do a microbrew tasting tour on foot. Nobody knows why all four breweries located in such close proximity, but it certainly is serendipitous for beer buffs visiting downtown Billings.

"We're also the oldest brewery in the state" Graves added, opening its doors back in December 1994.

One more difference, Graves noted, is that "no other brewery has chocked up as many awards as we have, not even close."

In 2007, Montana Brewing was voted Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, first out of 967 breweries nominated for the honor. In 2011, the brewery won two silver medals, two seconds out of 4,000 beers entered that competition. For 14 years in a row, Montana Brewing has won the People's Choice Award for small breweries given out by the Billings Gazette. And lots more, way too many awards to list here. (But you can see a list on the company's website, here.)

"I think we have the best beer in Montana," Graves said, "and we have amazing food to go with it. And you won't find that combination anywhere in the state."

Montana Brewing Company Restaurant Brewpub

I'm sure he could grow because his beer is definitely among the best tasting and highly decorated of Montana microbrews, with Whitetail Wheat and Sharptail Pale Ale rising to the top as his best sellers.

Unlike a lot of brewers, Montana Brewing doesn't bottle or can its beer, with the exception of a few limited-edition bottles, and has limited keg distribution because most production is sold on premises.

Since you won't find it at the supermarket or gas station, you need to stop at the downtown brewpub next time you're near Billings to sample some of this award-winning brew. You won't be sorry you did.

-Bill Schneider

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