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Blackfoot River Brewing

Real Good Beer Made by Real Good People

From newwest.net, 7-28-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Blackfoot River Brewing: Real Good Beer Made by Real Good People, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with Newwest.net. All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)

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Brad Simshaw (left) and Brian Smith, two of the three hoppy co-owners of Blackfoot River Brewing in the original taproom.
Photos by Bill Schneider

Until 2009, the taproom at Blackfoot River Brewing in Helena was the hottest in the state, at least on sweltering summer days when the inside temperatures climbed so high the servers had to spray customers with plant misters to keep them from succumbing to heat stroke.

But those days are gone. Now, Blackfoot Brewing is a very cool place, physically and literally.

Back in September 2008, Blackfoot's tiny tasting room was stuffed with loyals for the last time as they celebrated its "Grand Closing" the subsequent opening of the brewery's spiffy, new, expanded taproom and production facility, only fifteen feet to the south, but worlds apart from the old taproom.

Some customers joked that the new home of Blackfoot River Brewing looked like a church, and co-owner Brian Smith agreed, sort of, and started calling it "The Temple of Malt."

"And did I mention we have A/C," he added.

Instead of the small, hot, crowded, inefficient taproom that regulars adored, Blackfoot River now has a fancy, tiled, two-story tasting room with an outside deck that regulars adore just as much, if not more. They're as hoppy as ever.

And like in most craft breweries, customers now can watch workers make beer through large windows that connect the taproom & production facility.

Even though it's different, it's also the same, Smith and fellow co-owner Brad Simshaw believe. Like a lot of taprooms, they noted, you always have a strong sense of community and you seem to meet somebody every time you "Blackfoot it."

The Blackfoot River Brewery opened its doors in January 1999, and it's still owned by the three original owners--Smith, Simshaw and Greg Wermers. The brewery grew out of a now-closed home brewing business called Howling Wolf Home Brew Supply owned by Smith and Simshaw, which is why you see both the meandering Blackfoot River and the Howling Wolf in the company's logo.

"Home brewers really started the microbrew revolution," Smith said, noting that some of their most devoted customers also brew beer at home.

Like most Montana breweries, Blackfoot River sells a large percentage of its product directly to customers on site. In fact, Smith credits the 1999 change in Montana law that allowed breweries to sell pints in taprooms for making the difference for them. "I don't think we'd be here today if it weren't for that 1999 bill. Being able to sell to the public is key." In addition to taproom sales, Blackfoot River beer can be found at many restaurants and taverns around western Montana.

For about four years before moving, Blackfoot River was running at capacity, turning out about 2,000 barrels per year, but with the expansion, capacity will go up to about 3,500 barrels.

Single Malt IPA is the brewery's flagship beer, but with the new facility and a 2009 law allowing brewers to make higher-alcohol-content beer, Blackfoot River has started producing more specialty and seasonal beers, including barley wine.

No bottles or cans, though, one difference between the Blackfoot and some breweries in Montana. But that isn't the main difference. That's the beer itself.

Acknowledging a lot of similarities "starting with the same passion we have for brewing beer" and a zeal for “taking care of our employees" Simshaw explained that the company's similar philosophy is embodied in the company's motto, clearly stated on every glass and growler--"Real Good Beer Made by Real Good People." It's hard to go wrong when patronizing a business with that attitude.

Similarities aside, there are some big differences between Blackfoot River Brewing and other Montana breweries.

"We're the first and only certified organic brewery in the state," Smith noted, but not for all beers, only two--porter and organic pale ale, or OPA for short. And this isn't just idle marketing talk. The Montana Department of Agriculture has certified Blackfoot River Brewing as "organic" and does annual inspections to make sure the products and process stay that way.

blackfoot Temple of Malt

Smith would like to go "all organic," but they can't find enough organic hops and malt.

Another difference is, "we don't filter our beer," Smith explained. "We're the largest brewer in the state that doesn't filter, which makes more flavorful and full-bodied beer. Filtration reduces both the hop and malt flavors in beer."

In January 2012, the brewery changed its glassware to use "style specific glasses" for most beers and also switched from the standard pints to 12 oz. glasses. "This means you now have up to four individual 12 oz. glasses of beer per day," Blackfoot River announced in its newsletter.

"For a years, we were the only certified organic brewery in the state," Smith noted, but not for all beers, only two--porter and organic pale ale, or OPA for short. And this isn't just idle marketing talk. The Montana Department of Agriculture has certified Blackfoot River Brewing as "organic" and does annual inspections to make sure the products and process stay that way. Now, Montana has a second certified organic brewery, Wildwood in Stevensville.

The brewery supports many local nonprofits and causes, even taking sides on controversial issues like a contentious local debate a few years ago on building a road through Helena's walking mall and legislation to designate all of Montana's roadless lands as Wilderness. Blackfoot River Brewing is committed to giving back to the community through generous charitable contributions and through Blackfoot’s Community Monday giving program. In 2011 and 2012, Blackfoot raised $35,348 for 45 local nonprofit organizations.

style specific glasses "Style-specific" glassware.

So when in Helena, be reverent and visit the Temple of Malt for some good beer brewed by good people.

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