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Fat Jack's Taproom

Levi of Fat Jack's Brewing
Levi of Fat Jack's Taproom.

Just in case you're wondering, Fat Jack's, one of Montana's newest breweries (opened December 2010), was not named after a big fat guy named Jack, but instead for co-owner Steve Solberg's college buddy who is slim and named Bruce.

Go figure, eh?

Fat Jack's, the re-modeled former home of Laurel Ford, which Solberg owned, is conveniently located right on main street in Laurel, and co-owned by Solberg and Levi Bequette, a self-described "one man band," who brews the beer during the day and serves it in late afternoon and does pretty much everything else that needs doing to keep a brewery and taproom running smoothly.

Fat Jack's has a fairly large taproom and a sizeable beer garden outside open during summer months. Since Laurel is a railroad town, he has a bit of a railroad theme in the furnishings such as a sliding box car door between the bar and taproom areas and a very cool 125-year-old rail that serves as a food rest at the bar, including a 90-degree bend that, according to Bequette, was quite the feat.

Bequette prides himself on hiring a fairly large wait staff (eight part-timers), something you won't find a lot of taprooms.

Bequette, who like many brewmasters started out as a home brewer, dosen't have a strict theme for his brews, but likes to call his selection "The ABCs of beers," which means he has the basic taste preferences covered.

Other brewers in what you might call blue-collar towns have had a tough time overcoming the "Bud Problem" and converting local beer drinkers to tasty craft beer, but Bequette and his facility have a real blue-collar feel about it, and he said it has not been difficult to get locals used to drinking quality beer. I suspect Bequette's slogan, the simple "Beer is Good," helped his cause.

He also has a sign in the window that helps: HUSBAND BABYSITTING, 4-8 PM, YOU JUST BUY THE DRINKS.

Ask about high plans brewing and his background

Muth is emphasizing taste over alcohol content with several of his tasty brews coming in at or close to 4 percent, which is about the same as a lot of national brands. He'd like customers to be able to enjoy a couple of pints without having to worry about the drive home. "Right now, we have the lowest alcohol content beer in the state," he said, "exactly 4 percent, which is less than Pabst Blue Ribbon."

Why the name 406 Brewing? I asked. "We sort of view it as The Montana Brewery," he answered, but of course, he can't go there because there's already a brewery in Billings with that name.

Actually, he had originally planned to be Crazy Mountain Brewing, but a California company beat him to the punch at the Trademark Office and opened a brewery with that name in Colorado.

Muth started home brewing in college and later spent shifts brewing for two local breweries, Bozeman Brewing and Madison River Brewing, before deciding to open his own business. "Most of the craft brewers are just glorified home brewers," he noted.

A lot of Montana breweries stress buying local products an supporting small local businesses, but Muth has taken that to the extreme with his "low miles" philosophy. He used mostly local products in his new taproom, notably the old mill saw blade embedded in the corner of the bar and benches made from old wooden beams from historic Lehrkind's Bozeman Brewery that Prohibition closed back in 1919, but in the glory years produced as much as 40,000 barrels of beer per year. He also features local artists and photographers on the taproom walls.

Some of his hops are picked locally one day and brewed the next day at 406. He's also trying for a "full circle" policy on local products. For example, he plans to use his spent mash to feed pigs at local farms and then sell that pork on premises.

Beer cometh
Fat Jack's

His next big step, incidentally, will be finishing up the kitchen and start serving a limited menu of locally grown food, heavy on meats and cheeses, and stone-fired pizza. "We're also going to make our own bread and pizza dough with our beer."

Muth expects to have the food service up and running before the end of the year.

"Our food will be based on whatever is fresh and local," he said, "and the menu will constantly change, just like the beer selection."

The bottom line is you won't know what you'll find to drink or eat when you go to 406 Brewing, but you can rely on it being tasty, fresh and locally grown.

-Bill Schneider

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