Why Butte is Perfect for Brewers and Distillers

 In Butte, Butte Business, Butte Culture

Drinking alcohol happens to be part of Irish culture, which means that it’s also part of Butte culture; we consider ourselves experts in brewing and distilling.

We’re so proud of our vibrant drinking heritage, in fact, that Butte remains one of the very few US cities to allow open containers during the day. With laws in place to address rowdy and unruly behavior — as well as a ban on public drinking from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. — our southwestern Montana city strikes a unique balance between personal freedom and public safety. We’re committed to our free-spirited history, and we can appreciate a good brew when we taste one.

An Enthusiastic Market

Four girl friends laugh and sip beer enthusiastically in the sunshine, in front of an artistic wall.

With 83 total microbreweries in the state, Montana is #2 in the country for craft breweries per capita. Some may interpret that as a saturated market, but that might be an underestimation of just how much beer contributes to the culture and economy. In 2016, microbreweries had a $417 million economic impact — the figure accounts for all three tiers of beer distribution, comprised of breweries, wholesalers and retailers.

Brewers love the communities, contributing over $100,000 a year to local charities — in addition to contributing great, high-quality beer. And, of course, communities love the brewers right back; it seems demand for breweries continues to increase as the state’s population does, and the Montana Brewers Association reports at least four new breweries set to open up shop in early 2019.

An attractive city for beer fans, there’s certainly a market for distilling and brewing in Butte, Montana. Local favorites include Butte Brewing Company, Muddy Creek Brewery and Headframes Spirits, a rapidly-growing distiller with strong Butte roots. One customer of Muddy Creek describes his visit:

“I rolled in here for an afternoon ale while spending the day in Butte as part of a longer trip. Place had just opened and the bartender was very friendly and knew a lot about the history of Butte. And they all obviously know a lot about beer, because every one of the brews in my sampler was superb. A wall full of personalized mugs testified to a huge crowd of regulars. Stop in here for a great brew and a friendly chat … it almost made me want to move to Butte.”

Access to Local, High-Quality Ingredients

Most beers have three primary ingredients: water, malted barley and hops. Typical liquors like whiskey and vodka are composed of various fermented grains (often malted) and/or corn. In the case of gin, juniper berries are the main ingredient, which come from a plant native to the Butte area.

But the common juniper isn’t the only local plant found in Montanans’ alcohol. As demand for beer in Montana grows, so does demand for hops — especially ones grown locally. Because of the state’s frosty winters, hops and Big Sky Country seem like an unlikely match; but growers say it’s well worth the risk. Jake Teselle, cofounder of Crooked Yard Hops in Bozeman, told Farm Flavor “a Montana hops farm can be profitable using only a few acres.” Bozeman is just a little over an hour southeast of Butte.

The final piece of the process lies with barley and malt producers in the state. Inspired by specialty malts from Vienna and Munich, Montana Craft Malt brings a hometown feel to world-class base malts for lagers, ales and pilsners. Their barley is sourced exclusively from Montana growers, who produce the second-most amount of barley in the US.

Montana Craft Malt also happens to be located in the Montana Connections Business Development Park, where they benefit greatly from their neighbors in the park. Jen O’Brien, President of Montana Craft Malt, told KPAX in March, 2019:

“Old Dominion Freight is next door. We’re going to be a heavy user of freight and so there goes that. We also have a relationship with a neighbor in this park that potentially could offer additional grain storage for us so, we’re all here doing our own thing but that are definitely ways that our businesses can intersect and benefit each other. “

Easy, Statewide Distribution

For brewers looking to expand their reach, members of the Montana Beer and Wine Distribution Association deliver bottled and canned brews to “most cities as well as to the remotest of locations” in Montana. Summit Beverage and Zip Beverage both service the Butte area, together providing Butte-Silver Bow residents and visitors with over 50 different kinds of beer. And that’s not even including the local stuff.

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Delta Air Lines flight from Butte, MT, to Salt Lake City, UT prepares for takeoff at Bert Mooney Airport.Crowds gather around headframes and teepees for the Montana Folk Festival in Butte, Montana