Can you believe that it’s been nearly two decades since the craft brewing industry first took hold in downtown Billings?
Montana Brewing Co. got the barrel rolling in 1994. Since then, six more brewing establishments have sprung up in the area near downtown: Yellowstone Brewing Co., two Angry Hank’s locations, Carter’s, Uberbrew and Himmelberger Brewing Co. And that doesn’t include Fat Jack’s in Laurel and Red Lodge Brewing Co.
Quality and variety are the hallmarks of the craft brewing industry, whose experts work around the clock trying to tap their customers' passion for suds: stout, ales, porter, Belgians, hopped-up India pale ale and pilsners, to name a few.
And now experts say that the craft beer industry is good for Montana’s economy.
A recent study by the the University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research says Montana’s brewing industry is a small but growing part of the state’s manufacturing sector and a good avenue for adding value to local agricultural products. The state’s 33 craft brewers supported 430 jobs and accounted for nearly $50 million in sales in 2010. The industry also generates $9.8 million in private nonfarm income and $1.5 million in state government revenues, according to the study.
The beer business is also growing. Production rose 18 percent and sales increased by 20 percent from 2010 to 2011, the study found.
Tony Herbert, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association, said the study confirms that the craft brewing industry has potential to create more jobs in the future. The craft brewery craze also helps explain why the demand for Montana-grown malting barley is on the rise.
This issue of Billings Business features Trailhead Spirits, a new downtown distillery located in the Beanery building that’s part of the historic Billings Depot. Casey and Steffanie McGowan have made a big investment in downtown pursuing their dream. They hope to prosper in the same way that the local craft brewers have spun grain into gold.
Montana's half dozen or so small distillers seem to be going after the same kind of customers that craft brewers are targeting: discerning consumers who are interested in unique local products that are different from national brands.
There is even talk about organizing a local bus tour designed to encourage more people to sample the products at Trailhead Spirits and the local breweries.
It’s part of an ongoing effort to make downtown Billings a more vibrant and interesting place to gather. Of course, there are a few details to work out. But a downtown brewery/distillery tour could be in Billings’ future.