In two decades, the number of craft breweries in Billings has grown from zero to seven.
Later this fall, Ron Kalvig, a local beer pub regular who has been home brewing for 15 years, will open Canyon Creek Brewery, the first on the West End, often considered the commercial center of Billings.
“Eventually, we’ll have 10 beers to offer at one time,” Kalvig said, who plans on starting with a wheat, Heferveisen, IPA and Stout.
The first six craft brewers all built downtown. Canyon Creek is the first to break that tradition.
A Billings couple, who want to remain anonymous, is building the 6,275-square-foot brewery at 3060 Gabel Road with seating for more than 200. Kalvig will own the business and brew the beer.
The Billings brewer fraternity is a band of brothers who all get along, Kalvig said.
But competition is heating up and the youngest of the existing breweries, Himmelberger Brewing Co., was put up for sale this summer.
Owner Dennis Himmelberger, who has been selling his craft beers wholesale for two decades, did not return calls for comment.
Last year, Tim Mohr opened his second Angry Hank’s brew pub, a stone’s toss from Himmelberger’s. Last year, he predicted that 2013 would be a shake-out time for local brewers, but said he was puzzled about why his tap room is busier than his neighbor’s.
“When you’re downtown and
having three (pints) here, you naturally want to walk over there and have three. And his beer quality is good, so that’s not the issue,” he said. “I just believe there’s too many tap rooms.”
Under state law, a customer can drink three pints of beers per night at brew pubs, which operate under restricted hours.
Canyon Creek’s location makes sense, Kalvig said, especially because six to eight West End hotels will open next year. Some West End residents are territorial and don’t want to drive downtown and hunt up a parking spot, he said.
While he gets the brewery going, Kalvig said he will stay away from wholesale marketing and no food service is planned.
“There’s enough places on the West End for people to order a pizza or bring food in,” he said.
Before settling on Gabel Road, Kalvig and his partners looked all over Billings, including on the east side.
“The Heights could sustain this,” Kalvig said, but the land he and his partners wanted was more expensive than the West End turf.
The building sports a copper-colored roof, with an industrial interior. Kalvig will brew beer and ales in 10 barrels capable of producing batches of 310 gallons.
Canyon Creek, at Gabel and South 31st Street West, should open in late October or early November.
This is Kalvig’s first business. He recently quit his day job building experimental aircraft instrument panels for Aerotronics Inc.
A silent partner and Kalvig have been best friends since first grade, a trust that led to this business venture.
“Ron had the brewing ability and we had the opportunity to build the brewery,” the partner said.
Like the other Billings brew pubs, Kalvig expects another push in the next Montana Legislative session to make brew pubs buy some kind of liquor license, an effort that was defeated during this year’s session.
“They’ll be doing it again in 2015, but at least by then we’ll be up and running,” Kalvig said.