PHILIPSBURG — The historic mining town of Philipsburg is getting a new burst in business with the Philipsburg Brewing Co.'s $1 million expansion.
Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday toured the company’s new bottling plant — located just up the street from its taproom in the downtown area.
Co-owner Nolan Smith showed Bullock the bottle-capping machine that he and his partners purchased with a $50,000 matching grant from the state's Growth through Agriculture program. Smith believes the machine's ability to add a cap to the bottle top will set beers like Otter Water and Tramway apart from other microbrews.
"You can float on the river or go fishing and you can put the cap back on the beer to keep it from spilling out," Smith said. "It's great for recreating."
In addition, the bottles are made of aluminum and are recyclable. Philipsburg Brewing Company is the only microbrewer using them, Smith said.
Joe Willauer, director of Headwaters RC&D Food and Agricultural Development Center, state agriculture resource center, said the matching grant that Philipsburg Brewing received is given to businesses that can add value to agriculture by turning it into a product. In fiscal year 2015, the Growth through Agriculture program awarded $587,163 to 28 projects that leveraged an additional $956,629 and created 38 new jobs in Montana, according to a news release.
Smith, who retired as an engineer from Montana Resources at the beginning of the year, called running — and expanding — the brewing company a labor of love. Due to the initial $1 million investment to expand the company, he and his partners have not seen additional profits yet, he said.
Demand for the beer prompted the expansion, Smith said. Philipsburg Brewing has had a taproom in the middle of downtown Philipsburg, population 800, for 3½ years.
The building housing the new bottling plant has a long history. The original brewery in Philipsburg, it was built in 1875. It was later turned into a water bottling company, but that went out of business in 2004.
Smith and his partners bought the building in 2014 and began construction on it in 2015. In August of last year, the brewers started brewing beer in the plant.
In December, bottled Otter Water and Tramway hit supermarkets and convenience stores in Butte and Missoula. Later this week, Helena residents will see the beers on their shelves.
The expansion has meant four new full-time employees for Philipsburg Brewing, bringing the total number of workers to 11. The company is bottling two days a week. When the brewery expands to bottling three to four days a week, Smith projects that he will be able to increase the plant crew by four to five people.
The bottling plant is fed by a mountain spring that produces 300 gallons a minute. Smith hopes to see the company include bottling water in the aluminum bottles. But the next immediate need is to put another of the company’s approximately 10 microbrews, Haybag American Hefeweizen, in aluminum bottles by fall.
State Rep. Kathy Swanson, D-Anaconda, joined Bullock for the tour.
“Anytime we can bring money to this area — Butte, Anaconda, Philipsburg — it’s an asset,” Swanson said.
After touring the bottling plant, Bullock enjoyed a glass of beer at the taproom.
“I had to try the Otter Water,” Bullock said. “It’s very good.”
He also praised the grant that helped make the microbrewers’ expansion possible, calling it an investment that adds to the value of the community and creates jobs.
“Philipsburg Brewing Company is investing in sustainable practices and the initiative extends far beyond the boundaries of the county,” Bullock said.