Two Billings breweries brought home national awards over the weekend, adding hardware and a brighter spotlight to the area’s growing craft-beer scene.
Uberbrew won the 2015 Alpha King Challenge for its new Alpha Force Double Tap in a contest decided in Denver by hop growers from Central Washington’s fertile Yakima valley.
Also, Montana Brewing Co. took home a bronze medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival in Boulder, Colo., for its Hooligan’s Irish Red Ale, earning its 16th medal at the nation’s largest craft-brewing competition.
Mark Hastings, head brewer of the three-year-old gastropub Uberbrew, said the recognition is a big boost for craft brewing in the area.
“It brings some notoriety to Billings. It lets a wide range of people around the world hear the name Uberbrew. It lends credibility all around the world to what folks here in Billings already know, that we in Billings have a world-class brewery,” Hastings said.
It was the first win for a Montana brewer in the 16-year history of the contest, which rates the bitterest, hoppiest offerings for drinkability.
Uberbrew debuted the Alpha Force Double Tap at Friday’s Ales for Trails event in Billings, and it’s the first black IPA to win the Alpha King Challenge, held at the Rock Bottom Brewery.
“Even though this beer is dark in color, it drinks more like an IPA,” Hastings said.
He added Uberbrew lacks contracts with big hop producers and bought the product from other brewers in the region, including 406 Brewing in Bozeman and Sheridan, Wyo.-based Blacktooth Brewing.
For Montana Brewing Co., the weekend honor was the second award this year for its Hooligan’s Irish Red Ale. The beer also won at the North American Beer Awards in June in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Sean Graves, co-owner of Montana Brewing, said the beer is brewed for St. Patrick’s Day and was originally the inspiration for Hooligan’s Sports Bar next to the brew pub in downtown Billings.
“It was like, ‘Man, that would be a great name for a sports bar,” Graves said of the Irish ale.
The Great American Beer Festival featured 6,647 entries nationwide from 1,552 breweries, growing 20 percent from 2014.
Graves noted that the competition is rising with the growing popularity of craft beer, which makes winning a medal all the sweeter.
“To get an award is just insane,” he said.
Two other Montana-based breweries received medals at the Great American Beer Festival, both for their Scottish-style ales. Belgrade’s Madison River Brewing Co. took the gold for its Copper John Scotch Ale, while Missoula-based Kettlehouse Brewing Co. nabbed a silver for its Cold Smoke beer.