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Cross Country beer test

Lonnie, left, and Kathy Cross of Cross Country Brewing check a batch of beer.

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

Lonnie and Kathy Cross drive six hours round trip from Glendive to Billings twice a week. The long commute is inconvenient, but the beginning brewers don’t have a closer option.

The Cross family recently opened Cross Country Brewing in Glendive. Lonnie and Kathy wanted to learn more about the brewing process so they became two of the 12 members of Montana State University Billings’ Craft Brewing and Fermentation program. It’s one of three brewing programs in the state and the only one to serve central and Eastern Montana.

Cross Country tap handles

Cross Country's tap handles were cut by Air Design in Scobey.

Cross Country Brewing is run entirely by family members but none have previous experience in the brewing industry. Lonnie managed the local Job Service office and her husband, Justin Cross, is a certified public accountant who worked for Dawson Community College. They decided to open the brewery upon retirement.

Brewing class

Lonnie Cross attends a brewing class taught by Process Plant Technology instructor Andy Sullivan at City College in Billings.

Their sons, John and Eliot Cross, home brewed for years and act as Cross Country’s head brewers. Kathy is John’s wife and works as the brewery’s marketing director. Eliot’s wife, Jenay Cross, is also involved in the business and designed its website.

Lonnie and Kathy plan on getting involved in the brewing as well. They learned how to brew beer and the chemistry involved while in the MSUB program.

Cross Country building

Cross Country Brewing is having a soft opening this week in Glendive.

“I didn’t realize how much science went into brewing before I took this class,” Kathy said. “Everything from the pH of the water to the yeast. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s not just throwing a bunch of stuff into a pot.”

The Crosses took a crash course in setting up a brewery before even setting foot in a classroom. The family purchased the brewing equipment from Bones Arcade in Billings when that establishment quit brewing. Acquiring the proper permits proved more difficult.

Lonnie Cross said the family started working on the brewery in 2015. They first planned to open during January of 2016 but red tape delayed the project.

“Because it’s alcohol you have to get the licenses and certification at the federal and local levels. It’s a complicated process," she said.

Part of the federal licensing involves mapping a customer’s experience in writing from the moment they enter the taproom. The MSUB program includes an introduction to business and business of brewing class to help prospective brewers navigate the process.

There are nearly 70 breweries in Montana. A dozen more are opening in 2017, and the industry’s growth shows no sign of stalling. On Thursday, House Bill 541 cleared the Montana State Legislature. If Gov. Steve Bullock signs the bill into law, Montana’s breweries will be able to produce up to 60,000 barrels of beer per year while also operating taprooms for onsite consumption.

Rep. Adam Hertz, R-Missoula, sponsored the bill. Hertz said he hopes allowing brewers to keep their taprooms while no longer being restricted to 10,000 barrels of yearly production will allow for more capital investment and distribution out of state.

“I think this bill lifts an arbitrary cap on these breweries, which are manufacturers. These manufacturing jobs are great jobs, particularly in small communities where we’re seeing more and more breweries pop up,” he said.

Cross Country kegs

Kegs of Cross Country Brewing's beer ahead of their soft opening in March.

Most of the small-town breweries will never come close to even the old production cap for breweries with taprooms. Cross Country Brewing expects to produce fewer than 500 barrels of beer for at least its first three years.

The MSUB brewing program aims to not only help students start their own businesses but also find employment with established craft breweries, said Paul Pope, who teaches the brewing portion.

Cross Country brewing bottles

Cross Country Brewing is the first craft brewery in Glendive.

Pope is the vice president of Rimrock Brewers Guild and has been home brewing for a decade. He said students leave the program with credentials and contacts that could help land their first brewing job. Every student is required to complete a capstone project that could be working as an intern with a local craft brewer or, like in the Cross’ case, improving their existing brewing business.

Beer drinkers can try the family’s products at Cross Country Brewery at 320 E. Allard St. in Glendive. The taproom is open Thursday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will host a grand opening on June 3 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cross Country tap room

Cross Country Brewing opened in March as Glendive's first craft brewery.


General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.