Shea Dawson developed his taste for craft beer during his college days in the Southwest.
During those summers, Dawson made frequent trips from his northern New Mexico home to Durango, Colo., the home of Steamworks Brewing Co., and discovered the appeal of well-made ales, lagers and stouts.
So when he moved his family to Billings about two years ago, Dawson, 32, had a natural interest in the city’s growing brewery culture. He liked what he found, and the avid home brewer decided he wanted to join in.
“It didn’t take long to see there’s great beer,” Dawson said.
Dawson is opening Thirsty Street Brewing Co. Feb. 18 at 3008 First Ave. N., the site of the former Himmelberger brewery. He’s planning to brew about 500 to 600 barrels of beer annually, about one-third the capacity allowed by state law.
Dawson said he’s invested between $200,000 and $300,000 on the brewery, which includes the purchase of Himmelberger’s equipment, new furniture and signs.
He’s keeping his full-time job as finance manager at Phillips 66 and hiring three bartenders. His wife, Jill Dawson, is also involved in the business, and the couple have twin 15-month-old daughters, Gwenyth and Evelyn.
“We’ve been interested in the whole concept… for years…. And I ‘ve always loved brewing beer,” Dawson said.
Thirsty Street joins Angry Hank’s, Uberbrew, Montana Brewing Co., Yellowstone Valley Brewing and Carter’s downtown. Another place, Canyon Creek Brewery, is on the West End. About 15 miles away, High Plains Brewing opened last month in downtown Laurel, making Thirsty Street the eighth Yellowstone County brewery.
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So how will Thirsty Street find its niche? Dawson said he will feature his Belgian beers and keep six brews on tap while offering a relaxing experience inside.
Next to the taproom, he’s converted the old coffee shop into a game room with a new pool table, dart boards and new shuffle board table on the side. Thirsty Street will also have a small menu with comfort food from Montana: sausages from Pioneer Meats in Big Timber, wrapped in buns from Grains of Montana.
The opening of Thirsty Street also elevates the profile of downtown Billings as a destination for visitors, said John Brewer, CEO of the Billings Chamber of Commerce, which oversees area tourism marketing.
A recent survey by SmartAssets.com identified Billings as the fourth-best beer city nationwide, and Brewer said the brewery culture is a big talking point for Billings promoters.
“It’s very popular. It’s to the point where Visit Billings has developed a walking tour map of the breweries… It’s found its way into a lot of our marketing material… It’s an interest quality-of-life measure that people can enjoy,” he said.
Statewide, the number of breweries has doubled over the last five years, and big beer companies are responding by promoting more of their own craft brands.
Dawson said he’s thinks his location is great -- between Angry Hank’s and a new motorcycle shop, the Twisted Spoke, and across the street from Pug Mahon’s. He added that the response from the brewing community in Billings has been positive.
“Everyone is very welcoming and excited for us to get up and running,” Dawson said.
Editor's note (Feb. 8): A previous version misstated the numbers of breweries in Yellowstone County. This version is correct.