BILLINGS - Last November, Tanner Vinecke, Sam Hoffmann and Jason Corbridge opened Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill on Montana Avenue.
“It’s about a year [ago] that we had this idea and Sam Hoffmann, the owner of Red Lodge Ales, Jason Corbridge, our chef and myself got together to see if a cider mill or a restaurant like this would be viable for the community,” said Tanner Vinecke, general manager of Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill. “All of us ascertained that not only would it be a viable restaurant it would also be a really welcomed change.”
Vinecke worked in the food and alcohol world for years and decided to make this new venture different than anything you could already find.
“Craft beer has been booming for well over a decade and it continues to,” said Vinecke. “But with the same exact alcohol, same exact avenues that you’re already selling your beer if you find a new offshoot, which in our case is cider, you can sell a brand new product to an already established base that we already know is willing to take risks on what they eat and drink.”
They brew a selection of different hard ciders on site and the process for brewing cider isn’t much different than the processes used to brew beer.
Hard cider begins with the fruit, which is pressed into juice before being mixed with yeast. The mixture then ferments for a period of about two weeks, which allows the yeast to eat the sugars in the juice and create alcohol. Voilà!
While the process is simple, the difference is in the ingredients. Vinecke says they use as many local ingredients as possible in making the ciders.
“One in, particular, would be the Full Montana,” said Vinecke. “That’s made with all Montana apples from orchards here…we use Montana beet sugar from the beet factory here in Billings.”
They also use a variety of uniquely Montana ingredients for some of their specialty brews. One on tap right now, the Flathead Cherry cider made with, you guessed it, Montana Flathead cherries.
“We use local gardeners, we use local orchard people, we use people with cherry farms or groves,” said Vinecke. “The idea is we are putting money in the pockets of our neighbors who are then much more inclined to return the money to us.”
At Last Chance, it isn’t just the ciders that are made with local ingredients, it is a theme that runs throughout the food on the menu, as well as the décor inside.
Since opening in November, it has been full steam ahead with the next step being distribution.
“Distribution is the next level and we have teamed up with Intermountain so we are about to hit the market but how we do that is very much on our plate,” said Vinecke.
Vinecke said that their plans are meticulous, making sure they are responsible as they expand to offer their products in markets around the state.
“We’ve never been of the mind to sell product just to sell it. We want to make sure we sell it and it’s enjoyed,” Vinecke said.
He said as the distribution gets off the ground and continues to expand, the best place to stay up to date is social media. It is also a good thing to follow, in case they decide to visit your town.
“We will do blasts for certain communities,” said Vinecke. “We’ll do a tap takeover so basically we will go out there and find some taps that are slower movers and we’ll put ourselves on and go meet the market and talk to the people.”
Vinecke said the key to success is passion for their product, and the giving spirit that is uniquely Montana.
“Our honeymoon period plus opening at a very peak season we ran 110% for about three months, and that excitement, that electricity probably still hasn’t worn off,” said Vinecke. “We’ve been just truly blown over by how much this community has embraced us that we only want to work 25 hours a day to give you guys more of it.”
Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill is located at 2203 Montana Ave. They are open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week.
Follow them on Facebook for the latest updates on distribution and guest taps coming up near you.