HELENA - Historian Brian Shovers presented “Seventy-five and Counting: The Origins and Evolution of the Montana Micro-Brewery Industry” to the public at the Montana Historical Society on Wednesday.
The presentation was based on 14 oral history interviews from last year that were conducted with some of Montana’s first microbrewers. The interviews were gathered for the Montana Brewery Oral History Project through the MHS.
After Great Falls Select closed in 1968, Montana went 15 years without a brewery until Kessler Micro-Brewery opened in Helena’s Sixth Ward in 1984. Since then, Montana has seen a resurgence of breweries and the industry has over 1,400 employees statewide.
Many of the early microbrewery owners started as home brewers who dreamed of doing more than a few gallons of beer every year. The biggest hurdle early craft brewers faced was distribution issues since the breweries themselves couldn’t sell retail beer on premises.
This changed when the 1999 Montana Legislature passed HB 442, which allowed brewers that produced less than 10,000 barrels a year to sell up to 48 ounces of malt beverage a day to an individual.
Shovers added that local breweries have become tourist destinations with many planning trips to visit breweries since no two are alike.
“They’re all brewing different kinds of beers so you have great variety in taste, flavor, and strength,” Shovers said. “And that’s really attractive to a lot of people. “
According to the Montana Historical Society, this helped foster a friendly and community focused atmosphere at local breweries. Montana currently has 75 craft brewing facilities and there are another seven slated to open later this year.
The state is also the top producer of malt barley for making beer in the country by acreage.