HELENA – One Treasure State company is managing to stand out in the crowded craft brewing industry.
The Lewis and Clark Brewing Company, which started in the Capital City more than a decade ago, has come to gain national recognition.
The Montana Made business continues to expand and one day could be seen on shelves across the globe.
“When you first start to mash in – and that’s where you’re taking the malted barley and you’ve ground it up and you mix it with water in what’s called the mash tun or the lauter tun – the smells that generates in the morning are something that even to this day –I still just walk through the brewery and stop and take a big whiff and say, ‘this is why I do what I do’,” Lewis and Clark Brewery owner Max Pigman said.
He took over Sleeping giant Brewery 16 years ago, renaming it Lewis and Clark after the county and the famous explorers. But his interest in brewing started outside US borders.
“I was stationed in the military. I was over in the Air Force in Japan. I had a hard time finding good beers. I started homebrewing in Helena and that’s where it all came from,” Pigman recalled.
What started at home has grown into a sprawling factory with state of the art equipment pumping out some of Lewis and Clark’s most popular brews, including Miner’s Gold and Prickly Pear Pale Ale.
Lewis and Clark rode the wave as the craft brewing industry took off, switching from bottles to cans — and seeing dramatic increases in sales.
The brewery added a $9 million expansion just last year, increasing production six times over. The summer months are very important to Lewis and Clarks when they do about half of their business.
But as the scale increases, Pigman says that the familiar taste stays the same.
The brewery took home multiple awards recently at a competition in Denver and three of the medaling beers were made in the expanded brewery.
“The beer that we’re putting out at this point really has the quality that the judges are saying ‘hey this is really good beer’,” Pigman said.
He told MTN News that one thing that makes the beer so special is Montana’s amber waves of grain.
“Being able to utilize some of the best-malted barley in the world — which is grown just north of us in the Golden Triangle and malted just north of us up just above Great Falls…is a huge advantage for us,” Pigman said.
He has found other ways to draw in customers in what’s becoming a crowded craft brewing scene, “we’ve got a new seasonal beer that comes out about every six weeks now.”
This month features a seasonal pumpkin brew that entices customers.
Pigman also recently allowed customers to start buying beer with the digital currency bitcoin as part of an effort to keep things fresh. It’s a strategy that’s paying off.
“Here we are almost 17 years later and it’s beyond my wildest dreams and it’s really a blessing,” Pigman said.
The brewery is now looking overseas with Pigman saying that he’s already traveled to Japan to talk with some interested clients.
Lewis and Clark currently distributes its beers to all of Montana, Idaho, and eastern Washington. It will also soon be available in Wyoming.
-Jacob Fuhrer reporting for MTN News