MISSOULA – Big Sky Brewing Company has been producing beer since 1995 and they are now the largest craft beer producer in the state of Montana.
But recently they made the decision to venture into a new market: seltzer water. And with flavors like cherry and huckleberry, Big Sky hopes that their new product can help continue the business’ growth.
“When you look at the sheer number of breweries that have opened up in the US, and I don’t have those numbers exactly, but there’s like 7,000 right now, and if you go back about five years there is about 2,000. Just a crazy number of breweries, so I think being able to expand into other little markets is not a bad thing for a brewery to get into,” Big Sky co-founder Neal Leathers said.
He said that while they have always had alcoholic beverages for people of legal drinking age, now they can offer a beverage for the whole family.
“It certainly opens some new doors. I mean if you’re selling beer it’s gotta be in a place that has alcohol licenses and that sort of thing,” Leathers said. “Not that we’ve entered a whole lot of different venues yet, but certainly there is no reason we couldn’t be selling Virga at health clubs and gyms and the sort of thing that you couldn’t really sell a beer in there.”
Starting the production process was fairly simple for Big Sky because they already had most of the necessary equipment.
“With sparkling water it’s almost all going in cans. We already had the canning line,” Leathers said. “We already had the tanks to hold the pressure for the carbonation and whatnot, so it was really about getting the flavor where we wanted it.”
Finding the right flavor was the biggest challenge for Big Sky and the brewery decided to stick to its Montana roots with huckleberry.
“How do you get these flavors? Just about a block away from us is a company called Blue Marble. That’s what they do, they take plants and create flavors out of them and whatnot. As soon as you’re in Montana thinking about any kind of fruit or whatever, you always go to huckleberry,” Leathers said. “It’s like, well, that’s not something that’s probably being made in California or Texas or New York, so we had them put that together and it took a lot of trial and error to get flavors kind of where we wanted them, but to be able to get huckleberry was a big thing for us.”
Virga is available in stores around Missoula and at Big Sky’s taproom.
Leather’s also told KPAX that Big Sky is especially excited to be able to offer their new sparkling water this summer at their concert venue behind the taproom.