Celebrating Bozeman’s Close-Knit Beer Community
In ancient times, Sumerians regarded beer as a gift from the gods to further human joy and prosperity. Here in Bozeman, many would agree. Historically, breweries helped stabilize small towns, provided meeting grounds for people to celebrate and commingle, and made mining camps more bearable. Back in the late 1800s, before pasteurization existed, Montana had around 200 breweries. After Prohibition decimated the industry, beer picked up again around 1980, and since then Montana’s beer scene has exploded. Now, we have around ninety breweries, and Montanans are known to drink some of the most pints per capita in the nation—around forty gallons annually in recent years. Bozeman is particularly vibrant, with thirteen breweries in the region. I spoke with several beer gurus about our local brewing culture and what they love about the community here.
FERMENTANA AND CICERONES
Loy Maierhauser and Jesse Bussard cofounded Fermentana, a beer events promotion company and their beloved side hustle, in May 2016. Fermentana—a combination of fermentation and Montana—focuses on showcasing beers, spirits, and ciders made in the state. Their events educate, entertain, and contribute to social issues and conservation statewide—they teamed up with the Gallatin Watershed Council for the Bozeman Craft Beer Week 2020, for example, and they run Beer Maven, Montana’s first women-only tasting series, with 10 percent of proceeds going to HAVEN. “We work very closely with businesses, brewers, beer-focused bars, and restaurants,” says Maierhauser. She’s struck by how much everyone cares and supports each other.
Fermentana is on pause at the moment, with events like the Beer Maven series and Bozeman Craft Beer Week postponed until fall, but these two continue to actively contribute to the local beer community through their day jobs. Bussard is also the executive director of a trade organization called the Craft Maltsters Guild, and Maierhauser manages MAP’s taproom. Bussard says there are two local craft malt and hops producers in the area: Gallatin Valley Malt Company in Manhattan makes high-quality, locally sourced malt for craft breweries in the Intermountain West. There’s also a local hops grower called Crooked Yard Hops, the only one currently in Gallatin County, as hops are labor intensive and tricky to grow in this climate. “Montana is one of the top-growing malt barley states, so we produce a lot of malt as a whole, but not all is considered craft malt,” says Bussard.
In 2013, Bussard came into the Bozeman beer scene through the Bridger Brew Crew, a local club that promotes homebrewing. “Homebrewing is a close-knit community. Everyone’s so open-minded, and that translates through to the rest of the local beer scene. The breweries in Bozeman are great to work with; they love to partner up and create beers to benefit the community.”
She remembers her first Bridger Brew Crew meeting, at Bozone—back then, the only breweries in town were Bozone and 406, and Madison River Brewing in Belgrade. She walked in with a guy friend. “I immediately got asked, ‘Is your husband interested in brewing?’” She laughs. Less than two years later, Bussard became the club’s president, a position she held for four years. Maierhauser, a Level 2 Cicerone, is working toward Level 3 certification. She’ll be tested on five topics: beer styles, keeping and serving beer, beer flavor and evaluation, ingredients and the brewing process, and pairing beer with food. “With each level you’re expanding your knowledge,” says Maierhauser. Cicerone, pronounced sis-uh-rohn, comes from an old English term for a museum guide who explains cultural and artistic significance to visitors. Similarly, a cicerone guides imbibers toward high-quality, nuanced, and fun experiences with beer.
The four levels of certification range from Certified Servers to Master Cicerones, of which there are only nineteen worldwide. We’re lucky to have one in Bozeman. Rich Higgins moved here from the Bay Area, and he tied as the second person to pass the exam, in 2010. Higgins works as a beer consultant, educator, and European tour operator and is an excellent resource for the community. He reiterates that supporting local breweries and restaurants right now is key. “They represent a lot of local jobs, they keep your beer dollars in the local economy, and they contribute to local charities. Plus, fresh beer is best!” He expects the level of competition in Bozeman will be intense when we emerge from pandemic, “as taprooms and restaurants court a warier dining public and smaller tourist base.”
Beer Maven, now in its third year, is one event series Fermentana puts on. It started because Maierhauser wanted to combine her passion for beer with her teaching background. “These events offer women the opportunity to expand and develop their beer knowledge through exciting beer tastings, unique food pairings, and fun discussions with guest industry speakers,” she says. One of their goals was to give women confidence and a base level of knowledge so they aren’t intimidated, notes Bussard. She describes a scenario that feels familiar to me: A server asks you what you want. You look at the menu, feel flustered, and order yet another Midas Crush. “We encourage women to ask for tasters, and give them a base knowledge of what they like and how to talk about it,” says Bussard. “If you know you love, say, darker malt-focused beers, you can request others in that category.” They also wanted to build a community of women who could strengthen relationships with each other while enjoying beer.
Travis Collins, part-owner of SHINE Beer Sanctuary, which features two bars and thirty craft beers on draft, describes Bozeman as having a put-up-or-shut-up vibe, but also presenting unique opportunities for breweries. “Bozeman is becoming a bedroom community, with people moving here and telecommuting—and these people have different expectations of service, hospitality, and the product,” says Collins. “We’re in a neat niche where we can still play the small little mountain town, but people are expecting a whole other level. I’d put Bozeman beer up against anyone’s: Burlington, Boulder, Bend.”
Why open SHINE in Bozeman? “Well, I’ve been here since 1993,” Collins says. He was one of the partners of MacKenzie River Pizza from 2006–2011. “I can’t imagine a better community for SHINE,” he says. He describes the support as life-changing. He says that the breweries that work together will survive, citing the old adage: the rising tide lifts all ships.
What Collins loves most about his work is the opportunity to talk with people about beer. For him, it’s all about connecting taste buds to various nodes in the beer realm, so people can find what they like. “Take my father-in-law of twenty years: When I met him, he liked Coors Light. Now he’s into these crazy weird German beers. He doesn’t care that it’s a 200-year-old recipe made by monks. He just likes the taste.” Collins loves Fermentana because they brought this whole world of approachable beer into Bozeman.
Collins says that it has been a mental struggle to figure out how to keep things moving at work without that human interaction. “You don’t realize how much better work is when you have customers here,” he says. “There’s nothing better than a Friday night, music’s going just right, people are making new friends. But COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to reflect on how lucky we are to have this community,” he says. “Whatever the new normal is, we’re going to attack it and make it fun.”
If we want a thriving beer scene to be a part in Bozeman’s new normal, it’s up to us. Buy yet another case of White Claw or Truly and your money goes to a conglomerate that doesn’t support our community or local producers. But if you buy local, you’re supporting a network of breweries, restaurants, and farms, and the people behind these businesses, who have worked hard to make Bozeman the kind of place we want to live.
SOME LOCAL BREWERIES
406 Brewing Company
Bar 3 BBQ and Brewing
Beehive Basin Brewery
Bozeman Brewing Company
Burnt Tree Brewing
Lone Peak Brewery
Madison River Brewing Co.
MAP Brewing Company
Mountains Walking Brewery
Nordic Brew Works
Union Hall Brewery