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Wibaux microbrewery celebrates milestone

Press Photo by Ashley Martin Sandra Devine pours a sample of beer to test with a hydrometer at Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux, Mont., Friday. On Tuesday the business will celebrate brewing its 100th batch of beer as part of American Craft Beer Week.

"Face it, you walk into a brewery as opposed to a saloon and there's just a, really moxie there that you dig."

Such moxie is that of Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux, Mont., said co-owner Sandy Stinnett, and things are picking up at the area's only microbrewery.

"Eighteen months of renovating this building that was built in 1914, and 4,000 hours later we had ourselves a microbrewery and it hasn't slowed down since," Stinnett said.

A craft beer venture that began about 12 years ago with garage brewing sessions morphed into the brewery Stinnett said patrons have been traveling from far and wide to visit since opening Aug. 9, 2008.

"I think the American public's palette has become a little bit more sophisticated," Stinnett said. "Once you try some of these craft beers, your palette will demand more of that flavor."

Beaver Creek Brewery, which will celebrate its 100th batch of beer Tuesday, seems to be garnering more and more palettes, though Stinnett, along with owners Russ Houck and Jim Devine, met some opposition along the way.

After a building for the venture and a third partner was found, the group next had to tackle financing.

"We found a private investor after going to bank after bank after bank and credit union after credit union and getting turned down and lectured to like we were children," Stinnett said.

Stinnett said the group was often told no market existed for craft brewing, but naysayers may have been wrong.

"This time last year we had done 13.5 barrels," Stinnett said, adding a barrel is 30 gallons. "That's four batches I did last April. This April, I did 10 batches."

And the beer has quickly begun flowing out of Wibaux.

Stinnett estimates the brewery's beers are being sold in about 17 cities throughout Montana and North Dakota.

"We actually had to kind of put the brakes on some of the requests because we just can't simply make it fast enough to meet the market demand," Stinnett said. "It's getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger."

Devine even left his regular job to work full-time at the microbrewery.

Dickinson eatery BrickHouse Grille has carried Beaver Creek Brewery's Paddlefish Stout for about a year.

Mike Riesinger, the restaurant's co-owner, said though the brew hasn't sold more than other beers, he has only heard good things.

"It's not a real dark beer community, but the people who do buy it like it," Riesinger said. "I love it, personally."

Stinnett said the company is constantly ordering more and more kegs while grain orders keep growing.

Though standing-room-only is becoming common in the microbrewery's taproom, a microbrewery experience is not atypical.

"We have a completely different crowd," Stinnett said. "Microbrew crowds are different. Craft beer drinkers are different. They come in and enjoy their three pints by law."

Those three pints can include choices from seven different tap beers, including a handcrafted root beer.

The latest seasonal beer is ESB, produced with the locally grown hops.

"We typically brew 200 gallons at a time," Stinnett said, adding about 400 gallons of beer ferments in a tank at once.

An amber ale will be coming back on tap within a month and stay through the summer, he said.

In late summer, a chokecherry ale will be brewed and is prepared in part with the help of volunteers.

"We get our local patrons that have volunteered to already go out and pick gobs and gobs of chokecherries for us as long as we make more this year, they say," Stinnett said.

Named after a local fishing hole, some of Beaver Creek Brewery's beers are named after area wildlife and history, including the Paddlefish Stout, Rusty Beaver Wheat, Rough Rider Wheat and the brewery's flagship beer, the Beaver Creek Pale.

A money maker

In 2008, the direct economic impact of Montana's beer industry was about $308 million, as compared to North Dakota's approximate $131 million, according to a report from The Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

However, despite North Dakota featuring no microbreweries other than chain restaurant Granite City in Fargo, the state is the nation's No. 1 producer of a key ingredient in beer brewing.

Steven Edwardson, executive administrator of the North Dakota Barley Council, said the state produces the nation's largest surplus of barley.

A craft beer can be hard to come by in North Dakota and Stinnett said Dickinson residents have been traveling the 70 miles to Wibaux to enjoy the brews.

In Montana, however, it's a different story.

Each year, Montana beer brewers manufacture and package over 70,000 barrels -- about 2.2 million gallons -- of handcrafted beer, using more than 4.5 million pounds of malted grain, about half of which is grown in the state, according to the Montana Brewers Association website.

Montana brewing operations generate and pay taxes on approximately $20 million of revenue, according to the website.

Keeping it local

From a taxidermist that donated a stuffed beaver now sitting over the bar to a contractor and area honey and wheat producers, Beaver Creek Brewery is all about keeping business local.

Wibaux resident Rob Kiedrowski, brew plant manager, constructed much of the brewery, from the water filtration system to the cooling system.

"Sometimes there's a barter system," Stinnett said. "They'll come in and, 'We'll put your patio in for this many beers and this much money.'"

Devine's wife, Sandra Devine, a former bakery owner, crafts bread from the brewing process' spent grains to go along with the brewery's bratwursts.

Already award-winning

In their short tenure, Beaver Creek Brewery has already amassed an award, with their Redheaded IPA taking home the 2009 People's Choice Award at the Montana Brewer's Association Brew Festival in October.

The brewery is celebrating American Craft Beer Week, the "Mother of all beer weeks," and on Tuesday, the microbrewery will be celebrating its 100th batch of beer by offering $1 off a patron's first pint.

"American Craft Beer Week has become a cherished tradition, making this annual celebration a great chance to toast craft brewers and to celebrate the advanced beer culture here in the United States," said Julia Herz, a spokesperson for the Brewers Association, according to a press release.

A member of the Montana Brewers Association along with 19 fellow brewers, Beaver Creek Brewery's taproom is open Thursday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Montana state law only allows the microbrewery to be open until 8 p.m.

"It's left over from the days of Prohibition," Stinnett said. "Basically, we're one of only four states that continue to have such a law."

Since the days of Prohibition, beer has remained common denominator.

"People laugh in their beer, they cry in their beer," Stinnett said. "They use beer to celebrate at funerals or weddings, graduations, brandings."


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