Greg and Mike Howard have never let go of their middle brother Chad’s dream of opening a microbrewery. They’ve talked about the prospect for years—about how there are no breweries on Missoula’s Southside, where they grew up, and about how it’d be a fitting tribute to Chad, who died in late 2009 from brain cancer. The duo even bought a small brewhouse from Wibaux’s Beaver Creek Brewery about two years back, using the money Chad left them.
If all goes according to their plan, Chad’s dream will open by the end of the year, becoming the fifth Missoula-based craft beer company: Great Burn Brewing.
“I’ve got this big picture of Chad in my garage, and I walk past it every day,” says Greg, a senior environmental scientist at the engineering firm Morrison-Maierle. “There’s definitely going to be some pictures of Chad in the brewery.”
Last month, Mike, Greg and Greg’s wife, attorney Diana Garrett, submitted a conditional use permit application to the city for a brewery located on McDonald Avenue, right behind Jaker’s Bar and Grill. The project calls for serious renovations to a warehouse the trio is leasing, including parking lot landscaping and two tiers of customer seating. But if the application passes an Oct. 7 city council hearing, Great Burn Brewing is primed to start work immediately.
“We’ve actually met with three of the city council members just to get their feelings on it,” Greg says. “They’re all really excited about the potential for economic growth on that side of town.”
Mike’s working on several beer recipes, including a smoked porter and two India Pale Ales. Mike has been a brewer for nearly a decade, first for California’s Stone Brewing Company and several local breweries, then as Blacksmith’s first head brewer. He largely credits Chad for steering him into the business as it was Chad who gave him his first bottle of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale.
“He did a lot of traveling in the wintertime,” Mike says of his brother, who worked as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter with the Lolo Hotshots and with the Krassel Helitack Crew in Idaho. “He’d always bring me back craft beers from the regions he was going to check out.”
Even the new brewery’s name, Great Burn, is inspired by the wilderness study area where Chad spent his first two years with the Forest Service as a fuel surveyor.
Greg and Mike describe Chad as a “fearless guy,” a morale booster for the family and his firefighting crews alike. And while there’s much work ahead for Great Burn—pending the city’s permit approval—Chad’s memory continues to be a driving force in their pursuit.
“Chad always wanted to trade his leather boots in for rubber boots,” Mike says. “That was his phrase.”