The shiny new fermentation tank crowding patrons inside the Kettlehouse’s Myrtle Street taproom seems like just another addition to most. But regulars will tell you it’s one of many recent signs–from limited selection of brews on tap to growing after-work crowds—that a decision to begin marketing brew in canned 16-ounce four-packs was the right one after all. Now the small neighborhood brewery is struggling to keep pace with booming demand.
“It’s been phenomenal what they’ve done with that can,” says Jack Joseph, president of sales for Missoula’s Summit Beverage. Two years ago, Kettlehouse broke with other brewers when it decided to begin marketing the now-ubiquitous tall boys seen near boats, barbecues, and backpacks across western Montana. Now, the lion’s share of Kettlehouse’s 3,000-barrel yearly production goes to a widening regional market of wholesale accounts—restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and grocers—including over 500 in Missoula County alone.
“It’s really brought their beer full-tilt,” Joseph says, noting a 300 percent growth in sales over the past two years.
The hustle to balance high-volume outside sales with a loyal following of local taproom patrons recently shrank the in-house selection to just a couple brews. But despite the state’s 48-ounce limit on taproom consumption, patrons can still purchase unlimited amounts to take off-premise. Un-phased, crowds continue to fill the taproom on any given weeknight.
“Our customers are really dedicated,” says Al Pils, the brewery’s retail manager. Recreation-minded regulars nagged brewery staff long ago to begin packaging in cans, Pils says. Cans are lighter, safer, perceived as more environmentally friendly (glass recycling is currently unavailable locally), and far easier to pack on the river, in the mountains, or at a crowded backyard shindig—all the places locals want them.
Supply woes might not end until late fall, Pils says, when Kettlehouse hopes to ramp up production at a new North First Street location.