In an old Westside warehouse, Paul Marshall has just sunk his hands into wet concrete, imprinting himself as its new occupant. He rubs the residue off on his pants before shaking my hand. He's sweaty and smiling, and greets me loudly to overcome the din of power trowels behind him.
Marshall and his business partner, Jeff Grant, and a crew of workers are building Missoula's newest brewery, Draught Works. Today, the 5,000-sqaure-foot former Missoula Recycling Center is all exposed beams, brick, and wet concrete. Marshall and Grant envision a 1,700-square-foot taproom; a large patio overlooking Toole Avenue, near where it meets Spruce and Scott streets; and, in the center of it all, the steam-heated brewing system they recently acquired from Boston. "The whole brewing process will kind of be in the customer's lap," Grant says.
When Draught Works opens in July, it will be Montana's 28th craft brewery, which ranks the state second in the country in number of breweries per capita, behind only Vermont, according to the national Brewers Association. "If we hit 33 or so breweries in Montana, we might find ourselves being No. 1," says Tony Herbert, director of the Montana Brewers Association. The state's on its way: 406 Brewing Company, in Bozeman, opened in late April; Fat Jack's Tap Room, in Laurel, started pouring late last year; and, Herbert says, the 29th brewery will soon open its doors in Great Falls.
"Montana's really followed national trends in terms of creating these businesses here in the past 20 years," Herbert says. "This whole phenomenon started back in the mid-1990s with a couple of our existing and great breweries right there [in Missoula], and off we go."
In 2010, overall beer sales in the U.S. dropped an estimated 1 percent by volume, according to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, while the craft brewing industry grew 11 percent by volume and 12 percent by revenue. Microbreweries in Montana collectively generate about $20 million in revenue and employ more than 200 people, according to the Montana Brewers Association.
Draught Works (which they originally were going to call Hellgate Brewing Company) could cement Missoula as Montana's craft-beer capital. It joins the city's three staple breweries—Big Sky, Kettlehouse, and Bayern—and two other recently opened downtown taprooms that serve Montana-made beer, Flathead Lake Brewing Company and Tamarack Brewing Company.
Marshall and Grant are betting that Missoula is far from reaching its beer saturation point. They look to comparably sized Asheville, N.C., home to 10 craft breweries, and Portland, Ore., which supports about 30. "If a place like Wibaux, Montana can support a brewery very successfully, and Stevensville, and Belt, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Missoula can support five, six, seven breweries," Marshall says.
However many breweries Missoula supports, Marshall believes they don't compete against each other, but rather against the national labels. "It's taking market share from Bud," he says. "There's still a lot of market share to be had there before we turn on each other." Adds Grant: "It doesn't feel competitive at all. It's very much a family."
Some Montana bars, though, might consider breweries competition. The Montana Tavern Association, for example, has staunchly opposed legislative attempts to extend breweries' required closing times from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., fearing that doing so would eat into bars' business.
Herbert sees it another way: "I think [bars] are being affected in a positive manner. Montana taverns, many are not the taverns they are without Montana-made beer. I think if you go into these businesses today, if all you had were American lagers on tap, a lot of people are going to say, 'Whoa. That's not really what we're looking for.'"
Marshall and Grant, both graduates of Chicago's Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy, take a break from their work to check in with Keith Ledford of Blue Dog Log Furniture, right next door. He's making Draught Works' 30-foot-long and three-feet-wide bar. The casing is made of planks pulled from the warehouse's original floor. "We're in this model of recycling the recycling center," says Marshall, who was born and raised in Missoula. The bar top, he says, was fashioned from a massive log submerged in Flathead Lake for 60 or 70 years. Ledford, Marshall, and Grant spend 10 minutes talking about the bar's design and how best to work around two holes where straps once passed through as it floated down the Flathead River.
When the bar's in place and Draught Works opens its doors, Grant says it will offer five kinds of beer. "At any given point, once we get up and running and six months in, you'll be able to walk in here and get eight or ten."
For Grant, who holds a business degree from the University of Montana, Draught Works carries on a family tradition. His father owned Milestown Brewing Company, in Miles City. When Grant was a freshman in college, his father's business partner decided he wanted out, and the brewery closed. "It was about the time...that I decided I wanted to be a brewer for a living," Grant says, "always with the mindset of owning my own place—I guess following my dad."