406 Brewing, one of Montana's newest breweries (opened in April 2011) is still developing its theme and marketing strategy, but owner and brewmaster Matt Muth has made one big decision.
"We're never going to have a list of basic beers," he said. "We'll always be non-traditional in that respect."
Instead, unlike every other brewery I've visited, 406 will have what Muth describes as "an ever changing line-up. Beers will come and go, and if they're popular, they might come back. We're really not for the guy who wants to come in and have the same beer every time."
Nor does Muth want to develop a reputation for any particular style of brewing i.e. German, American, British, etc. Instead, he wants to develop his own style and "not paint myself into a corner."
"We're small, and we can do a lot of variety," he said, and that's precisely what he plans to do. "I want people to be surprised when they come in."
Muth is expecting to brew up about 300 barrels during his first year, and right now, you'll need to go to his new taproom conveniently tucked away on the north edge of the Gallatin County Fairgrounds to sample it.
"We have a different model," he explained. "We only sell out of the brewery (pints and growlers), which means no bottles or cans or keg distribution at this time.
Muth is emphasizing taste over alcohol content with several of his tasty brews coming in at or close to 4 percent, which is about the same as a lot of national brands. He'd like customers to be able to enjoy a couple of pints without having to worry about the drive home. "Right now, we have the lowest alcohol content beer in the state," he said, "exactly 4 percent, which is less than Pabst Blue Ribbon."
Why the name 406 Brewing? I asked. "We sort of view it as The Montana Brewery," he answered, but of course, he can't go there because there's already a brewery in Billings with that name.
Actually, he had originally planned to be Crazy Mountain Brewing, but a California company beat him to the punch at the Trademark Office and opened a brewery with that name in Colorado.
Muth started home brewing in college and later spent shifts brewing for two local breweries, Bozeman Brewing and Madison River Brewing, before deciding to open his own business. "Most of the craft brewers are just glorified home brewers," he noted.
A lot of Montana breweries stress buying local products an supporting small local businesses, but Muth has taken that to the extreme with his "low miles" philosophy. He used mostly local products in his new taproom, notably the old mill saw blade embedded in the corner of the bar and benches made from old wooden beams from historic Lehrkind's Bozeman Brewery that Prohibition closed back in 1919, but in the glory years produced as much as 40,000 barrels of beer per year. He also features local artists and photographers on the taproom walls.
Some of his hops are picked locally one day and brewed the next day at 406. He's also trying for a "full circle" policy on local products. For example, he plans to use his spent mash to feed pigs at local farms and then sell that pork on premises.
His next big step, incidentally, will be finishing up the kitchen and start serving a limited menu of locally grown food, heavy on meats and cheeses, and stone-fired pizza. "We're also going to make our own bread and pizza dough with our beer."
Muth expects to have the food service up and running before the end of the year.
"Our food will be based on whatever is fresh and local," he said, "and the menu will constantly change, just like the beer selection."
The bottom line is you won't know what you'll find to drink or eat when you go to 406 Brewing, but you can rely on it being tasty, fresh and locally grown.