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Beaver Creek Brewing

From Newwest.net, 11-23-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Bayern Brewing: The Only German Brewery in the Rockies, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with Newwest.net. All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)



Above:Beaver Creek's sign and taproom in beautiful downtown Wibaux, and their mascot.
Photos by Doug Doty.

When I started writing about Montana's breweries back in 2008 I carefully calculated the miles I'd have to drive and the amount of time it'd take to see all the microbreweries in Montana.

Then, Jim Devine called and blew up my plan. He and his two partners, Sandy Stinnett and Russell Houck, had just started the Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux, and he wondered when I'd be out to see him.

And I asked, as a lot of people do, "Where's Wibaux?"

The answer is: A long way from my keyboard. Wibaux is out in far eastern Montana, along I-94, shouting distance from North Dakota, 485 miles or seven hours of driving from Helena. Now, with the sad news of Lang Creek Brewing of Marion, Montana, closing, Beaver Creek can probably inherit Lang Creek's claim to being "America's most remote brewery."

When Devine called, understandably excited about his new place, I had tell him driving to Wibaux wasn't in my plan, and I might not be able to do a story on his place.

Then, Doug Doty, a loyal reader and microbrew fan, came along and saved the day. "I'm headed to Glendive for Thanksgiving and hope to make a pilgrimage to the Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux," he said in his email. "Let me know if you want any info."

"Definitely" was my response, and with his help I managed to add a second-hand article on Beaver Creek.

Then, this year, I had my chance to visit what I've started calling "Montana's Microbrew Oasis," because it's the only place to find a great beer out there in the Budweiser Desert. Beaver Creek is, in fact, the only microbrewery between Billings and Fargo.

In August 2009, my fishing partner, Gene Colling, and I drove back to Minnesota for some muskie hunting, and I convinced him we needed to stop at the only Montana microbrewery I hadn't visited.

He agreed, somewhat reluctantly, and then when we rolled into Wibaux, population 481, we started having second thoughts. The first impression wasn't great. Wibaux, like thousands of other small prairie towns, looks a little rough around the edges as it tries to find a way to survive.

Have you ever tried to convince yourself that you had a bad idea; that wouldn't turn out as planned; definitely wouldn't be fun? We did, but those concerns vanished the instant we walked through the door of the Beaver Creek Brewery."

It's a major re-model of a historic building in downtown Wibaux and looks like most taprooms--a chalkboard with the beer names and descriptions, a few tables and old church pews for community seating and a bar with three or four regulars leaning on it. Unlike the rest, it has a big beaver overlooking it all.

All taprooms are friendly places where it's easy to meet people, but I'd have to say Beaver Creek Brewery has taken this dynamic to new heights.

We sat down and ordered a beer, and Devine came up, introduced himself, and we started talking about the beer biz, his expansion plans (already expanded once in his first year but close to his 400 barrels/year capacity), his country western music career, the upcoming hunting season, how he quit his day job to work full-time at the brewery, Wibaux Gold, his "Bud Light transformation beer," and other worldly issues.

About then, his wife Sandy brought around fresh bread, baked on site, and gave all customers a free sample. You know how it smells and tastes just out of the oven, right?

And unlike most of our economy, the microbrew business is booming out in Wibaux. Devine sells most of his production right there in the taproom, but also has a few handles in the local area. That sounds like what I've heard from many brewers, but it's sure nice to know, it can also happen out in the tiniest of markets, deep in the heart of Coors Country. That should send a shiver up the spines of mega-brewer CEOs.

And when I think about it, perhaps Beaver Creek's market might be bigger than it seems at first glance. Devine and his partners can appeal to all those long-haul travelers, heading east and west on that endless freeway, many of them probably not too averse to stumbling across a beer oasis only three minutes off the Interstate. I can already visualize the billboard on the outskirts of Billings: BEAVER CREEK MICROBREW OASIS, 247 MILES.

We arrived at the taproom about 5 pm, and halfway through our first pint, we looked around, and viola, the place was packed--50-60 people having nothing but fun on a Sunday evening in Wibaux.

We helped ourselves to dinner at a big cooker of beer brats and fresh-out-of-the-oven, whole-wheat buns, and they were soooo good. No more worries about finding a restaurant.

Then, one of Beaver Creek's loyals named Charlie Dennison brought in his guitar and started strumming away. Seeing this, Jim grabbed his, and they launched into a their version of All Night Long. People started singing along, and before you knew it, we had a party going on.

But this is "just a regular night at the Beaver Creek Brewery," Jim assured us, between songs.

"But it can get difficult tending bar with a guitar," he admitted.

We ended up closing the place down at 8 pm and having one of the best times we've had while out on the road. When we finally forced ourselves out the door, Jim and Charlie were still behind the bar singing Bob Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

Instead of eating a chain restaurant and enduring a domestic beer, we had the good stuff in a friendly, small-town setting no chain or mega-brewery could ever replicate. And you can take the kids, too, and treat them to one of Beaver Creek's fabulous root beer floats or a pint of root beer brewed onsite.

So, if you happen to be heading out to eastern Montana, for any reason, plan ahead, so you get your chance to see the Beaver Creek Brewery. Be prepared for a fun-filled night where the beavers taste better, where everybody is in a good mood, and as Jim warns, "where you never know when a song will break out."

-Bill Schneider

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