Bitter Root Brewing
Maker of the Last Best Brew
From Newwest.net, 3-25-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Lewis & Clark Brewing Home of the Fly Hoppiest Beer In Montana,, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with Newwest.net. All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)
Nicol and Tim Bozick. Photo Courtesy: Bill Schneider
If you live in or travel to Montana, the Last Best Place, you need to sample the Last Best Brew, right? But you won't find it just anywhere.
To find the Last Best Brew, you have to travel to western Montana and find a pub and eatery specializing in real good beer and therefore serving Montana microbrews. Or better yet, go to the source, over to downtown Hamilton at Bitter Root Brewing, where they make it and serve it every day of the week.
But what exactly is the Last Best Brew? For Bitter Root Brewing co-owner Tim Bozik, it's a lot more than his innovative marketing slogan. It's the beers he makes, all of them.
What makes Bitter Root Brewing different than other breweries in Montana? When you drive up and see the big sign that says, "Live Music," even I could figure it out. Bitter Root Brewing is more than a microbrewery making 1,350 barrels of beer per year. Bitter Root also has a full restaurant on premises, called the Brewer's Grill, where you can enjoy a great meal with your Last Best Brew.
Interestingly, because so few breweries serve food, many taproom customers believe there's a law preventing it, but there's no such restriction. Most breweries like to concentrate on making and selling beer, and more than one has already told me, "We don't know much about running a restaurant?"
That makes Tim Bozik and his daughter, Nicol, co-owners of Bitter Root Brewing, different than their brethren. They know how to make beer and run a restaurant, all spiced with good tunes on Thursday and Saturday nights.
Using some converted diary farming equipment, Bitter Root Brewing started up in 1998, occupying a tiny building behind their current prime location they moved to in 2004. Now, "after eleven years of beer," as Tim Bozik described it, the brewery has a modern, 6,000-square-foot, highly visible location a half-block off U.S. Highway 93 on the eastern end of downtown Hamilton and with a large beer garden out back.
In the past, Bozik explained, they used to have pig roasts that turned into rather large, tailgate-style parties. That experience told them people liked food with their beer. Who would have guessed that, eh? So now Hamilton has the Brewer's Grill with its menu of delicious, fresh pub fare ranging from fish tacos and burritos to burgers and chicken strips.
Bitter Root also bottles beer, but only in 22-ounce bottles, another move that sets them apart from other brewers. Most others use 12-ounce bottles.
Another difference is the names, or I should say, lack thereof. "We decided not to get into the name game," Bozik says. Consequently, the last-best-brews are named things like "porter" and "amber." He does, however, have a favorite: "Our flagship beer is our IPA."
(I suspect there is one more difference. I believe this is the only father-daughter team owning and running a brewpub in Montana.)
Bozik admits times were tough in the early years, but he has good growth in recent years. Right now, he's fairly happy with the status quo and is mainly interested in serving his current accounts instead of finding more.
In late 2008, Bozik brought in a new general manager, Jason Geoltz, who "brought a lot of energy to the on-going party" and helped push production up to a record 1,500 barrels per year.
In addition to the 1999 law allowing breweries to sell beer in taprooms and the decision to open the Brewer's Grill, Bozik likes to credit MaltEurope, the new malting facility in Great Falls, Montana, for the success of microbrewing in Montana, in general and his business in particular. "This is the most modern malting facility in the world, "he said, "and we lobbied hard for it."
They offer live music too. Photo Courtesy: Bill Schneider
Bozik gets all of his malt from the Great Falls plant, International Malting, and rolled off a list of other Montana brewers who also support the plant.
That support goes with the "local dynamic" pervasive throughout the microbrewing industry, a focused support for local suppliers that has turned taprooms into European-style neighborhood pubs with loyal customers bonded to them.
This reminds me of Miller and Anheiser-Busch still insisting microbreweries and all their great-tasting brews aren't a threat to their numbers. And if you believe that….-Bill Schneider