Great Falls Finally Joins the Team
For years, craft beer fans have been sitting around in Montana taprooms scratching their heads and theorizing why the Big Sky State's third largest city, Great Falls, didn't have a brewery. Well, now, we'll have to back to go back to discussing fishing and football or politics because that void has been filled.
On Christmas Eve 2011, an aggressive young entrepreneur named Evan Bowser turned on the OPEN sign for Bowser Brewing Company and presto, Great Falls was back in the brewing biz for the first time in 43 years. Back in 1968, the Electric City's last brewery, the Great Falls Brewery, maker of an ultra-popular Montana standard, Great Falls Select, was purchased and moved to Portland.
Bowser Brewing is the consummate family-owned small business. Evan Bowser--at 26, the youngest brewery owner in Montana--manages the business with support from his wife, Michelle, and parents, Deb and Richard. "Right now, it seems like I'm working about 16 hours a day," he said, without the slightest hint of remorse.
When I made my first visit to Bowser Brewing about two weeks after it opened, I had several surprises. First, I was expecting a small "starter" taproom common among new microbreweries, but found a huge tasting room with a welcoming environment with wifi, a fireplace and comfy couches and capacity of 168 plus 40 more in a room in back reserved for private parties. Second, the taproom didn't repeat the mistake of several other breweries, new and expanded, by not paying attention to acoustics; it had reasonably low ceilings and even old retired guys could hear each other. Third, I had no problem finding a place to park; many if not most Montana breweries rely on on-street parking, but Bowser has two off-street parking lots. And fourth, what a location! Instead of being tucked away in a warehouse district like a lot of breweries, it was right on 10 Avenue South, the busiest street in Montana, within a stone's throw of the dorms and classrooms of the University of Great Falls."
But that isn't all that differentiates Bowser Brewing from its brethren, said Bowser. "The biggest difference is our diversity of beers," he argued. "Our small, seven-barrel system allows us to do a lot of different beers. We'll have something new on tap most of the time when you come in. We'll also be doing some weird beers, something a lot of brewers won't do."
Another difference is, I'm fairly sure, is" "We also take requests for a specific beers." In other words, if you have a type of beer you especially like but can't find, Bowser might make a batch for you. If you don't buy it all, the rest goes on tap. If customers like it, "we might make more of it," Bowser said.
Also different than most breweries who sell pints in their taprooms, Bowser opted for 12-ounce glasses
Lastly, have you ever seen a growlette? You can see one at Bowser Brewing. It's a 32-oouce, "half-growler" for customers who want fresh draught beer at home but consider the normal, 64-ounce growler a bit too much to handle. I don't believe any other brewery in Montana sells growlettes.
"But there are a lot of similarities, too," he pointed out. "We went around to a lot of the breweries in Montana and tried to make our place similar in many ways."
For example, he has local art adoring the walls, uses Montana barley malt and hops (some of which he grows himself), has live music three or four nights each week, and stresses a Montana image in his décor--witness the beer menus on the backs of old Montana license plates, the Montana-shaped sampler tray, and a great collection of Montana beer memorabilia in a glassed case in the corner of the taproom.
Same goes for the beer. "We want a Montana theme for our beers as much as possible, funky Montana anyway."
And Bowser's plan is working out mighty fine so far. "We're already filling the place up on Friday and Saturday nights, only after two weeks of being open," he said, and we have a wide diversity of customers--from college students to geezers." Customers can also enjoy lunch or dinner with their beer by ordering food from McKenzie River Pizza or Big Mouth BBQ, both able to deliver to the brewery.
"You have to have good beer right when you open," he noted, referring to a mistake sometimes made by new breweries.
At this point, Bowser plans to sell all or almost all of the beer they produce right there in his sizeable taproom--no bottles or cans, but down the road, possibly some retail distribution in small, 5.7-gallon kegs, "but not in Great Falls." He wants his taproom to be the only place in town where microbrew fans can find his beer.
So, when in Great Falls and in the mood for a locally brewed craft beer, now you know the only place where you can find one.