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Helena’s Lewis & Clark Brewing

Home of the Hoppiest Beer in Montana

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)


Karen and Max Pigman.


Lewis & Clark Brewing in Helena, Montana, used to be a Sleeping Giant. And perhaps it still is.

In March 2002, Max Pigman bought the struggling Sleeping Giant Brewing and renamed it Lewis & Clark Brewing. Ever since, his business has been anything but sleepy.

"We kept the Sleeping Giant name for about two years," Pigman explained, but then decided to re-name it. "Outside of Helena, the term 'sleeping giant' (a recognizable mountain north of town) wasn't well known, and we started marketing our beer outside Helena. Also, we decided the words 'sleeping' and 'beer' didn't really go together."

Or do they?

Also, he noted, the former owners eventually filed for bankruptcy, so he had a hard time dealing with vendors and getting materials because the name associated him with the bankruptcy, even though there was no financial connection.

Why Lewis & Clark? "Since we are in the only Lewis & Clark County in the United States, it seemed like a good fit."

The new brand seemed to do its job. Pigman believes the entire Montana brewing industry continues to grow, "and we're growing along with it. We've had slow steady growth ever since we started. Most breweries are having enough growth to buy new equipment or upgrade equipment, and most have experienced growth in their taprooms. Those on-site sales are pivotal to our business."

That was back in 2008 when I first interviewed Pigman. Now, growth at Lewis & Clark is clearly several notches above "slow and steady." In 2010, Pigman purchased a historic paint factory in central Helena and started working on a major expansion. "We just needed more space," he said at the time.

Pigman had planned to have his new building ready to go in late 2010, but a string of aggravating delays pushed that opening date almost a year until August 2011. He has--finally, I'm sure he feels--completed the move from his crammed lower-level space below the Brewhouse Pub & Grille on Getchell Street over to the massive new headquarters for Lewis and Clark Brewing on Dodge Street.

I scored an advance tour of the new facility a couple of weeks before it opened and was blown away by it. Not only has he gone from a 4,000-foot leased space to his own 20,000-foot facility (with even more space available for future growth), but everything else is bigger. Pigman was running at capacity at his old location, about 2,000 barrels per year, but now, he has space to do five times that. Plus, space for a much larger taproom, space for bands to set up and offer live music, space for storing more materials, space for two big coolers, space for private events, space to grow hops, space for a huge outdoor beer garden, and after all that, even more space to rent out to other businesses.

"This whole place is just oozing with character," Pigman boasts, and then he went on to explain how he retained as much of it as possible. He kept as much of the original stone walls as possible, the bars in the jailhouse windows, an old steel, paint-splattered staircase "as a tribute to Columbia Paints," and more.

All at the cost of $2 million!

When people pour that kind of money into a business expansion, it's safe to say that at least one slice of Montana's economy, craft brewing, is booming even as others struggle

I guess that's all good news, but for those of us who have grown fondly accustomed to Lewis and Clark's dimly lit, crammed, OSB-furnished taproom hidden behind the fermenters, well, we were suffering a tinge of remorse over the move.

Fortunately, Pigman had been thinking about us. To keep us hoppy, he built a little spiffy mezzanine over the top of his large spiffy taproom, and then basically re-created the old taproom there--same bar, same tables, same stools, even a little OSB on the walls as a finishing touch. And a plate glass floor, no less, so we can look down at the crowds below.

Brewer Sean Tobin (left) and owner Max Pigman.

During my tour, it became clear how proud Pigman was of the work he did to preserve the historic character of the old building built by T.C. Power back in 1880. Originally, the building was used as a smokehouse, then an icehouse, then a jailhouse, and several other businesses over the past 131 years. For the last 70 years, it has served as a paint manufacturing plant operated by Columbia Paints.

"This whole place is just oozing with character," Pigman boasts, and then he went on to explain how he retained as much of it as possible. He kept as much of the original stone walls as possible, the bars in the jailhouse windows, an old steel, paint-splattered staircase "as a tribute to Columbia Paints," and more.

At the same time, the new furnishings have a matching historic flair like the concrete/rebar bar, stamped concrete floors that look like old stone and wood, and the dumb waiter installed to get beer up to his old crusty customers sure to be hanging out up in the mezzanine.

He even decided to make the urinals in the men's room out of old beer kegs and use 3/8-inch plate steel for the stalls, which I'm sure no other brewery in Montana has done.

You're in the jailhouse now.

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