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Lone Peak Brewing

Where You Get a Whole Pint

From, 10-19-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Lone Peak Brewing: Where You Get a Whole Pint, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)

Montana's newest brewery.

Photo by Bill Schneider.

Big Sky is one of the newest communities in Montana, so it seems fitting that it has one of the state's two newest breweries. Lone Peak Brewing opened the doors of its new building in October 2007, about the same time Quarry Brewing opened in Butte.

Named after the mighty mountain casting its shadow over entire resort community of Big Sky, Lone Peak Brewery and its owners Steve and Vicky Nordahl definitely do some things differently than other Montana brewers.

For starters, Lone Peak Brewery is the only taproom I've visited (which, I confess, is a lot) where I know I always get a whole pint.

To non-taproom dwellers, this might seem like grousing from hair-splitting, impossible-to-please problem customers, but the fact is, many beer drinkers complain about not getting a "good pour." With pints running $4 each in many tasting rooms, including Lone Peak, customers want and deserve a full 16 ounces, but in most cases, they only get 14 or 15 ounces.

But that's not a problem at the Lone Peak Brewery because the staff serves beer in 20-ounce Imperial pint glasses, but only fills them up to the 16-ounce line--not counting a one-inch head, which adds to the taste--and you don't have to pay for that one-inch of foam.

(Memo to state regulators: Lone Peak is probably the only brewery in the state that ever sells the true 48 ounce maximum to a single customer in single night. Most, if not all, others only serve 45 ounces or less.)

Another difference between Steve Nordahl and his brethren is capacity; he actually has some. Most brewers can't sell more beer because they can't make more beer. Nordahl purposely overbuilt capacity to avoid that situation. "I wanted sales to be my limited factor, not production."

And sales are already good. Even though he celebrated his first anniversary in the Montana microbrew business only two weeks ago, and he's already cranking out craft beer at a rate of 1,000 barrels per year and has his beer on tap in every place in Big Sky, plus a few handles in Bozeman.

Big Sky might seem like a small market, but even if it is, Nordahl is perfectly okay with his choice, emphasizing to me during my visit that he'd rather be a big fish in a small pond than one of many in a big lake. And besides, we agreed, the Big Sky market is probably bigger than most people think it is.

Perhaps more than any other Montana brewer--except, perhaps, Red Lodge Ales-- Lone Peak Brewing serves a tourism market with rapid growth and attractive demographics. In the prime summer and ski season, Nordahl estimates that tourists account for 75 percent of his business.

Big Sky itself is, in fact, quite the growth story. Twenty-five years ago, the South Fork of the Gallatin was a sleepy, scenic valley populated by a few sheep and a bear or two. While visiting Lone Peak Brewery, I also had breakfast with Dax Scheffer, marketing director for the ski resort, who told me that now "close 15,000 people live in Big Sky, if every bed was full."

And thousands of tourists to that number and you probably don't have a "small market."

Tourist come to Big Sky for the skiing in winter, of course, but in summer, tourists flock to Big Sky for the hiking, mountain biking, and fishing--and to escape the crowds of nearby Yellowstone National Park. And as travel agency surveys have shown, many tourists also make a point of finding the nearest microbrewery to sample the local craft beer.

That looks like plenty of out-of-state money to support a local brewery, but Nordahl also prizes his resident customers, which he needs to keep sales up during the shoulder seasons. He does frequent events--such as $2 pints on Tuesday night barbeques--to cater to the local loyals. Like most other Montana microbreweries, Lone Peak has established a strong sense of community. On Thursdays, in fact, he hosts "community night," where $1 of each pint goes to local causes.

Lone Peak Brewing owner Steve Nordahl

Steve Nordahl, owner, brewer and general contractor.

Photo by Bill Schneider.

Nordahl owned a brewery in Maryland before coming to Big Sky and spending his first year in the Madison Range working in construction-designing and building his own brewery (click here to see photos), which in his words, "might be on the most expensive piece of property" in Montana's brewing industry. "I did all the work, laid the floor, built the bar; it was a true labor of love."

So, yes, obviously, like every brewer I've met so far, Nordahl has the passion.

Once up and running, he started producing six basic beers and three seasonal brews, Lone Peak IPA is his specialty. I had a glass and understand why; so be sure to try it next time you're in Big Sky.

Another difference between Lone Peak and most other brewers is the restaurant he has right in his taproom, so while you're there enjoying a complete 16 ounces of extra-hoppy IPA, you can also have a burger or nachos. To date, only one other brewer, Bitter Root Brewing of Hamilton, also serves food in its taproom.

Nordahl started canning his beer in late 2011, so start watching for Lone Peak brews in local supermarkets and gas stations.

Lone Peak Brewing might be new in the microbrew came, but not inexperienced--and clearly here to stay. Next time you're driving down U.S. 1919 through the scenic Gallatin Canyon, take a small detour up the Big Sky Road to see for yourself.

-Bill Schneider

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