Where They Dig Beer
From Newwest.net, 12-09-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Quarry Brewing: Where They Dig Beer, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with Newwest.net. All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)
Quarry's new home in Uptown Butte.
Photo by Bill Schneider.
In Butte, America, they dig things, like copper and silver, big statues on big hills, hunting and fishing, labor unions, big pits, and now, they dig beer, too, all because of Quarry Brewing, one of Montana's newest microbreweries.
Butte has a long tradition of brewing beer and has many long-ago-closed breweries, but for many years, the Mining City has been without a brewery. Now, the Schnabels have come to town and fixed that problem, launching Butte's first microbrewery.
Chuck Schnabel, co-owner (with his wife Lyza) and head brewer, grew up in nearby Anaconda and spent many years brewing beer for the Ram Brewery in Lakewood, Washington before moving back to the Mining City. After opening his brewery in September 2007, he has been bringing back the craft beer tradition to Butte after a 40-year absence. Through the years, Butte became a Bud Town, but not the Schnabels are gradually converting the locals away from the national brands and back to microbrew--"when they're ready," of course, he emphasized. But he's proud to have done a lot of conversion in his first few years.
Originally located in a crammed space behind a garage door on Galena Street, Quarry has recently moved to a new, much larger location on West Broadway. The new space roughly doubles the space available for the taproom and production facility. Although you can access the new taproom from Broadway, the main entrance is on Montana Street.
"We kept the same ambiance from the old taproom and designed the new place to feel like a mine shaft," noted Lyza Schnabel. Don't forget; they really dig beer at Quarry Brewing.
Quarry's new world headquarters is a historic, five-story, 30,000-square-foot hotel--built in 1917, but not occupied for about 20 years. "We have a long-term plan for each of the five floors," she explained. Along with the brewery and taproom, the Schnabels plan to open coffee shop and deli, plus a gift shop and movie theater on the first floor. They have the second and third floors reserved for European-style hotel rooms and will rent the fourth floor out for receptions, parties and meetings. Eventually, they hope to convert the fifth floor into a condo for their own living space.
Ambitious plans, no doubt, and great news for the re-development goals of Uptown Butte.
And regular customers need not fret about too much change. Lyza and Chuck still operate one of the friendliest taprooms in Montana. You can bet on finding Chuck there, busily multi-tasking--brewing beer, pouring pints, filling growlers, chatting with customers, but never too busy to take time to talk to anybody about his favorite subject, craft beer, or any other subject. I've visited every craft brewery in Montana, except one (Missouri Breaks), and I'd say Quarry has close to the most pleasant, most family friendly taproom of them all.
"We are truly a Mom and Pop operation," Chuck Schnabel described his new business. "We only have two employees, my wife and I."
But with the grandiose new plans, well, I'm betting on a few new jobs being created in Uptown Butte.
Most brewers encourage the spirit of community in their tasting rooms, often with what's called "community tables." the Schnabels has taken that a step farther by buying old church pews instead of bar stools for each side of the tables. He's also set aside an area with a blackboard for kids (including, often, his own two children) to enjoy themselves while their parents enjoy a pint and soak in a little local wisdom.
Like many microbreweries, Quarry has a Mug Club with 150 members, but unlike most, it's hard to get in. When I first visited the new brewery a few months after it opened, there were already 162 people on the waiting list.
Quarry's new, bigger taproom.
Photo by Bill Schneider.
"If you let everybody in," Chuck Schnabel noted. "It wouldn't be special." You have to be a taproom regular to qualify, but if you get more regular, he admitted, you can "move up the list."
Mug Club members pay $35 annual fee, which includes a filled growler and a dollar off future refills. Members pay $3.50 for a pint, like all customers, but they drink out of their own 20-ounce mug with a fill line, so they get the full 16 ounces, which you almost never get when using a pint glass.
"But it isn't about mugs on the wall," Schnabel added. "It's about taking care of your regulars and knowing about their life and family. We're really about a sense of community and enjoying a beer made by a guy you know."
That statement pretty much embodies Schnabel's business philosophy, not dramatically different than many microbrewers, but he's obviously a bit more serious about it than some others. With that possible exception, in fact, he couldn't really come up with an answer when asked how his operation differed from his brethren in the Montana microbrewing industry.
"Everybody in this business is passionate about his beer," he said. "The microbrew industry is here to stay. It will get more and more like Europe."
Schnabel brews four basic beers--amber, gold, pale ale and porter--and two seasonals each year, which are released at a semi-annual Mug Club Party, so members get the first chance at them.
Quarry Brewing's entire marketing theme is about mining--everything from the beer names to the logo on the door to the shovel-shaped taster tray made by the local sheltered workshop.
Unlike most Montana brewers (I think Kettle House in Missoula is the only other one), Quarry is heavy into the pig business--party pigs, that is, which are small, brown. pig-shaped kegs. And yes, they're lovable.
Party Pigs hold 2.25 gallons, and they don't go stale like a growler does a few days after it's opened. Schnabel has sold about 60 pigs so far--actually, to be politically correct, they're "adopted." Each adopted pig gets an official "birth certificate" and names given to them by their proud parents, like Babe or Bruno.
Extra special care of pigs is strongly encouraged, Schnabel emphasizes, and there's no tolerance policy for pig abuse.
"We have to have some fun," he said with his signature big grin from behind the bar as he told me about his adopt-a-pig program. "We can't get all wrapped up in this fast-paced lifestyle. Butte tends to have a tough image, but it's really just a big, friendly town."
That's about the time when he received a call from his wife and she asked where he was and he said, "I'm in church."-Bill Schneider