The gigantic, beer-soaked, not-a-costume-party party called Oktoberfest just came to an end in Munich, but we beer-loving Americans are still striving to emulate the cool kids across the pond. The Brewery has a history of drawing Oktoberfest out a bit longer (like, two or three weeks… what?), and this year we leveled up with the strategically timed bottle release of our award-winning Vienna lager, Vorfreude. At least here at The Vault, Oktoberfest and Vorfreude go together like wurst and kraut.
Now, the smart kids will note that Vienna is not a German city, but an Austrian one, and that Oktoberfest beer is golden and light, not an amber lager like Vorfreude. Which might lead one to wonder, is this just a lame attempt at piggybacking Oktoberfest to promote our newest release?
It most certainly is not.
Amber lagers have always been an autumn seasonal standard, but the Vienna amber lager does have deep roots in the history of Oktoberfest. It’s one of several styles of beer associated with the centuries-old celebration, and that’s where things get confusing. Here’s why you should say "Prost!" with a Vienna lager in hand this year.
Beer styles can often be traced back to specific countries or regions that influenced the development of the beer, and European countries have produced strikingly similar styles throughout history. Those that became popular in the 19th century are intricately intertwined and can be downright confusing to differentiate. “Oktoberfest” might be the granddaddy of all beer confusion––both the style and the celebration. Since 1818, the first year beer was served at Oktoberfest, at least four different styles of beer have been associated with the event, but there’s only one official Oktoberfest style each year.
So what is the official Oktoberfest beer? Since 1953 it’s been the light, slightly sweet, golden-colored Festbier. But in the earliest years it was a dark lager (the beginnings of today’s dunkel lager). The dark lager remained the official Oktoberfest beer for more than 50 years, but tastes began to change after Munich’s Spaten brewery introduced a lighter, amber lager in 1841, calling it a modern Märzen.
That same year, 250 miles away at Vienna’s Schwechat brewery, a young brewer named Anton Dreher created and released the first Vienna lager (described as a “new Märzen”). He had combined Bavarian lager yeast with a new malt he developed to mimic English pale ales, thereby producing the world’s first pale lager.
Dreher’s new malt was created using an English kilning technique that dried the malt in a new way, producing different color and flavor profiles. He had learned the technique during several years spent visiting English and other European breweries, and it was during that time that, coincidentally, he met and became good friends with Gabriel Sedlmayer II of the aforementioned Spaten brewery.
Like Dreher, Sedlmayer had also returned home to experiment with the English kilning technique, and he eventually created his own new malt. In 1872, he combined that malt with a lager yeast to turn out a beer very similar in color, aroma, and flavor to Dreher’s wildly popular Vienna lager, and he marketed it as Marzen gebraut nach Wiener Art (“March beer brewed in the Viennese way”). Considering this description (as well as evidence that the term Märzen may have first been used in Vienna), it’s been suggested that Sedlmayer’s Märzen was an imitation of Dreher’s lager with a slightly different malt. The new Spaten lager was a hit and it reigned as the official Oktoberfest beer for nearly a century, while the Vienna lager style slowly faded into obscurity.
Vienna lagers saw a resurgence in the 1980s when American craft brewers took interest, but they’re still considered the lesser known cousin to Märzens. Americans like Märzens so much that although Festbier has been the Oktoberfest beer since 1953, Märzen lagers are still what we associate with the festival in the US today. Some German breweries even create “Oktoberfest Märzens” just for the US market. (To further complicate things, there’s also a style called the Austrian Märzen, but it’s quite different than either Vienna lager or German Märzen… A topic for another day.)
Vienna lager is the OG, the quiet inspiration for the world-famous Märzen that Americans in particular just can’t quit (and we’re certainly fans as well). Vorfreude Vienna Lager is our celebration of Anton Dreher’s 19th century innovation and the glorious festival of beer it helped shape. We’ve always taken pride in doing things differently, but we also just like rooting for the underdog. This year, skip the usual and bring a pack of Vorfreude to the party. Then wow your fellow guests with a captivating retelling of the story behind the style.
Wir gehen dann mal unsere Lederhosen und Dirndl für unsere eigene Oktoberfest-Party vorbereiten. Bis dann!
A keg saved my life today.
If you found yourself in Philipsburg, Montana on a particular June day in 1876, you might have heard those words upon an encounter with Mr. Charles Kroger, the celebrated owner of the town’s first brewery (at the same site on which we brew today: the Springs).
Mr. Kroger’s brush with death occurred while on the clock, heading home from delivering beer, “that modern essential to comfort,” as the local paper described it in those days (seems not much has changed). As reported in the Helena Weekly Herald’s “Territorial News” section, “C. Kroger, returning from Bear to Philippsburg with an empty beer wagon, came near losing his life while crossing Flint creek. … He lost his team, and barely succeeded in navigating to the shore on an empty beer keg.”
Charles Kroger was a bit of a celebrity in Philipsburg (sometimes spelled with two P's at that time); regional newspapers gushed about his business from the day he purchased the land. In 1876 Kroger’s Philipsburg brewery had only been open a year, but the town was growing, attracting more hard-drinking miners without family obligations to keep them in check (women and children were a very rare sight).
The “Bear” that the Herald reports Kroger coming from was likely Beartown, the mining camp that he moved to Philipsburg from. Beartown formed in 1865 when gold was struck on Bear Creek, about six miles from the Bearmouth area (by a group clearly lacking in creativity, at least when it came to naming). Beartown was known as “a rowdy, lawless camp that drew prospectors from far and wide” and Kroger likely contributed by running his first brewery there. He shared a house with two other men, one of which was also a brewer. Kroger gained at least five years of brewing experience, while also mining, before meeting his wife and opening the Philipsburg brewery.
We like to imagine that Kroger’s wife, Anna, was a beer lover too, encouraging his entrepreneurial spirit. Although they met in Deer Lodge, both Anna and Charles were from Germany after all, where beer is a major part of the culture. It’s understood that the large number of immigrants from strong beer-drinking countries (like Germany) directly contributed to the emergence of America’s beer culture. Incredibly, per capita consumption rose from under four gallons in 1865 to 21 gallons in 1910!
Kroger’s Brewery sold beer in both bottles and kegs, and, like most breweries of the time, delivered customer orders on a horse-drawn beer wagon. Kroger was driving his wagon with a lightened load after (presumably) delivering beer to Beartown. And then he lost his horses and almost died in Flint Creek. So few details, so many questions!
First of all, we’re told Kroger needed to grasp an empty beer keg to “navigat[e] to the shore” of… Flint Creek?! Locals know Flint Creek as quite narrow, shallow, and slow-moving; it’s tough to imagine it drowning a man. Which tells us Kroger must have been seriously injured if he struggled to get to shore. How might this have happened?
Brewery horses had to be well-trained, but like any horse, they could spook and bolt, breaking free of the wagon or bringing it for the ride, ramming people and buildings and throwing contents to the ground. Drivers themselves were thrown as well (or they chose to jump off), causing head injuries and broken legs, ribs, and necks, sometimes even death. This was actually quite a common sight in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; newspapers were full of stories of “runaways” and their aftermath.
Now consider that Kroger was not in town, but, instead, alone in the country. Those of you lucky enough to have spent the nineties playing Oregon Trail, think back to those tricky river crossings in which any number of things could go wrong, like the wagon getting stuck in the mud or breaking a wheel—and that was with oxen, which were better behaved than horses. Then consider that many horses have a fear of water, even as small as a puddle. We’ll let you do the math from here, but whatever happened that left Kroger in Flint Creek and his team of horses running wild, he eventually managed to make it back to town to tell the story and keep the beer flowing in “unlimited” quantities. That wasn’t the last of Kroger beer wagon runaways, but likely the most memorable.
We say beer wagon drivers were mining town heroes, risking life and limb to supply “that modern essential” to the people. Kroger and company fulfilled that mission ‘til the end, or what surely felt like the end: prohibition. We’re proud to continue his work today, brewing and bottling on the original site, where Kroger’s hoptower stands to this day.
Historic Architecture 101: Walking the Town of Philipsburg with an Eye on Design (and a Beer in Hand)
One need not be a history buff or student of architecture to appreciate the distinct character of the buildings lining Philipsburg, Montana’s business district and surrounding neighborhoods. If you’re lucky enough to have visited our town, one building in particular has surely caught your eye: the colorful, ornate, and towering Sayrs building at the corner of Broadway and Sansome. Yes, the one with BREWERY inscribed in big gold letters on it’s big glass windows. Call us biased, but we have to say our Sayrs home is Broadway’s architectural champion.
Constructed by banker Joseph Hyde and his wife, Mary, in 1888, the Sayrs building was originally known as Hyde Block. It housed First National Bank until the silver crash in 1893, then reopened in 1894. The bank inspired the name of our taproom, as the original vault remains, just to the left of the bar. The Sayrs name graced the building in 1904 when Frank Sayrs bought it, and since then it’s housed a variety of businesses––including a tailor’s shop, drug stores, clothing store, liquor store, and recreation center––until 2012, when a gang of craft beer obsessives moved in with tanks, kegs, and a dog named Bruce.
Of course, our building is just one of the architecturally interesting structures in town, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Philipsburg grew rapidly from the start, but it was two decades after settlement began that the most significant buildings were constructed––during the silver mining boom between 1881 and 1893, and again, to a lesser extent, during the early 1900s. Most construction even utilized locally sourced materials, including granite, brick, and wood, long before it was a box to check on your LEED application. Philipsburg is now considered one of Montana’s best-preserved late-nineteenth-century mining towns.
We’re so proud of our history that we’re just going to say it: you should make the trip to Philipsburg while the weather’s still gorgeous for an afternoon stroll around town––with an eye on design and a beer in hand. Yep, it’s legal to drink in the streets (one more reason to love Philipsburg!), so the Sayrs building is an obvious first stop. Read on for a quick lesson in architectural vocab to impress your friends when you make that trip, and grab a free Philipsburg Territory at any local business for a historic district map and guide (pages 16-24).
Spot these architectural elements on Philipsburg's historic buildings:
Think you’ve got it down? Head into town to test your knowledge or just stare at all the pretty. We’ll be waiting with your pint in the Sayrs building, every day from 10:00 to 8:00.
And one last thing! The stories of the people and businesses that occupied these architectural gems are seriously fascinating but far too numerous to include here. So if you’re itching for more, we highly recommend stopping by our local library, which has a section dedicated to books on Philipsburg history and cheerful librarians to help you browse. As our pal Arthur says, “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!”
All of us at the Brewery are the ‘work hard, play hard’ types; you could say we were built for adventure (just like our bottles!). We asked five of the brew crew to share their favorite way to enjoy the outdoors and their answers did not disappoint.
This year we celebrated Earth Day with a series of daily feel-good Facebook posts on the positive impact of a PBC pint.
Click any photo to enlarge and read more, then scroll through the rest!
Our pals at Discovery Ski Area keep our whistles wet year round with our beers on tap and in the alumi-pint to take with you. We're celebrating the end of another season with the 3rd annual Closing Day Keg Hunt. Join us April 7th for some secret stashes that are worth a case of beer. Free to participate (while kegs last!) and no purchase necessary. Must be 21!
By now you know we’re just down the road from the Wild West’s hidden gem. Check out the first of some of our brew-crew highlights on how their love of hitting the slopes landed them a lifetime of beer making, pouring and selling. Our staff constantly take advantage of all this area has to offer for outdoor recreation and skiing at Discovery Ski Basin is no exception.
Owner Rob's first visit to Discovery inspired him to buy a building downtown Philipsburg. Here's his story.
Most people know we have a hometown ski resort but we’re always surprised to be asked by our friends in Missoula, Bozeman, Helena, and beyond: “Is there anywhere to stay in Philipsburg?” So we decided it’s high time we make a list of some of the many options to sip and stay with us.
Beyond our lovely hotels and cozy bed and breakfasts, we have a long list of vacation rentals (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) that cater to any getaway style.
We think an overnight in the ‘burg is just a generally good idea to fully experience town: our newly refrigerated ice rink, local cross country ski trails, our world famous candy store, year-round fly fishing, just to name a few activities. Beyond that, we all agree that drinking and driving is a bad idea, therefore we are total advocates for having a small-town slumber party! (Please don’t actually try to sleep in the brewery; you will be removed.)
You could spend forever looking at vacation rentals in our area so to save you some time, here are four of our favorites, all within walking distance to the brewery:
The Burg Yurt – The Philipsburg Yurt is a stay you won’t forget: it has a great view of town, the outdoor ice skating rink, and the surrounding mountain ranges. Often when people hear “yurt” they think of compromises... not this yurt. It’s fully loaded with plumbing, a full kitchen and a gas fireplace.
Alpine Haus – This cozy, open floor plan is great for a couple or small group. It’s wood-burning stove and large living area sets the stage for a great evening (post-brewery, of course) for games, reading, or cooking. Oh, did we mention that your 4-legged friends are welcome to join? We think that sure helps paint the picture for a perfect winter evening.
The Historic Barn —This recently renovated historic barn is just steps away from PBC and has an approachable but modern design that will make any couple or small family comfortable during their stay. It has all the comforts of home but is much closer to great beer. Pups welcome here, too!
Rancho Deluxe – Rancho Deluxe is a stones throw from our front door! It can sleep up to 6 and has a great space for hosting dinner, playing games or just relaxing in the ‘burg. Bonus: the owners have a commercial fishing boat in Alaska and stock the fridge with wild-caught salmon available for purchase!
Although we highly recommend checking out this hidden gem, if you aren’t into hitting the slopes there is plenty of family-friendly fun to be had. These lodgings lend a cozy spot to hibernate with a growler…or not! Come raise a glass of Hygge Baltic Porter with us.