Philipsburg Brewing Company opened its doors where boring beer ruled the land--ranchers, forestry workers, shop keepers, teachers, and everyone in between exclusively sipped suds shipped from the far corners of the country and owned by big corporations. You know, those watery concoctions that have been around for over a hundred years, the stuff the craft brewing industry calls “yellow beer” as a not-so-loving nod to their uninteresting approach to beer (if you can even consider this stuff beer!) ––and frequently consumed from a can reading Coors, Bud, or Miller. Hey, there’s certainly a time and place for those beers, but our taproom isn’t one of them.
A key difference between craft beer and the “traditional” American beers referred to above is the super wide variety of styles. Most craft brewers take the basic ingredients––water, yeast, malt barley, and hops––and experiment with adding herbs, spices, fruits, or whatever, or even testing new production techniques.
So, yes, aside from the delicious smorgasboard of flavors, aromas, and textures to choose from, the superiority of craft beer also lies in the way it’s made. Brewers actually go to school to study this ancient trade, and more and more colleges are launching beer brewing degree programs. Mike Elliott, Head Brewer at PBC, attended Oregon State University’s Fermentation Science program and Ben Johnson, Lead Brewer and Recipe Developer, completed Siebel Institute of Technology’s Concise Course in Brewing Technology.
These days, we’re in good company when it comes to Montana craft breweries, yet we’ve also managed to stand out in some pretty interesting ways. Here’s just a taste.
Adventurous and Approachable
We brew with purpose. Ben chooses styles to brew based on many things but that doesn’t include what’s trendy––in the rest of the state, country, or world. *GASP* No Hazy IPA?! Nope, not one around here. That doesn’t mean we brew just for beer snobs. Developing approachable styles that locals can get behind is fundamental to Mike and Ben’s brewing philosophy.
Some of our brews are lost styles that are hard to find in a taproom country-wide; they aren’t the hoppiest or boldest in the land, yet still rich with history and full of character. Case in point: There and Back Again Dark Mild is a taproom favorite that clocks in at 3.9% (session beer, anyone?) and is a rich mahogany color that has a slight maltiness and zero hop aroma and flavor. It’s a real mind-bender for the hop heads out there but anyone who likes beer and has an open mind will appreciate it. (By the way, cheers to the Tolkien family. We’re fans––hence the name––and we’re sorry for your loss.)
Of course, we don’t always build on historic styles. Oftentimes we start from scratch. Exhibit A: 5 Phantoms Pumpkin Spice Barley Wine is pretty damn unique. It’s brewed with real, locally-grown gourds and pumpkins, and Ben hand-grinds the vanilla bean, cloves, ginger, and other spices (we can’t share all our award-winning secrets). Can you really say you’ve had something like it?
Did you know that we use whole-flower hops in all of our brews? The only other brewery that we know does that for sure, like 100% for sure, is Sierra Nevada. The alternative approach is hop pellets or oils, which work fine… But we find that the finished product aroma and flavor is much more predictable (and super tasty) with dried, whole-flower hops. We also appreciate their more natural, unprocessed form.
So why would most breweries use pellets and oils, you ask? Great question. Using whole-flower hops is more time consuming in the brewing and cleaning process, it’s less cost-effective (modified hops like pellets are cheaper), and the hops take up more space in the coolers. We think the benefit to the final product is well worth the extra time and expense. Montana 1 IPA and Tramway Rye Pale Ale, two of our hoppiest of brews, just wouldn’t be the same without those beautiful blooms.
Before water chemistry was well understood, regional beer styles evolved to suit an area's underlying water characteristics. In Dublin, for example, brewers found the highly alkaline, calcium-laden water could balance the acidity of roasted barley, so the resulting Irish stout was full and sweet rather than thin and astringent. Similarly, the sulphate-rich waters of Burton-on-Trent in England helped to give hop-derived bitterness a refined, smooth character and eventually led to the development of hop-forward IPA.
Philipsburg's municipal water supply is a unique combination of two sources; the pure, nearly mineral-free alpine water of Fred Burr Lake is blended with ancient artesian mineral-laden water from Silver Spring. The 3:1 lake-to-spring water ratio yields a lightly mineralized, slightly alkaline brewing liquor that is easy for our brewers to manipulate with mineral additions in order to achieve the desired levels of calcium, sulphate, chloride, and residual alkalinity, each of which helps lend individual character to every beer we create. For example, in our Badfinger Imperial Stout, the raw water is insufficiently alkaline to balance the large amounts of highly roasted malt, which is quite acidic. To counter the acidity we add calcium carbonate, commonly known as chalk, and we use calcium chloride to accentuate the richness of Munich and Vienna malts.
“Water is a brewer's most fundamental and precious resource, yet is often misunderstood or simply overlooked when writing recipes or building breweries,” according to Mike. We consider ourselves mighty lucky to have both perfect brewing water and brewers who are dedicated to understanding how to best use it. During his time at Oregon State University, a quarter of Mike’s curriculum and coursework was dedicated to water chemistry. This taught him to develop his recipes by calculating residual alkalinity and researching what other brewers have done with similar styles to achieve the best results with the water supply he is brewing with. For instance, when building IPA recipes, the conventional wisdom is to have elevated sulphate levels in order to accentuate hop bitterness (we did this in our Tramway Rye Pale Ale), but in the modern juicy IPA trend, some pioneering brewers advocate drastically increasing chloride additions in order to give the beer a full, soft mouthfeel and sort of underplay the bitterness of the hops. This is the approach we took in our Montana 1 IPA.
Our brewers never tire of unveiling new creations. Last year at the Vault we brewed 20 different beers (70% staple brews, 30% specialty) totaling 72 batches, which translates to over 156,000 pints! We’re serving 10 in the taproom now, and plans are under way for the first new brew of the year.
Now hop on that New Beers Resolution! (If you aren’t already on the bandwagon, get in on the New Year, New Beer challenge here.)
We weren’t messing around when we said some of Montana’s top chefs will be judging your Craft Kitchen entries. This week, five of Montana’s most celebrated culinary artists gathered to taste your submissions. Read on to learn more about the pros behind the picks.
Our Philipsburg fans are certainly aware of the world-renowned Ranch at Rock Creek we’re lucky to call a neighbor. The Ranch was the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch, and one of its World’s Best Hotel Bars. We like to think that’s in some part due to their top-notch local beer selection, best enjoyed saddled up to their Silver Dollar Saloon bar—and we mean that quite literally.
At the Ranch at Rock Creek, Executive Chef Josh Drage has created what Forbes calls a locavore’s paradise, where he marries “mountain tradition with modern palate” in designing his daily menus.
Growing up in a small cabin in Anchorage, Alaska, Drage began cooking with his mother at 12 years old. He eventually pursued a career in the culinary industry and completed his formal training at Scottsdale Culinary Institute. From there he gained experience at restaurants in the West before finding his way to the Ranch at Rock Creek the year of its inception.
Chef Sunny Jin's formative cooking skills developed at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, where he won the coveted Grand Toque Award as the top culinary student. Since then he has cooked for some of the world's finest restaurants—Napa Valley’s French Laundry, Catalonia’s El Bulli, and Australia’s Tetsuya’s. Jin says he really earned his cooking chops at French Laundry, where he spent three years working under renowned chefs Thomas Keller and Corey Lee, creating new menus every day.
As the executive chef at the Resort at Paws Up, Jin serves "rustic ranch cuisine" and favors local ingredients—from huckleberries, cherries, and wild chamomile to elk, bison, and trout. (We hear the huckleberry pancakes are something else. Yum.)
Chef Caroline Doern's passion for food spans 17 years, seven of which were spent running a personal chef and catering company. That company led to opportunities to craft dining experiences throughout the country, and also to work with Steve Kuntz, with whom she would eventually open Feast Bistro in Bozeman.
At Feast, sharing exceptional cuisine and inviting guests to participate in an epicurean dining experience is a driving force. Proudly serving sustainable seafood and locally sourced meats and produce, Doern says she considers Feast a platform to “share her passion for simply prepared and superbly executed cuisine.”
In 2018, USA Today named Doern the best female chef in Montana.
Mike Elliott has been making beer professionally since 2007. He enrolled at Oregon State University in 2002, hoping to become an engineer, but advanced calculus convinced him to seek an alternate career path. Luckily, OSU offers a degree in Brewing Science through the Food Science and Technology department, and Mike found the combination of science, art, and community a perfect fit.
Mike learned to cook in college as a line cook in a busy pub on the edge of campus, and credits his hard-bitten Chicago-born boss with instilling a sense of confidence and purpose in his kitchen endeavors and the rest of his work. While he doesn't consider himself a "foodie," Mike appreciates quality, straightforward food prepared with care and conscience. He has been known to weep openly over good steak.
After brewing in Portland and Missoula, Mike was fortunate to meet the owners of Philipsburg Brewing Company just as they were beginning their search for a brewer to get their project up and running. In just a few months the downtown brewery went from an empty shell of a building to a vibrant and beautiful craft brewery and tasting room. The most striking feature of the original brewery is the intimacy beer drinkers have with the brewing process, people, and equipment. The ability for the brewers and drinkers to interact on a personal level makes both working and imbibing at Philipsburg Brewing a memorable experience.
Beer and food go hand-in-hand for Mike, though usually as a complement to the process rather than an ingredient--why pour that delicious beer into a pot when one could pour it directly into a pot belly? An exciting development of the craft beer movement is pairing good food and quality beer in the same way wine pairings work, and Mike has been continually pleased and surprised at the creativity and thoughtfulness chefs put into making this everyday beverage shine in the kitchen.
Ben started brewing on accident, really. He and a buddy were “sitting around looking for something to do” when Ben decided he wanted to learn how to pickle stuff. Lucky for us, it was March so there was nothing to pickle. That is how Ben attempted his first homebrew. This all happened while Ben was still employed in the financial industry. He has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MBA from UNC Chapel Hill. He left finance because his passion for home brewing had reached its maximum potential and he knew he was on to something.
He quit his job and enrolled at Siebel Institute’s Concise Course in Brewing Technology. After his course was complete, he was living out of his car for the better part of 2013 and volunteer brewing at some big name joints. He was at a final round of interviewing with a nationally recognized craft brewery when PBC co-owner Cathy called him up. While recalling the events, Ben said, “I thought, ‘These are just nice people, so I should go see them.'” Ben started with Philipsburg Brewing Company in May 2014 and we couldn’t be more proud to have him.
When Ben isn’t making beer, he’s reading about making beer, talking about making beer, kayaking, cooking, or camping. You can also find him teaching Beer School at the Vault, every first Monday through April.
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.