Draught Works Brewery in Missoula’s historic Westside neighborhood epitomizes the rapid growth in Montana's craft brewing industry and how important it is to the state's economy.
The brewery recently announced that it has begun a much-anticipated expansion project, and the owners are in the process of renovating a 5,000-square-foot space next door to install a state-of-the-art automated canning machine.
The new investment will allow Draught Works, at 915 Toole Ave., to more than double its current production capacity from 3,100 barrels in 2016 to an estimated 6,000 in 2017.
Combined, craft beer brewers in Montana plan on making a total of $17.6 million in capital investments from 2016 to the end of 2017, according to a recent survey conducted by economists at the University of Montana. That’s up from an estimated $9 million from 2014-2015, suggesting growth in the industry is accelerating.
Jeff Grant and Paul Marshall founded Draught Works in 2011 by redeveloping an abandoned recycling warehouse that was operational in the 1930s. They were focused on cultivating the taproom experience for the past five years, but now that Freestone Climbing Center has moved out of the space next door (and into a new larger facility at 1200 Shakespeare St.), the time was right to expand.
“The support we’ve received over the past five years from the community and Montana in general has been amazing,” said Grant, who is also the brewmaster. “We are super-excited to continue our growth and offer our fans a more portable, convenient, renewable package.”
Draught Works takes their beer recipes pretty seriously – they won the Very Small Brewing Company and the Very Small Brewer of the Year awards at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2014.
The brewery will can three of its most popular beers to start: their bestseller Scepter IPA, the My Ruca American Pale Ale and “That’s What She Said” Cream Ale. They’ll can a fourth beer this summer, (hint: it may involve locally-grown fruit) and will consider seasonal cannings of favorites like Coconut Last Rites Mexican Chocolate Porter. The first three beers will be available in six packs of 12-ounce cans starting in early April throughout western Montana.
The brewery has roughly 24 employees (18 full-time equivalent) right now.
The canning line, much of which was purchased in Germany, will allow them to produce about 6,000 cases a month and hire several more people. It’s not just good news for Draught Works: When Missoula beer is sold out-of-town, that means money is flowing into the local economy.
A study this year by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana found that the state’s economy is larger, more prosperous and more populous because of the craft brewing industry.
From 2010 to 2015, Montana craft beer production increased by 87 percent, while sales have increased by 111 percent and employment by 204 percent. Expenditures increased by 140 percent and payrolls by 154 percent.
The operations of craft brewers have created 1,044 additional, permanent year-round jobs and more than $33 million in personal income. The state’s population has increased by roughly 280 people because of breweries.
The study from BBER was commissioned and paid for by the Montana Brewers Association. The BBER got survey responses from 61 of the 71 breweries in the state, so the economic impact of all breweries is actually probably greater than what is reported.
The production of beer has increased from 87,442 barrels in 2010 to 163,217 barrels in 2015, and sales have increased from $21.8 million to $45.9 million.
A key economic statistic is how much of the market share of overall beer purchases is being captured by locally owned and operated breweries. The study found that the proportion of vendor purchases coming from within Montana increased from 38 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in 2015. That’s $19.8 million that went to Montana-owned breweries rather than out-of-state beer.
In 2014 and 2015, roughly 36 percent of Montana craft beer purchases came from agricultural producers within the state of Montana, totaling $1.4 million and $1.6 million, respectively. Those purchases include hops, barley, malt, fruits, yeast, honey and other products.
Before Grant and Marshall founded Draught Works (pronounced Draft Works), that portion of the historic Westside neighborhood was a declining industrial zone neglected by the concentration of food and beverage offerings of downtown. They were the first retail business in the area, and several other business popped up not long after they were established.
They purchase furniture and screen-printed clothing from nearby businesses, and helped get an easement for the bike trail directly east of the property. Their sunny deck has become a community gathering spot in the summer months, and they feature local musicians, artists and events to raise money for nonprofits in their taproom year-round. It's easy to see why they've succeeded, and Marshall and Grant are happy they have a permanent home in Missoula.
“We always knew we were going to can our beer at some point,” Marshall said. “Things have gone really well and our customers have been great. We're not going anywhere.”