HELENA – Craft brewing in Montana has evolved considerably over the past few decades and its place in Montana history has not gone unnoticed.

“It didn’t just come about overnight.  It was a gradual progression from the 1980’s up until modern times that experienced a lot of bumps in the road,” explained Montana Historical Society archivist and oral historian Anneliese Warhank.  She just recently began the process of documenting the resurgence of craft brewing in Montana with the help of a grant from Humanities Montana.

Among her interviews, President and Owner of Lewis and Clark Brewing in Helena – Max Pigman – who’s part of that, having been brewing for the last 15 years.

“You can see we went through a huge phase before prohibition, a huge growth phase, then it went away and now it seems to be going that way again,” said Pigman.

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For him, part of what’s cementing craft brewing in modern Montana history is how it’s being made.

“We’re using as many local ingredients, we’re using local labor and we’re using other local people to support what we do, people just have a tendency to want to support local more and more now,” added Pigman. 

The economic impact of craft brewing in Montana is just one aspect of its historical value, there’s also the sense of community that has changed since the industry has taken off.

“I really do want to hone in on the role a taproom plays in a community,” explained Warhank.  “Because a lot of communities, a lot of these breweries that are in really rural, very small communities the taproom has become kind of a cultural hub.”

Pitman agrees.  He said, “This has been going on for centuries and centuries where a pub type environment, people can get together and have some communication amongst different groups is really a big reason why this has not only grown, but also a big reason why we should historically look at this.”

Also on the list of why now: the fact that many of those involved in the industry, are still in it.

“Those people who pioneered the industry, the modern industry, are still around and still in the industry for the most part.  And the beauty of oral histories is it gives the voice to those individuals,” said Warhank.