In the heart of a typical Montana spring snowstorm last week, I stopped in to see the Quarry Brewing Company’s new “digs” in The Grand Hotel on Broadway Street, nestled in Butte’s historic uptown. With the snow it was a quieter, though still lively, Friday night than normal, which allowed me to share great beers and conversation with the owner/brewer, Chuck Schnabel.
“Sales are up 39% in the first three months of 2012,” says Schnabel, “and this is supposed to be our slow season.” Quarry Brewing has been in business since September 2007, but having outgrown its previous space on Galena Street it moved to The Grand Hotel in August 2011, a good move by all accounts. Now Quarry Brewing is expecting to top 1,000-1,200 barrels in production this year. Last year they did about 500 barrels.
Chuck has been busy adding to his “vintage” brewing equipment to keep up with the growth, which he told he bought at “salvage prices” up in Canada, and the equipment dates back several decades. He also recently hired his first assistant brewer so he can spend more time experimenting and dialing in recipes.
At Quarry Brewing, a healthy dose of appreciation is given to the German purity law (Reinheitsgebot), but since Montana produces a variety of other quality ingredients, Chuck has been able to successfully introduce many fruity and flavored beers to the taproom. He also tends to lean closer to English styles than the super-hopped American or Northwestern beer styles.
On the evening I was there, there were nearly a half-dozen seasonal beers in addition to the standard lineup of Galena Gold, Open Cab Copper, Shale Pale Ale, Open Pit Porter, and Gneiss IPA. Of these, my two favorites were the Open Pit Porter, as it had all the malty, rich depth I like about porters that move it away from simply being a dark brown ale and with the addition of Glacier hops (a newer variety descended from American Fuggle hops) I experienced a touch of hop bitterness at the end; and I really enjoyed the complexity of the Galena Gold.
“The Galena Gold is our gateway beer,” says Schnabel. “It appeals to both the domestic beer and craft beer drinker.” He’s right.
And after the seasonals I sampled, the Smokey Quartz Rauch and (forthcoming) Mica Mai Bock, I was hooked. Chuck describes his rauch beer “more like smoked salmon instead of a campfire,” and it couldn’t be any better said. Instead of an in-your-face breath of smoke, the smokiness wafts gently on the tongue where it lingers just so. After a few sips I had a strong craving for capers.
One of the most interesting facts I learned from Chuck is that Quarry Brewing Company is technically the 34th and 35thbrewery in Butte (they had to get another license for the move), and the last brewery to be open in Butte was closed down around 1964.
Quarry Brewing will be presenting its Mica Mai Bock at this year’s 20th Annual Garden City Brewfest, which is the crowning event of the first Missoula Craft Beer Week. I suggest you give a try, and the next time you are in Butte, don’t pass up the opportunity to have a beer or two and chat with Chuck.
Photos courtesy Quarry Brewing Company.