By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
LIVINGSTON – Walking into Katabatic Brewing Co. on West Park Street in Livingston, one is struck by the taproom’s expansive space. The calm air inside may strike you as well.
A katabatic is a “cold, downslope wind that’s common on glaciers, ice fields, Antarctica and Livingston,” says Brice Jones, brewery co-owner and self-proclaimed weather geek. Jones was a smokejumper for a number of years and operated a yurt skiing operation outside of Seeley Lake until he sold it in 2007. Both occupations kept him closely tuned in to the weather and wind.
Brice and his wife LaNette opened Katabatic on Sept. 17 after moving to Livingston from Missoula in July 2013, intent on opening a brewery.
“I really like the area, the recreational opportunities, and the town,” LaNette said. “We started doing our research and wanted to go somewhere where the craft brewery market wasn’t inundated.”
The two Montana natives began renovations on the space in November 2013, completely gutting the 1882 building. It’s been home to a soda shop, coffee shop and, in recent years, a string of Chinese restaurants. The space housed the Longbranch Saloon in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the couple says a lot of people tell them stories from those days, many happy to see the location serving beer and hosting music again.
That was apparent on a recent Monday night, when the taproom was packed with revelers enjoying the weekly bluegrass jam. Katabatic also hosts live music acts Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and on Tuesdays donates a dollar from each beer sold to a local nonprofit. They advertise a board-game night every Sunday – for kids and adults alike – when families raid the toy box for Battleship, Chutes and Ladders, and Bananagrams, a fast-paced word game.
“We wanted to create a community hub, someplace to go to socialize with your neighbor,” Brice said. “Somehow we’ve been able to do that. People come down with a buddy, solo or with big parties.”
The brewery offers three or four seasonal rotators, but tries to keep four signature beers on tap at all times, including their “Katabatic” American Pale Ale, Hefeweizen and Scotch Ale. The fourth is the “Katabatic IPA.”
“I’m a huge IPA fan and this is spot on,” said Jennifer Neville, who grew up in Livingston and recently moved back after 10 years in Missoula. “I’ve done a bit of traveling and I’m drawn to breweries wherever I go – this place is really good.”
The operation may be young, but has already received accolades at November’s Harvest Montana Brewfest held in Great Falls. Katabatic earned a silver medal for its IPA and a gold for a Double Danger Imperial IPA. It’s not surprising though, as Head Brewer Jason Courtney brought an award-winning pedigree with him from Bangor, Maine. The East Coast transplant won five Great American Beer Festival medals as a brewer at Gheagan’s Pub & Craft Brewery.
Katabatic’s space is open and inviting. A long, “L”-shaped bar dominates the southwest wall, which shows the exposed, original brick – the couple lacquered it four times to keep the dust from crumbling onto patrons. The northeast wall is covered with reclaimed wood from a snow fence in Belgrade and an old barn outside of Bozeman. Custom metalwork accents many of the tables and fixtures, and the bar’s foot rail is a Montana Rail Link train track rail out of a yard in Livingston.
The wall facing the street is dominated by a giant, glassed garage door that they open “when the windy season is over,” according to LaNette.
With all the work the couple has put into the building, Katabatic Brewing Co. has a decidedly new age, rustic feel. The beauty of the space is only rivaled by the taste of your first pint.