By Jimmy Lewis Explorebigsky.com Contributor

BELGRADE–Ben Franklin once said, “Beer is evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Outlaw Brewing, Montana’s newest craft beer maker, located at 100 S. Broadway inside of Bar 3 Bar-B-Q in Belgrade, is taking that notion to a whole new level.

Todd Hough, the brew master behind Outlaw, has put his genius into the extensive variety of beers now on tap beside the railroad tracks in Belgrade.

“Todd’s an extremely creative brewer,” says Hunter Lacey, owner of Bar-3 Barbecue. Lacey, who has worked in the restaurant business since he was 14 and attended culinary school in college, has an extensive background in the culinary arts and is passionate about bringing ideas to brewing based upon the pairing of flavors he knows have worked well with food.

The taps at Outlaw Brewing first began flowing on Jan. 12, and Lacey says the response has been terrific.

“It’s been busy,” he says, adding that demand has something to do with local pride as well as an interest in good beer. “If there’s anything our community—or any community—could support, it is local producers.”

With nine beers now on tap and more to come, Outlaw is likely to continue receiving the support of local beer drinkers. Lacey and I enjoyed a Chocolate Porter during our conversation, and recently I had a chance to sample a flight featuring a unique and delicious Irish cream ale, a very smooth dark brown ale and a citrusy and refreshing Imperial I.P.A. (“Hangman’s”). Next time, I’m looking forward to trying the hoppy American amber and the session (light) pale ale, along with the Belgian speci-ale and the Russian (nitro) stout.

Lacey describes Outlaw as a “nanobrewery,” the concept of which, he says, is to make smaller, more experimental craft beers.

“Neither Todd nor I are really all that interested in bottling and distribution at this time. Margins are really small and you have to do huge amounts—not really what Outlaw is about.”

The goal is to eventually have “five-ish” house beers and five or so seasonal rotators and gourmet beers that offer a truly unique beer drinking experience, Lacey says. Using a two-barrel kettle (Brew House) as opposed to the customary, seven-barrel brew house common to most microbreweries is the cornerstone of nanobrewing and what allows for this kind of artistic, experimental brewing.

But Outlaw is about more than beer; it’s about culture as well, and Lacey was eager to share how Bar 3 and Outlaw are working with the community to both employ local producers and also to reduce waste heading to the county’s landfills. For example, Lacey and Hough have set up an arrangement with a start-up farm not far from Belgrade called Alpine Organics, whose mission statement emphasizes producing USDA certified organic produce in a carbon-negative operation.

Outlaw and Bar 3 send their compostable material to Alpine Organics and contract with the farm for cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and other produce for the brewery and restaurant. Things like the outer-leaves of cabbage left over from making coleslaw, spent grains from the beer making process, carrot peels, tomato peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves and pulpy paper goods are all items that head to the organic farm. The result of this effort is not only delicious beer and produce, but also a drastic reduction in waste that goes to the local landfill.

“Literally, we’ve reduced what we take to the landfill by 75 percent by composting and doing some other things, like a full recycling program,” Lacey said.

There is so much excitement brewing at Outlaw that it’s hard not to inquire about future ideas. At the top of the list is the possibility of serving up a unique, gourmet culinary offering appropriately paired with a particular beer on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, head down to Outlaw and Bar 3 and expect to experience creatively inspired beer and savory southern style barbecue, open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

Wednesday night is rib night, and Hunter has yet to see anyone finish an entire slab of ribs alone. So, grab a friend, head down to Outlaw Brewery in Belgrade, and order a rack to share. Then order a flight or a pint or two of your favorite type of beer and get acquainted with Montana’s newest and possibly most creative brewery.

*Editor’s note: Outlaw Brewing is not associated with the Outlaw Partners, LLC.