New brewery finds success in small batches
By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – In the six months since its July grand opening in Big Sky, Beehive Basin Brewery has released 35 different styles of beer.
With the exception of its staples – the Working Guys Cream Ale, Green Bridge IPA and .50 Cal Coffee Porter and soon, due to repeated requests, the Saison – it hasn’t repeated a single recipe. Due to increasing demand and limited quantities, tasting every one of brewer Andy Liedberg’s carefully crafted beers requires becoming a “regular regular.” In other words, they go fast.
Patrons often ask Liedberg and business partner Casey Folley when they plan to start distributing. Besides a handful of Big Sky restaurants, the only place to experience Liedberg’s eclectic creations is onsite at their rustic, industrial taproom and brewery adjacent to Roxy’s Market.
“That was never really our vision,” Folley said about mass distribution. “Our vision was always to be the best small brewery we can possibly be.”
Their seven-barrel brew house is nearing capacity, far exceeding the 200-barrels they estimated toproduce in the few short months they were open in 2015. Beehive is on track to more than double that amount this year.
“The beauty of making small batches is that I can continually make different beers,” Liedberg said. “I’m not locked into tap accounts where I have to make the same five beers every day. It keeps it fun for me and for the locals.”
It also enables Liedberg to experiment with aging in wine and bourbon barrels, creating a gluten-free option that actually tastes good, and to make specialty beers like the Monticello, an ale based off of Thomas Jefferson’s recipes released on President’s Day weekend in mid-February.
The brewery owners met on Big Sky Resort’s golf course in 2012 after Folley left Denver and a career in finance for a more peaceful life in Big Sky. (No, Folley wasn’t homeless before striking it rich in the penny stocks as one of the more amusing rumors speculated).
When Folley learned that Liedberg, a longtime Montanan, was an avid home brewer with professional experience at numerous breweries including Lone Peak and Bridger Brewing, he offhandedly suggested they open a brewery.
“I really wasn’t out there trying to find a brewer and open a brewery,” said Folley who, along with his accountant wife Leisha, is a graduate of the University of Montana business school. “I knew I wanted to have my own business someday, but when I met Andy it lit the spark and I was like ‘OK, this is something we can do.’”
With Folley’s business savvy and Liedberg’s brewing and construction knowhow, the foundation was in place for a successful endeavor.
Being the best small brewery it can be isn’t just about the beer. Beehive Brewery’s owners source ingredients and equipment locally when possible, and utilize geothermal equipment to pump heatproduced during brewing back into the building. Their next big project is to install a biomass generator to compost the increasing heaps of spent grain into an additional source of renewable energy.
“With the biomass generator, and looking ahead to incorporate solar energy, we could potentially be one of the greenest breweries in the country,” Folley said.
But in the end it does come back to the beer, and it only takes a sip to know that Liedberg is a master. Like many an artist, he’s guided by a combination of intuition and technical knowledge. When asked if he keeps detailed notes on his concoctions, Liedberg laughs and presents a pile of crumpled papers as his response.
“You can give two people the same recipe and it’s going to come out somewhat different,” Liedberg said. He compares brewing to the craft of a chef, another notch in his tool belt of experience that informs his brewing today.
“We’re a small-batch brewery and we’re focused on the beer,” Folley said. “We might not have what you had last week, but we have something else and it’s going to be great.”