By Timothy Behuniak EBS CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
BOZEMAN – On Feb. 26, the Museum of the Rockies hosted a sold-out crowd for its annual Brews & the Big Sky event featuring Montana history paired with unique Montana brews.
Brews & the Big Sky is the winter extension of the museum’s summer program, Hops & History, which started in 2014 with the goal of bringing more people to the MOR’s Living History Farm, according to Angie Weikert, the museum’s director of operations, education and public programs.
“The pairing of local history and Montana brewing was such a winning combination that those summer events kept selling out, so we brought it inside for the winter of 2015-2016,” Weikert said. Hops & History benefits the Living History Farm and winter events benefit the museum’s history program.
Michael Fox, MOR’s curator of history, pulls an interesting historical topic from Montana each month and the collections manager pulls items from the museum’s history collection that the public normally does not see. Fox gives a 30-minute presentation about the topic while the artifacts are in view.
This month’s theme, “Big Teams in the Big Sky,” explores and celebrates Montana’s history intertwined with animals and technology to cultivate the land and harvest crops. According to Fox, farmers extensively relied on big horse teams through the early 1920s and even into the 1940s, enduring the era of automobiles.
Fox’s idea for this month’s theme stemmed from researching the transition from a horse-based economy to an internal combustion economy in Montana. Through his research, the historian came across a Montana State College Extension Service document titled “Big Teams in Montana,” which was published in 1925 and advocated for animal-powered farming over tractor farming due to the heavy costs and upkeep of the machinery.
“Montana is usually the No. 1 or No. 2 barley producer in the country,” Fox said. “Horse power was the basis of Montana industry, which didn’t really change until the early 1900s.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Montana produced 33.6 million bushels of barley in 2018 alone.
Montana utilizes its abundance in crop production; there are currently 83 breweries open in the state with four more currently in planning. This month’s adults-only event featured the Great Northern Brewing Company from Whitefish.
Although the brewery’s flagship beer is the Wild Huckleberry Lager, it showcased a few of its more obscure and lesser-known brews. “We have more snow than we can handle right now, so it was an obvious choice to share our Snow Ghost Winter Lager,” said Chad Jacobson, GNBC’s regional sales manager. Other featured beers include Good Med Montana Red Ale, Wheatfish Wheat Lager and Big Mountain Tea Pale Ale.
“While the outdoor events feature local Gallatin Valley brewers, the winter events feature regional breweries,” said Alicia Thompson, MOR’s director of marketing.
The last two winter Brews & the Big Sky events will take place on March 26 and April 30. In March, the boom-and-bust story of Butte will be shared along with beers from the city’s own Muddy Creek Brewery. In April, the origins of the Crow Fair celebration in southeast Montana will be discovered as glasses from the Billings Thirsty Street Brewing Company are poured and passed. Hops & History takes place during warmer months, beginning in May.
“I’ve been coming to these events for a few years, starting in the summer,” said Bozeman resident Kristin Harbuck. “It’s fun to try local beers from around the state and learn various bits of history while supporting the museum. It’s always a good time.”