Be a Winner – Brew at Home


Now that the Western Montana Fair has left town and the smoke from nearby forest fires has arrived, it’s time to stay inside and think about drinking – or to be more precise, think about making a drink.

Each year I like to submit a few bottled entries into the Western Montana Fair exhibit competition. Not to brag or anything (yeah right!), but this year I placed with three out of four of my submissions. First place for my Plum Wine and my Apricot Cordial, and third place overall for my Raspberry Hefeweizen. Last year my Hard Cider won “Best in Show” for wines (special thanks to Pam Clevenger and Home Acres Orchard in Stevensville for the prize-worthy apples).

Those who know me and tip a glass with me know that I love to homebrew. From wines, bitters, cordials, ciders and beer, I love to put the DIY in the BYOB. Half the fun is finding and collecting good ingredients, another half is concocting a recipe and making it, and a third half is, of course, drinking and sharing your masterpiece (math was never my strong suit).

You would be surprised what Montana has to offer for “fermentables.” I live in a centrally-located Missoula neighborhood, and I am within 50 yards of five apple trees (including one crabapple), two pear trees, a grapevine, an apricot and a plum tree, and a sour cherry bush. Not everyone who owns a fruit-producing tree or bush wants to collect from it, so ask your neighbors if you can come over and keep the fruit off their lawn.

Montana law allows us to brew at home as long as we don’t sell it or provide it to minors (very important). We can share them with our adult friends or bring them over at dinner parties. Trust me, this last one is a hit. Brewing beer at home can take as little as two or three weeks with the right equipment. Wine takes a bit longer – a few months or more.

To get the right equipment, you have two great options here in Missoula. Go see Jared at the Green Light on Alder. Or stop by Chapman Homebrew (currently on Mount but moving by Sept. 1 to S. Higgins/South Ave.). You’ll need a primary fermenter (aka. plastic bucket), a secondary fermenter (aka. glass carboy), something to put your alcohol in (aka. bottles) and few other pieces of equipment (pots, tubes, etc.).

Then, of course, you’ll need ingredients. There are great websites and books available to learn the craft, but if you want some hands-on experience, join the Zoo City Zymurgists – Missoula’s local homebrew club. We just had our Summer meeting and we’ll meet again in October (every two months). Dues are only $5 a year, and we brew a batch of beer at every other meeting (so we can drink it at the next meeting; aren’t we smart?).

If you get started now, you’ll have perfected your craft in time to enter next year’s Western Montana Fair. But I don’t plan to lose so you better prepare yourself.

So let’s hear from the homebrewers out there – what’s your favorite creation to date? Share a recipe if you like!

Like this Drink It blog?  Chances are you’ll like these blogs by Missoula’s Drink It expert, Ryan Newhouse:  Have Beer Will Travel,  Flathead Lake Brewing Company – Beer Pairing,  Tamarack Brewing Company, Montana Whiskey and Vodka.  And check out our Missoula Restaurants and Dining and Missoula Nightlife sections.

Click here to see Ryan’s “Drink It” archive.


Ryan Newhouse has lived in Missoula since 2002 and has tipped his glass in most of the town’s establishments. He is a full-time writer, husband and parent (in no particular order) and a part-time zymurgist. He makes a mean hard cider and pairs his cocktails with dishes from his blog, Cooked Animals: Recipes for Wild Game.