Missoula South Side, Your Beer is Here


Somewhere, Chad Howard is flashing a proud smile over his brothers, Greg and Mike. And he’s thirsty.

The Howards, along with Greg’s wife, Diana Garrett, are on the verge of flipping the “Open” sign at Missoula’s newest brewery, Great Burn Brewing. The name is a nod to the Connecticut-sized swath of Montana/Idaho/Washington wilderness that burned in 1910. The recovering forest had become a favorite stomping ground of Chad, a wildland firefighter who died of cancer in 2009 at age 35.

“Chad just loved beer,” says Mike, the youngest brother and master brewer at Great Burn. “He always said he wanted to trade in his leather boots for rubber boots and open a brewery.” He credits his older brother for pushing him into the field of craft brewing. Chad traveled extensively during the off-season, hitting ski areas far and wide, always combing his surroundings for an interesting new microbrew. He’d always bring back some exotic beer, says Mike, and tell his little bro, “If you could brew up something like this, it would be great.” Mike’s desire to honor Chad’s memory by brewing great beer is about to come to fruition.

If you are a beer hound living in Western Montana, you have probably already enjoyed some of Mike’s work. He got his feet wet at Kettle House and Bayern ten years ago in Missoula, then moved to San Diego, where he honed his craft during a four-year stint at Stone Brewing. When Chad got sick, Mike moved back to Montana to be near his family during the ordeal. He worked briefly at Bitter Root Brewing, then was offered a job at the upstart Blacksmith Brewing in Stevensville. By that time, Mike had already garnered a reputation among hop-heads around Montana, and he began creating some outstanding oat soda in Stevi, including his popular Cutthroat IPA Brickhouse Blonde.


Co-owner Mike Howard and “cellar rat” Dave Hofer put the finishing touches on the taproom, while I put the finishing touches on this pint of pale ale.

Mike and Greg had been tossing around the idea of opening a brewery in Missoula to honor their fallen brother, and when Mike drove past a “For Sale” sign at 2230 McDonald last year, they pounced on it.

They found investors, and took possession of the building, formerly an overhead door warehouse, last summer. Next came a massive remodel, a large blacktop parking lot, and a brew house (the collection of apparatus used to brew beer) acquired from Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux.

“It’s been a huge learning experience,” says Mike, a first-time business owner. This ain’t exactly a lemonade stand we’re talking about. There are all the regulatory and zoning hoops to jump through, of course, but when you consider the permitting and licensing that goes into a place that produces and serves alcohol, well, it’s enough to drive a guy to drink.

Mike is quick to point out others who have had a big hand in the design and construction of the beautiful, inviting new facility sitting behind the old Cine 3 theater (motto: “Stickiest floors this side of Times Square”) and Jaker’s on Brooks St. Jason Kinseth of Kind Construction, he says, headed up the effort to execute Tony Moretti’s clean and classy design. The owners picked out colors and had a say in the materials, and the result is an outstanding addition to Missoula’s south side.


A grant from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency helped Great Burn Brewing preserve the historic facade. They are working on a sign that will complement the look and feel.

In true Missoula style, Great Burn incorporates several locally-sourced materials, from the beams milled from sinker logs recovered from the Blackfoot River to the bar top, which is crafted from blue spruce grown on the property of one of the brewery’s investors. The mix of exposed wood and corrugated steel gives off a vibe that says, we built this beer by hand, and it won’t fall apart like that crappy desk you bought at Shopko.

Mike’s specialty is ales, and he brewed his first batch on the Fourth of July this summer. When Great Burn officially opens (“We’re hoping next week”), he will have six beers flowing through the tap lines. I sampled his Smoke Chaser Porter, which was rich and complex but not a-pot-of-coffee-thrown-in-your-face malty. It’s brewed using peated malt, I’m told. I have no idea what that means, but I like it. Another interesting creation is the Cream Ale, a lighter session ale that drinks more like a lager, with just a hint of cream in the finish. And at 4.5% alcohol content, it won’t kick your ass and have you dialing up old high school girlfriends after a couple of pints.

Of the three beers I sampled, my favorite was Mike’s John Doe pale ale. Okay, that’s not really the name; it has no name yet. But I’m sure I could pick it out of a lineup. I’m not really versed in the beer-tasting vernacular, but to me this pale ale is chock full of wholesome goodness. Hoppy without being punishing, it’s a back-slapping, broad-shouldered ale that will make you feel like the most important person at the party. By sheer force of its irresistible personality it will seduce you, but then will buy you breakfast in the morning.

As a man whose love of beer is well-documented and occasionally used against him, I’ve been spoiled by the consistently top-quality beers offered by the incredible collection of breweries here in Western Montana. From the German-influenced Missoula stalwart Bayern, to the multiple award-winning beers of Kettle House, to the killer (so I’ve heard) brews of the spanking-new Lolo Peak Brewing Company, we’re surrounded by great taprooms that are lousy with incredible beer. The standard is high, and not every brewery reaches it. With their pedigree, their location, their family-fueled work ethic and the loving memory of a brother driving them, the folks behind Great Burn Brewing have knocked it out of the park before even coming up to the plate. Check out their Facebook page for updates, and make plans to visit Missoula’s newest brewery soon.


Chad Howard’s image keeps a watchful eye on the brew house area, where the real magic happens.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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