When telling someone you are planning a meeting in the West, it’s assumed two things will happen. First, time will be spent outdoors taking in the scenery and activities, and afterward a craft beer will be the drink of choice when happy hour rolls around. Truth is, among the top 10 states with the most craft brewers, a majority are in the U.S. Mountain West states of California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska, according to Craft Brewers Guild 2014 data. Anyone lucky enough to call these states home is more than happy to tell you about their favorite local breweries, just don’t ask them to reveal their best fly-fishing spot or backcountry ski trail!
When searching out the perfect craft brewery for an event, you’ll find that some craft brewers are small family operations, while others are perfectly positioned with large taprooms, meeting space, tours and catering for groups of up to a few hundred. Many of the breweries also are becoming hubs for community connectivity and education.
Big Sky Breweries
Imagine Nation Brewing Co. in Missoula, Montana, is the nation’s first combination microbrewery and center for community transformation. Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum, co-founder, says that each week the brewery is home to not only craft beers but also engaging seminars and conversations from experts on topics like building community, the environment and social change. Krum’s and her partner Robert Rivers’ backgrounds are in international humanitarian aid. For decades, they worked in conflict zones, Krum as a mental health psychologist and Rivers as a civilian peacekeeper. “While drinking a beer in Brazil [Krum’s home country], we came up with the idea to combine both our passions,” she says. “We are a celebration of excellent beer with a dialogue for education for positive social change.”
Beers are named for influential people and philosophies, including Ubunto Robust Porter, after a Bantu tribe mantra “we are who we are because of each other,” and Drum Major Radical Amber, a tribute beer to Martin Luther King Jr. The taproom and center combined can host up to 150, and the center accommodates 25 to 49 guests. The riverfront patio can hold 60-plus guests in the summer months. Groups are welcome to join planned talks and live music events or to plan their own.
For an event that calls for rustic charm and a friendly vibe, Lolo Peak Brewery in Lolo, Montana, fits the bill. Lolo takes visitors back to earlier days with streaming beams of light from the Montana sky, an inlaid cement bar, hand-finished roughhewn local logs and recycled barn wood framing. Lolo’s Radd Icenoggle says everything they do honors local farms, the environment and history. This past summer, Montana had a glut of apricots so the stone fruits found their way to the brewery for an apricot ale.
In late June, the brewery hosts Lolo Brewfest, an annual event in partnership with Expedition Days at Travelers Rest Park. The family event is a historical reenactment of Lewis and Clark’s travels with demonstrations of Native American tools and fly casting and firearms exhibitions.
A buyout will host 180 people inside, and the outdoor patio and grotto can accommodate another 100. For intimate meetings, the community room will hold about two dozen. Further down the road in 2017, Lolo Peak Brewery is adding a larger second location in Missoula, adjacent to Ogren Alliance Park and Clark Fork River. Owners Patrick Offen and Al Zepeda say the new location will be ideal, planning events with the nearby baseball stadium and concerts in the park in mind.
Mammoth Brewing Company has been around for 20 years and recently went through a growth spurt. Its new location on Lake Mary Road is perfectly suited for groups and large events and features six seasonal in-house beers rotating in the tap room at all times, plus homemade root beer. Year-round, you’ll find a grassy and crisp Golden Trout Pilsner and Paranoids Pale Ale, a classic American pale ale named after a double black diamond ski run on Mammoth Mountain.
Mammoth isn’t just about beer, it does food and events in a big way, including concerts, festivals and corporate meetings. Last fall, K2 Sports, makers of skis, snowboards and winter gear, hosted an employee training event at Mammoth Brewing Company. The event included all-day seminars with key clients that tied in with the marketing, branding and engineering of new skis.
“The setting was ideal for a ski clinic,” says Alyssa Clark, marketing manager for K2 Skis in Seattle. “The food was exceptionally good for an event,” she says, “and there were at least 10 beers that were paired specifically with the pizza.”
The Eatery, a public eatery and catering operation open since 2014, oversees the food side of the house. “Our menu is very beer-centric,” says Therese Brocia, owner and catering manager. “Everything we do focuses on foods that pair with Mammoth beers.” Brocia matches up a Buffalo flatbread pizza with Paranoids Pale Ale. For dessert, guests “ooh and ahh” over Joey’s Bag o’ Donuts (named after a character from the Godfather), which are drenched in brown-sugar glaze and chocolate sugar glaze and served with a Mammoth Porter.
Colorado Beer Universities
Colorado is home to a growing list of breweries and beer campuses where education and tours are a key focus. Campus-style breweries are fast becoming destinations in Colorado. Great Divide Brewing Co. is building a massive 65,000-square-foot brewing complex in the River North neighborhood in Denver to include a new brewery and barrel aging room, canning facility, taproom, beer garden and restaurant that is expected to open later this year.
Tivoli Brewing Company, one of Colorado’s most historic breweries on the Auraria Campus in Denver, is once again producing beer. In 1864, the site was originally Sigi’s Brewery (now named The Milwaukee Brewery) and renamed Tivoli. The brewery closed in 1969 and was restored as a brewery in September 2012, and Tivoli Brewery and Tap House opened last August. Visitors can taste a bit of Colorado history with Tivoli’s Helles Lager, a 148-year-old recipe, and Sigi’s Wild Horse Buck Beer, an interpretive concoction based on an original beer from Sigi’s.
Farther south, Littleton is now home to the 12-acre Breckenridge Brewery’s campus, which includes the full-service restaurant Farmhouse Kitchen. Book a group tour of this sprawling, farm-style campus to see how the brewery has grown from 3,000 barrels per year to a nationally known, 62,000-plus-barrels-a-year brewery.
A new brewery on tap in Denver is Cerebral Brewing. Founders Dan McGuire, Sean Buchan and Chris Washenberger took a heady scientific approach to their newly launched venture. They transformed a 1920s garage into a beer lab of sorts—textbook papers line the walls, beer is served in glass beakers and community tables will remind you of high school chemistry class (without the pop quiz). Locals love Cerebral’s Dark Galaxie, an oatmeal milk stout. And, to cure hunger pangs, the brewery shares the same building with Humble Pie, a sweet and savory pie shop. Individuals can order an app or set up private catering at the brewery for both sweet and savory pies.
The science backdrop isn’t just a gimmick. Washenberger, a molecular biochemist and the self-described mad scientist of the three founders, is in the process of developing his own yeast lab. Cerebral is more than happy to share knowledge during privately booked group tours. The brewery can hold about 150 inside, with another 40 seats on the patio.
The U.S. Mountain West craft beer sector is one of the fastest growing in the country. For meeting planners, this means there is a free-flowing number of places for an event that includes plenty of great beer, food and fun.