November 10, 2016

Montana Historical Society Archives Receives Grant to Start the Montana Brewery Oral History Project

Anneliese Warhank, C.A., Archivist/Oral Historian

With a $4,500 grant from Humanities Montana, MHS begins the initial phases of a project aimed at capturing the stories of Montana’s current brewing industry. The Montana Brewery Oral History Project will capture and record the history of Montana’s modern brewing industry from the last decades of the 20th century through 2008; the point the craft beer movement began to reemerge in the state, up to the creation of the Montana Brewers Association. As an archivist/oral historian, you might be wondering why I’d feel the need to build an entire project around this topic.

Montana’s brewing history runs deep, stretching all the way back to the territory’s first mining camps. Although prohibition and the rise of the domestic beers brought Montana’s craft brewing industry to a complete halt by the 1960’s, the 1980’s saw a new generation of brewers emerge. It was at this point that Montana’s modern craft brewing industry began to flourish into what many of us know and love today. Anyone who has spent just a short time in the state should be quick to recognize Montanans’ appreciation for local, craft beer. Craft breweries dot the landscape, while mom and pop as well as national chain grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores devote large sections of cooler space to Montana made brews.  Not to mention that if the local eatery offers beer on tap, it likely traces its origin to the community or county. Montanans love their beer as much as their big sky.

from the "Breweries, Montana" Ephemera file
Montana Historical Society
Photo courtesy of Natasha Hollenbach
Since legislation was passed in the 1999 session allowing breweries to operate taprooms, the state has seen steady growth in number of breweries. This has promoted job growth in some economically stagnated communities and increased demand in Montana agricultural products necessary for the production of craft beer. These breweries and their adjoining taprooms have become cultural hubs, with many hosting community events, raising funds for local non-profits, and serving as a communal center for local citizens and their families. Montana breweries have impacted the state economically, politically, and socially; as such, the oral history project will address all three topics, to some degree, with the selection of the narrators.  

The project will capture up to twenty oral histories from individuals who played a significant role in the development of the industry in Montana, selected by a five member board still in development. This project will provide insightful and valuable information for the academic and lay person alike who have an interest in Montana’s craft brewing history. The recordings and transcripts created through this project will become part of the permanent collections of the Montana Historical Society Research Center and will be accessible to the public for research and study. MP3 recordings of the oral histories will also be made available via the Montana Historical Society’s digital collections website. Upon completion of these interviews, I will begin phase two of the project, which will focus on the industry from 2008, to the present.