By WILLIAM NEVILLE/Montana State News
It’s a Monday evening in the heart of downtown Billings’s historic Montana Avenue. Aside from all of the sounds that aerate the downtown at rush hour, there’s a trendy, yet cozy railroad themed brewery that echoes remnants of the historic district’s past. In present day, everybody knows one another’s names.
The crowd is eclectic. It ranges from white collar professionals, writers, college students, the retired, free thinkers and the typical weird folk, but they all have one agenda in common while enjoying a brew: imbibe conversation and community. One beer loving patron yells out, “It’s a very cheers Monday!”
Mike Uhrich, the mastermind behind this whole operation and the beer loving connoisseur, has been engineering and conducting beer with passion since 2007.
Uhrich’s days of brewing beer for an occupation began at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company. During that time, he never thought the day of owning his own brewery would ever come to fruition.
One day, a 75-year-old train depot came up for sale. Realizing the property as a sweet spot and a wonderful business opportunity, Uhrich and his wife decided to make the push to open the family owned and operated Carter’s Brewery. It was named after their first son who was born during the opening, Carter James.
When Carter’s Brewery opened up in downtown Billings, there were only four breweries. As of today, there are eight in the Billings area, six of them within a mile of one another. The breweries being close to one another give the local consumer base a pub crawl experience. The downtown breweries have a good collaboration with one another, especially those that are a part of the Montana Brewers Association.
The brewery market within Billings, and Montana as a whole, exploded over the past few years, and the young and easy-going Uhrich helped spearhead the change. Currently, there are over 40 craft breweries within the state of Montana, and the bulk of the increase over the past few years came within the Billings area.
Uhrich’s intent with Carter’s Brewery was to educate the local market about the different kinds of beer styles, while having fun running the business. Jessica Elliot, a student at Montana State University-Billings, said, “I like the laid back atmosphere, and the employees are always super helpful and educating when I’m selecting a beer to try. I really like the StationMaster Pale Ale.”
According to Uhrich, Montana is about 10 years behind the national beer market progression, so he uses his many different recipes to cater to the palates that prefer aggressive craft beer flavors that many breweries lack throughout the state.
Currently, there are 16 of his different ales on tap, ranging from seasonal ales, such as the dark and full bodied Switchyard Scottish Ale, to the coffee-like Midnight Express Oatmeal Stout. There are many different mainstay flagship ales that cater to the palates of beer lovers, such as the nutty and citrusy Boxcar Brown Ale to the bestselling hop filled and malty Derailed India Pale Ale.
Uhrich said his personal favorite is the, “Belgian Farmhouse Ale.” Throughout the United States, this beer is not a prevalent style, but it is their third best seller. The name of every single beer intertwines with the brewery’s railroad theme.
Asked about the uniqueness of the atmosphere and location of the brewery, Uhrich said, “The clientele is very diverse, as there is a good mix of everybody, especially those who are excited about downtown and small businesses.”
According to Uhrich, January and February have typically been the slowest months in recent years, but the brewery is as busy as it has ever been. Thursday through Saturday are the busiest days. The brewery also has a return clientele base, especially those who do not live in the Billings area.
Former Billings resident and beer enthusiast Ryan Thompson said, “Carter’s is a Billings institution and a powerhouse of a brewery. The brewery boasts an amazing and inventive beer selection, and its historic railroad depot setting provides a unique and very cool place to imbibe with your friends.”
Carter’s Brewery is known for its award winning beers at the North American Beer Awards and the Great American Beer Festival. Mike has had over 77 entries since 2007. However, the most rewarding aspect to Mike is the consumer loyalty, as Uhrich said, “It’s the loyalty that makes Carter’s what it is today. It’s about the consumer to have a destination in the community to make a choice to come in and have a beer because they love what we are about.”
When speaking about Mike’s long term goals for the brewery, he said, “I’d like to more sustainable with my brewing methods, employ more people, and continue to educate the public about beer.”
– Edited by Ian Thompson