NOTE: This is the first of what will be an occasional series of articles about western United States microbreweries that are close to the Canadian border. They are businesses that micro-loving Canadians might want to visit when they take brief visits south of the line.

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Belt, Montana, a village of 700 people, is not on most Canadian tourists’ list of places to visit. But for beer lovers, it should be. Located just north of Highway 87, a 20 minute drive east out of Great Falls , it’s the home of Harvest Moon Brewing Company, one of the state’s more rapidly growing breweries . In a state that is ranked third in the U. S. in number of breweries per capita ( 27 breweries, one for every 36,645 people inMontana), it is steadily becoming more recognized for the variety and quality of its beer.

In the mid 1990s, Stan Guedesse, a long-time home brewer and owner of a home-brew supply shop in nearby Great Falls, and his friend John Ballantyne decided to start a micrbrewery in the only area of the state that didn’t have one. Instead of Great Falls, they chose to locate in Belt. “I lived there; it would be cheaper to build our brewery there instead of Great Falls, and the water was excellent for the kinds of beer we wanted to create,” Guedesse remembers.

They started with a pale ale. “But the market around here wasn’t ready for that style just yet.” Then they developed what Stan calls “a very generic amber style. It did OK.” Their next beer was a porter. “It did very well for this market. I think that the name we gave it, Pig’s Ass Porter, caught people’s attention. So they tried it and liked it. It’s still very popular.” Beltian White, a Belgian style wheat beer followed. “It started as a seasonal. It was a good transition beer for this market and we decided to make it one of our regular offerings.” It is now Harvest Moon’s most popular beer, accounting for 60 per cent of sales.

The brewery steadily expanded, moving from cramped quarters at the back of a small tavern to their present building. (Go under the railway overpass and turn right). A bottling line was added in 2006, and a canning line not long after. In the summer of 2011, the brewery was in the final stages of expansion. A new 30 barrel system would increase production to between 6500 and 7000 barrels a year.  The company produces four year-around beers (discussed below) and a seasonal (a double IPA).

Beltian White (the name is combines both the brewery location and the European style) uses coriander, curacao orange peel and saaz hops. Slightly hazy, it has malty chewiness along with citrus overtones and a crip finish. When Pig’s Ass Porter (named after an old expression his father used) was under development, the distibutor didn’t want to market something that would interfere with his Guiness Stout accounts. “So we created a full-bodied beerthat wasn’t ashoppy as a robust porter.” Somewhat sweet and smoothe, it has chocolate and coffee notes.

Although it is an Irish red ale in style, Charlie Russell takes its name from a well-known artist of western scenes who was very popular in the area. Bronze in colour, it has both sweet and tart notes. The hops “take a back seat to the malts,” but they do cut the sweetness. Great Falls Select, the newest regular, named after a favourite area beer of the mid 20th century, is “our pale ale. It’s not west coast and doesn’t have all that hoppiness.” The malt notes dominate, although there is a crisp finish. In some ways, it reminded me of a Belgian saison. “That’s not intentional,” Guedesse noted. “But it may be the yeast.” Northern Montanans were now ready for a pale ale — their own kind.

All four of the regular beers are available in bottles; Great Falls Select and Beltian White are also in cans. You’ll find Harvest Moon products in grocery stores in the Great Falls area, in many other Montana cities, and at the brewery. If you plan a visit to Belt, where you can sample and buy products in the tap room and tour the facility, give a call ahead at 406-277-3188.

 

 

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