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Brewery Works To Sustain The Big Sky State’s Water Supply

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In the heart of the American West sits a brewery with a craft beer line that extends from Northern Alaska to Michigan, down the Pacific coastline and back through the Rockies. Big Sky Brewing Company has been a fixture in Missoula, MT, since the mid-1990s, creating multiple lines of pale ales and exciting draughts. In 2022, the brewery began helping with water restoration in the Big Sky State’s creeks and riverbeds. 

The brewery was founded by three friends, Neal Leathers, Bjorn Nabzoney and Brad Robinson. Robinson and Leathers had a background in brewing when they lived in Michigan. Upon moving to Missoula in 1990, they would eventually meet Bjorn at a sporting club, who was studying for his Bachelor’s degree in finance at the University of Montana. For his final project, Bjorn had to present a business plan to the class and seized an opportunity to make good on an idea Robinson and Leathers had discussed at length. Thus, Big Sky Brewing came to be. 

Before showing the brewery’s idea to Montana-based investors, strategy plans were drawn, rewritten, and presented to local accountants and lawyers. The first batch of beer, Whistle Pig Red Ale, was brewed in June 1995 and hit store shelves around the Fourth of July of the same year. Some of Big Sky’s noteworthy beers, like Moose Drool Brown Ale and Scape Goat Pale Ale, would follow shortly after.

Photo Courtesy Big Sky Brewing Co. 

Heading into the 2010s and 2020s, Big Sky began campaigns to give back to Montana. In 2010, Big Sky signed a three-year contract with Bonneville Environmental Foundation for Water Restoration Certificates

“Not only do we depend on Montana’s water resources to produce our world-class beers, but beer drinking and fly-fishing are two deeply rooted Montana pastimes and contributors to the State economy,” said Chris Corbin, Big Sky sales representative.

The brewery’s purchases will contribute to restoring water flow to Prickly Pear Creek, an offshoot of the Missouri river near the capital of Helena. More than 10 million gallons of water had been restored to the creek three years later.

Photo Courtesy Big Sky Brewing Co. 

On top of funding water restoration projects, Big Sky has applied sustainable measures to the packaging and distribution of the various beer lines. In addition to their aluminum cans, the brewery was the first in the Americas to utilize aluminum bottles for a lighter receptacle that can be shipped with 34% more product compared to traditional cans. 

The brewery has taken substantial, sustainable measures that have lowered energy consumption by 80%, water use by 20% and natural gas by 40%. They have donated to charities and nonprofits in the Missoula area, such as the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project, a program that teaches sustainable living and healthy habits. These are good steps toward further sustainability goals, but what Big Sky will do next remains to be seen. 

Other Montana breweries are carrying out similar sustainability initiatives, such as MAP Brewing’s collaboration with Big Sky Resort for a limited-edition beer that supports the Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization. The sale of the Swifty Session Pale Ale benefitted environmental conservation and advocacy by the Sustainability Network. With more buy-in from other in-state breweries, the Big Sky State will have more support to stay in the pristine condition we hope to see for years.


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