Montana’s first cooperative brewery celebrates its second year
RONAN — On Friday, Sept. 23, the Ronan Cooperative Brewery celebrated its second anniversary since the community came together to open its doors in the midst of a pandemic.
The street closure celebration was combined with this year’s Oktoberfest and head brewer Jim Myers brought out some special beers to mark the occasion.
To celebrate Oktoberfest, the brewery put their Celestial Sea Marzen - their take on the traditional holiday beer - on tap, along with their Eventide Czech Amber Lager. As autumn goes on, they’ll be bringing back their Stout, award-winning Mud Lake Dunkles Bock and Schwartz Lake Schwarzbier as well. Myers said there’s more to come as the holidays approach.
“When we first started, we knew we were opening in a town that drinks a lot of domestic beer. We kind of assumed that most of our clientele would be IPA drinkers. … We were wrong. And I’m really happy to be wrong about that,” Myers laughed. “A lot of what we’re making are these European lagers that you’re just not going to get in a lot of other places. One thing I hear when I talk to other brewers down in Missoula is some of them are kind of just downright jealous of us getting to do this.”
With popular classic rock performed live by local musician Tommy Edwards Sr. and food provided by the Super Gyro truck visiting from Polson, the street and brewery were packed with visitors out to celebrate the brewery’s second year in business. Having opened their doors in 2020, it wasn’t always easy going for the Co-op.
“You have to get a couple years under your belt before you’re making money,” events coordinator Eric Brunet explained. “When I first started there as a server, we were steady, but at the end of every month when we’d do the board meetings and get the report from Monty, our treasurer, we were still losing money. We’d be lucky if we were close to breaking even.”
Word spread, however, when the Co-op started to win medals for their brews. At the North American Brewers Association Conference, Ronan brought home bronze for their Schwarzbier, and silver for their Dunkles Bock. At the Montana Brew Fest in Great Falls, they won gold for both their Dunkles Bock and Kolsch.
“From the exposure we’ve gotten with the awards and Jim just really getting his brewing skills to such an exceptional level, word has gotten out more and more and we’ve gotten busier. I try to line up as many diverse events as we possibly can to keep it going,” Brunet commented.
Thanks to the combined effort of the brewery team and board, the monthly net sales board inside the taproom has shown they’ve beaten their goal of $20,000 for three months in a row.
“When we started this whole project, the idea was the brewery being a little bit of a hub in town for all kinds of different groups to meet at,” Myers said. “Our street closures have done really well, and Eric’s done a wonderful job of getting all kinds of different events in here over the last year. It’s been nice to see people who want to come have a couple beers or some root beer and chill out in a relaxed environment.”
True to its mission of contributing to the community, the brewery’s street closure events have included a fire department fundraiser, teacher appreciation, pollinator week, a local car show, and a fundraiser for the Western Montana Musician’s Co-op.
Comments from people at the event about the brewery
“It’s always such an enthusiastic response by the community,” Brunet said. “We’re moving forward. Jim just needs to keep making great beer and I just need to keep lining up cool events. As long as we’re showing marked improvement from the previous year … we’re moving in the right direction.”
“Thanks to the community for all its support,” Myers added. “I look forward to all the coming years of getting to serve the community and provide high quality beer for high quality beer lovers.”