UREKA – Less than a year ago, Chris Neill was a furniture maker hoping his passion for brewing could become something more than just a hobby. Behind his woodshop just south of Eureka he set up the H.A. Brewing Co., previously known as Homestead Ales, a small craft brewery nestled along Graves Creek.
Neill’s plan was simple: keep making furniture to pay the bills and spend his spare time making the beer he loves.
How times change. Today, Neill is making more wooden tap handles than coffee tables and he’s spending most of his time in the brewery trying to keep up with demand that has only grown since H.A. opened last August. One of Montana’s newest breweries hit the ground running last fall when, just weeks after it opened, its India Pale Ale was named the best in the state by the Montana Brewers Association.
“It was nice to know right out of the gate that we were hitting the mark,” Neill said.
H.A. is one of many breweries that have emerged in Montana in recent years, especially in the northwest part of the state where five are open and operating and two more could join the ranks in 2014. According to the Montana Brewers Association, there are more than 40 breweries in the state and in 2012 there were 2,403 breweries operating in the United States, the highest total since the 1880s.
Neill and his wife moved to Eureka 17 years ago and, with some encouragement, Neill and a group of friends started working on the brewery in 2012. They started with a three-barrel system but have since moved up to a five-barrel system to meet demand. They currently have the capacity to make 1,000 to 1,300 barrels of beer a year.
Neill and his partners were worried that Eureka wouldn’t be receptive to a microbrewery, especially one eight miles out of town. But the packed taproom, which is open Thursday through Sunday, tells another story.
Karl Kassler, one of the brewery’s partners, says a big reason for the brewery’s success is Neill’s recipes and passion for beer. Neill doesn’t set out to make beer that he thinks people will like, but rather makes beer that he likes.
The formula is working, even if the soft-spoken head brewer is reluctant to gloat.
“I like the beer and I’m glad other people like it,” Neill said.
H.A. currently produces nine different types of beer and all varietals are available at the tap house on Graves Creek Road. The beer is also on tap at bars in Eureka and Whitefish. For more information, visit www.homesteadales.com. You can also find them on Facebook.
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