As the August sun dips beneath the Montana horizon, a symphony of amber waves ripples across the vast plains. A combine harvests wheat, the grain filling the air with a sweet, earthy aroma that signifies both the end of summer and the start of another harvest season. These golden grains are not only the lifeblood of Montana’s agricultural economy but also the backbone of a flourishing industry that too often goes unnoticed: beer.
Montana is a powerhouse in grain production, especially barley and wheat. A combination of rich soil, clean water, and climatic conditions has made this part of the heartland the optimal location for grain farming. While wheat has long held the title of “King Crop” in Montana, the state’s barley has grown in prominence, thanks in part to the rise of the craft beer industry.
The U.S. beer industry is a juggernaut, contributing over $350 billion annually to the national economy, and it’s still growing. Microbreweries and craft beer have exploded in popularity over the past decade, with an emphasis on local sourcing and unique flavors as demonstrated by the nearly 100 breweries in Montana. As a result, the connection between Montana’s grain harvest and the beer industry has become more crucial than ever.
Montana’s grains are the base for a vast array of malt, the key ingredient in beer that provides both color and flavor. The diversity of grains harvested in Montana — ranging from two-row and six-row barley to hard red winter wheat — allows for a wide variety of malts. This, in turn, enables beer makers to offer an extensive palette of flavors, from the light and crisp pilsners to the rich, dark stouts.
Notably, the symbiotic relationship between Montana’s grain farmers and the beer industry also creates a sustainable and resilient supply chain. Spent grain from the brewing process often goes back to local farms as animal feed, promoting a circular economy that flows through the entire Montana economy.
While our microbreweries benefit from locally sourced grain, Montana is vitally important to the large brewers as well. National brewers like Anheuser-Busch maintain both grain elevators and processing facilities in Montana and contribute tens of millions of dollars in economic activities — providing an important part of the tax base in rural Montana counties.
Beyond Montana agriculture, the largest brewery in the United States, Anheuser-Busch, also has an important relationship with Montana small businesses such as restaurants, hotels, taverns, and distributers, to name a few. These small and medium-sized businesses employ our neighbors, family members, and friends in good-paying Montana jobs.
As you travel through Montana this month and see farmers working late into the night to get their crops in, appreciate where they’re going. The connection between Montana’s grain harvest and the beer industry epitomizes a story of interdependence, resilience, and the potential for sustainable growth. As we raise a glass of our favorite brew, it’s worth remembering the journey from the grain fields of Montana to our glass, and the importance of preserving this vital supply chain. After all, the quality of our beer relies heavily on the health and prosperity of our grain.