Hail the ale

Jack Smashed Pumpkin Ale, a Muddy Creek Brewery of Butte brew, won the Best of Festival gold medal at the Montana Brewers Association Fall Festival in Missoula on Oct. 16. Overall, 40 breweries and 150 other beers competed. Muddy Creek employees from left to right: Devin Sherman, Chris Sherman, Cindy Sherman, Scott Sherman, Andy Epperson and Kat Ousley.

As seasonal beers go, Muddy Creek Brewery’s Jack Smashed Pumpkin Ale beat the competition.

Brewmaster Gregg Wigen scared up the specialty brew to help Muddy Creek win the prestigious Best of Festival gold medal at the recent 2015 Montana Brewers Fall Festival in Missoula, where more than 40 breweries and 150 Montana-made beers competed.

Originally the brew was called Occupy Oktoberfest.

“Ever since we won this award for JSPA, it’s flying out the door,” said Chris Sherman, operations director and Muddy Creek co-owner with chemical engineer Todd McAdams and Wigen. “Why this is so remarkable is that we only opened our doors six months ago. People’s reactions were very good to our namesake.”

The win for Muddy Creek, which opened last February, is a win for Butte craft beverage pubs.

“We were just interested in revitalizing Butte, and that’s why we did so much renovation here,” said Sherman. “It’s Butte first for us.”

With three other breweries in town, plus a distillery, Sherman is especially proud to snag such an honor so early in Muddy Creek’s history.

Direct competition with CopperWild Brewing, Quarry Brewing, Butte Brewery Company and Headframe Spirits — the lone distillery — doesn’t faze Sherman.

“It’s good because everybody has to step up their game,” he added.

Brewer Kat Ousley, 25 and a Butte resident since last December, is a 5-foot-4, 115-pound dynamo who regularly lifts 50-pound grain bags in the downstairs brew-making space located below Muddy Brewery in The Post building, 25 E. Galena St.

She thinks Butte is starting to blend right in with craft brew movement. Case in point: she’s working on a secret single-malt creation using local hops — set for release in a few weeks.

“Craft brewing is big around the country,” said Ousley. “Butte is building a strong beer community scene.”

One key to success: not only do locals patronize Muddy Creek; tourists do, too, to Sherman’s delight:

“People come into town for locally made Butte craft beverages. That’s a big attraction for businesses.”

Like many craft brew startups, Muddy Creek relies heavily on family employees. Cindy Sherman, Chris’ wife, manages. Sons Devin Sherman, 20, and Scott Sherman, 17, are a taproom server and assistant brewer who works with Wigen and Ousley.

Unrelated Andy Epperson, 22, is a popular bartender who draws his own regulars. A Boise native, he is a senior mechanical engineering major at Montana Tech.

“I run the weekend show,” said Epperson, practicing his air cocktail tosses before the Friday crowds clambered in.

At the Montana Brewers Spring Festival, attendees raved about Muddy Creek’s vanilla porter, too, said Chris Sherman.

“I was disappointed because I wanted them to judge at the spring festival because the crowd was just going crazy at our vanilla porter,” he added. “It’s really popular.”

But Sherman considers the Jack Smashed Pumpkin Ale victory a turning point for Butte craft beverage pubs overall.

“Butte likes its beer, so it’s good for us,” echoed Scott Sherman, assistant brewmaster who turns 18 on Oct. 26.

Other area brewery winners include the Philipsburg Brewing Co., which won Best Specialty for its Badfinger Imperial Stout.

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Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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