Miles City is about to get a new brewery. Otium, owned by Hannah and Dustin Strong, is not only going to offer a variety of beer made from Montana-grown barley and hops, but will offer a new place for community members to gather.
Bringing vitality back to small towns is the goal of the Montana Farm Bureau Foundation’s Centennial Community Fund. The selection committee chose Otium because of the enthusiasm the Strongs showed toward their business and their energetic desire to see a revitalization in their community.
Dustin and Hannah were both raised in the northwest North Dakota. They moved to Miles City in 2011 after college so Dustin could start his job as a research technician at Fort Keogh Agricultural Research Station. One day seven years ago, he came home and declared he wanted to start a brewery. After home brewing for a couple years, they had a few false starts opening a brewery in town, so in 2017, the couple decided to move out to a small farm in Kinsey and try their hand at a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business and farm brewery.
“Growing vegetables taught us to work hard,” Hannah noted. “However, it proved to be difficult as we were too many miles from town and it was a tough business, plus we admitted our hearts really weren’t in it.”
Meanwhile, Dustin’s home brewing began producing delicious beer (with friends as tasters) and Dustin discovered he really enjoyed the process as it combined science with creativity.
“Making beer is more fun when you share it with friends, plus both of us enjoy the hospitality part that we knew would come with running a brewery and tasting room,” Dustin said. Once the couple decided a brewery was in their future, they started visiting ones around the state and fell in love with the atmosphere of a community tasting room.
“We really liked the brewery atmosphere because they attract people from all walks of life and are family friendly. The place we’ve spent the most time visiting was Beaver Creek Brewing in Wibaux. They have been very helpful and forthcoming with information,” noted Dustin.
In January 2020, the two found a building to purchase for the endeavor just one block off Main Street in downtown Miles City. It was ideal, as they can live upstairs with their four children and have the brewery humming away downstairs. (Plus, the kids love the fact they can walk to the library and ride bikes around town.)
“As far as the beer production goes, we wanted to keep local ties to Montana agriculture to be our focal point. We’re fortunate that Montana is on the upswing for growing hops and barely. We’re catching on with the independent farmers who are working with independent breweries. “
Otium will have eight taps total in the tap room with four beers remaining constant and four that rotate with seasons and holidays.
They are close to concluding the construction on the brewery side and moving over to what will be our tap room. The plan is to be ready to open the doors to the public in October.
More than anything the Strongs love the idea of community a brewery brings. “I see breweries as a great way to get people downtown,” Hannah admitted.
Bringing people back into rural towns is also the goal of the Montana Farm Bureau Foundation’s Centennial Community Initiative. Hannah explained that they had been working with the South Eastern Montana Development Corporation out of Colstrip who recommended applying for Farm Bureau’s CCI grant. We got really excited because it was a perfect fit. Plus, the mission of the Foundation tied directly with our business.”
Dustin heartily thanks the MFB Foundation grant for enabling them to really get the nuts and bolts of Otium in gear; the beer making apparatuses. “The grant bought our boil kettle, our mash tun (where grain is steeped), the glycol chiller (where the fermentation tanks are jacketed and kept a certain temperature) and their kegs.
The couple plans to offer a honey cream ale that has 100 percent Montana hops, barley and honey; an Irish Red Ale, a darker stout and an IPA. All of the ingredients will be from Montana, except the yeast.
Once the brewery is up and running, with the tap room and an outdoor patio, the public will be able to realize the true meaning of the Latin word Otium: leisure time spent drinking, playing and –possibly, pursuing academic endeavors.
“It really hurts my heart to see people leaving our small towns. I do have some classmates moving home, but when you move back to a small town, there needs to be a community,” said Hannah. “I feel a brewery can build that up again as it draws people back to town and has families enjoying their time together.”
Want more news on this topic? Montana Farm Bureau members may subscribe for a free email news service, featuring the farm and rural topics that interest them most!