The Dram Shop in Missoula, Montana

Barkeep by | Aug 2016 | Issue #115
Photo by Robert Seidler

As a creative writing major, former touring musician, and the son of two entrepreneurs, it was only a matter of time until Zach Millar started an interesting business of his own. After spending 11 years at Missoula’s Big Sky Brewing, first in the taproom, then as a distribution manager for the brewery’s 26-state wholesaler network, he decided to apply his skills to the only one of the three tiers he hadn’t dipped his toes into. The Dram Shop was born.

Millar’s wife, Sarah, was working in Missoula’s startup community when the couple found themselves well-positioned to open a bar and taproom. “Sarah and I had always dreamed about running our own business together. We felt like it was good timing and the right opportunity, and so we went for it.”

When it opened in April 2015, The Dram Shop became Montana’s first standalone growler retailer. Today, its 40 taps pour classics like Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale and Petrus Aged Pale alongside selections like Moose Drool Brown Ale and Whistle Pig Red Ale from Millar’s former employer Big Sky, and smaller locals like Meadowlark Brewing, Great Burn Brewing, and Carter’s Brewing. You’ll also find wine, cider, and kombucha on tap, plus a curated selection of bottled wine and beer.

“It’s wild to think of all the kegs we empty on the daily,” says The Dram Shop’s “right hand lady” Elizabeth Hunter. “Sometimes on a Thursday or Friday we’ll blow through six to 10 kegs in a night. We show love to our locals with tap takeovers and we rotate our cask beer selection with a different local brewery each week.” In a fun education effort, the shop also highlights a different beer style each month. “In May, we featured six Maibocks from a range of areas including the Czech Republic, California, Colorado, and two from Missoula,” Hunter says. “It’s fun to compare six beers of the same style from all over the world.”

Documentary filmmaker Ryan Seitz loves discovering interesting beers at the shop. He lives a block away and often does a lot of pre-production work for his films there, saying it inspires his creativity. “Zach makes a concerted effort to seek out beers that are not always accessible to most bars and taprooms in Montana,” Seitz says. “I love trying new beers that I can’t get my hands on elsewhere in town.”

And really, it all comes back to education—especially in a nascent beer market like Montana’s. For Millar, that might mean turning someone on to a beer style they had previously written off. For Seitz, that’s trying something new and exciting. For others, like Hunter, it’s an everyday occurrence—and one that, thankfully, is a virtuous circle.

“Don’t assume anything, ever,” Hunter says about what she’s learned from working at The Dram Shop. “Be proactive in learning about the history, the process, and the taste components of what we offer. Teach your clientele and let them teach you. Be creative. Throw curve balls. Be fast. And remember that everyone has a different idea of what quality is, what pleases us.”