5 Questions with Mountains Walking Founder Gustav Dose
Every year a handful of breweries burst onto the scene and seem to gain overwhelming popularity overnight. These breweries are often coveted in trading circles and are setting the tone in their local communities. A brewery that one could say fits into this category is Mountains Walking. Mountains Walking in Bozeman, Montana has been open for a couple of years now and has quietly been perfecting their craft and people have been taking notice in 2020.
Montana has a ton of breweries, especially given the low population, but a lot of the trends and innovation get overlooked and some breweries prefer to brew Scotch Ales (nothing is wrong with that, Montanans love Scotch Ales). Mountains Walking, along with a handful of other breweries in the state, have been trailblazers when it comes to brewing new and creative beers. Mountains Walking was one of the first to brew a Pastry Stout, make a beer slushie, and utilize foeders and coolships in Montana. It takes a team of talented people to make delicious beer, but beer nerds love a little history about their brewers. Fun fact, the head brewer at Mountains Walking, Lewis McCallister, has a background coming from Other Half and Melvin.
I asked Gustav Dose, the founder of Mountains Walking, five questions and he was kind enough to answer a bonus question about a special project he’s working on.
Mountains Walking is a unique name, what is the meaning behind it?
Mountains are a daily fact of life in Bozeman. Look up—there they are. In his Mountains and Waters Sutra, Dogen says, “When your understanding is shallow, you doubt the phrase Green mountains are always walking.” It seems that this phrase, Mountains Walking, destroys boundaries and dissolves the division between mountains and people. It’s two words that together make you stop and think. Nearly everyone in Bozeman goes walking in the mountains, so this is not a remote or abstract proposition. The name itself will generate so many conversations. A customer will ask: “So, what does your name mean?” Yes, exactly.
Mountains Walking has gained some serious nationwide popularity in the last 6 months. What do you think attributed to that popularity and success?
I’m not ready to call us a success yet. The Bozeman beer market has handed me my butt for 2 years, it’s a unique market with a Liquor license system that is like a million-dollar pay to play, set in stone by an entrenched Tavern Association which is by far the richest lobby in the State. I think it’s changing but has often felt like a race to the bottom for beer pricing. Most accounts view us as competition, as we are like a restaurant upfront, though with heavy restrictions. The system cuts the legs out of small biz-like restaurants and makes it much harder for breweries like us to break-even. The way we produce beer in small batches there is little economy of scale. I thought if we made the best possible product at a higher cost there would be buyers here in Bozeman, which was/is not necessarily the case, I am learning every day.
We make good beer, and for reasons I can’t explain fully, our popularity has grown recently outside of Bozeman. Has something to do with us looking outside for sales, like online platform Tavour, Portland, OR and east coast markets, we are fortunate that those markets have embraced us. I am continuously trying to make it happen here in Bozeman, because we are doing things off the beaten path, it just takes more time and effort.
What are some ways that COVID-19 has forced you to think outside of the box to continue bringing in revenue? Is there anything new the brewery has done because of the pandemic that you will continue to do once life returns to normal?
We pivoted hard towards canning production after our tasting room closed and we will continue to pack out the cans, I hope.
The brewery has pushed the envelope on some of the releases for what many beer drinkers are used to in Montana. How do you think that innovation has influenced the craft beer scene in the state, as well as the local consumer?
Our disadvantage of having a small batch brewery from an economy of scale standpoint is turned into an advantage when we are able to experiment with many different styles with less risk. Takes time but maybe we can lead the way in opening things up a little in Montana as far as new styles and re-discovering old ones. The rubber meets the road with the consumer, and we are on this journey together. If they don’t like it we don’t make it again. I remember back over a decade ago working at different breweries and making the same beer every day, I definitely didn’t want to do that at MW, back then and still, now I want to be experimenting every day with a beginner’s mindset.
What can fans of Mountains Walking look forward to in the second half of 2020?
New beers! Some Barrel-Aged Stouts and our Mixed-Culture/longer format beers are starting to mature, the beer tells us when it’s ready, not the other way around.
Talk to me about New Hokkaido. What is Mountains Walking’s involvement with that project?
New Hokkaido is a brand/idea that I came up with years ago, I have spent time up in Hokkaido and love the region, it reminds me of Montana in that it is remote and wild. I am hoping it takes shape in the coming years as an international beer brand that experiments with Hokkaido rice, Koji, and again like MW looking through perceived boundaries in beverages like beer and Sake in a careful and studied way. I want to create something that is true to my Japanese heritage and the region. I am neck-deep in MW these days though.