Have you heard of beer? Alright, that was an awkward question and start to this blog. Apologies. Let's try that again.
Have you heard of the Billings Brew Trail? If you have a passing knowledge of the beer or restaurant scene in Billings, I imagine you have some familiarity with one of our city’s many breweries. In fact, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine you have a favorite brewery (I know I do). But what makes that spot special? Obviously, a brewery’s success thrives on having great beverage options, but most of--if not all--of the breweries in Billings take things one step further.
I personally marvel at the unique identity each of our breweries has created. Whether they’ve crafted a unique venue, pair their beer with equally-as-mouth-watering food, or employ clever branding and naming conventions, each stop on the Billings Brew Trail does something to set itself apart. Even if you're not a frequent customer at any of the Billings' breweries, it's important to understand why this "trail" is an important feature for marketing our city to potential visitors (that's what Trail Guides is all about).
Read more for a top-level approach to the Billings Brew Trail, how Visit Billings markets this attraction, and why Billings always seems ready to welcome a new business in this industry.
Paving the Trail
Currently, the Billings Brew Trail is a collective attraction comprised of 11 breweries, 3 distilleries, and 1 cider house. Its downtown footprint features 6 breweries, 2 distilleries, and 1 cider house, for those of you who really want to dig into specifics (I’m proud of you). It seems like Billings, as a community, has no issue supporting a new ‘watering hole’ when it opens to the public. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear there were 2 more breweries that planned on opening soon (this is completely hypothetical, but it doesn’t sound crazy, right?).
Billings is a fantastic beer city, and before there was a ‘brew trail,’ there were plenty of breweries actively contributing to our city’s flavor (what a lame pun). But in recent years, it seems like our brew scene does more than contribute to Billings’ culture; it has become a cultural driver. We see this when it comes to travelers visiting our city. They actively seek out a wide variety of our breweries with an understanding that they’ll be experiencing something they can’t in their own hometown.
One of Our Favorite “Hikes”
Alright, I’ll admit it. The Billings Brew Trail isn’t an actual trail. In fact, most of the walking you do between stops is on paved sidewalk. Lightweight sneakers are a safer bet than leather hiking boots here. If hiking boots are your style though, I promise you won’t look out of place.
Luckily, the Billings Brew Trail has more on offer than just craft beer and specialty cocktails. With the walkable portion being located in the heart of downtown Billings, visitors are already in the midst of locally-owned restaurants, museums, and unique businesses. Naturally, these options can round out a ‘brew trail’ experience. Does anything sound better than grabbing a drink after catching a show at the Alberta Bair Theater?
As a Trail Guide, you should be aware that plenty of adventure seekers make downtown Billings their home away from home. For someone returning from an actual hike, suggesting they hit another trail may make their eyes roll into the back of their head. Instead, let them know of a nearby brewery. I promise that’s a much easier sell, and nothing sounds better than a cold beer to wrap up an adventure-filled day.
Messaging in Mind
Of course, when it comes to anything with alcohol, safety needs to be a priority in messaging. If you’re engaging with a visitor as a Trail Guide, it’s obviously not a good idea to urge someone to try every single Billings brewery if they’re only in Billings with a limited amount of time. And that’s where your Trail Guide expertise kicks in.
If you have the experience with a brewery, pass along that suggestion to a visitor. And during a conversation with someone asking about all things beer, make a personal recommendation. That goes a long way, and it will provide something specific to someone who has plenty of options.
And if you don’t like beer, I know of a great web page that has all of this information, so you can definitely send someone asking here…
If you’re giving someone a personal recommendation, it’s important that you have knowledge of what Billings has to offer. This obviously extends to much more than breweries, but using the Billings Brew Trail is a great example because it simplifies this approach.
Does Applebee’s serve beer? Yes. Is Applebee’s the best place to grab a beer in our city? I won’t answer that, but if you’re answer to that question is ‘yes,’ I’d love to hear your reasoning. Ultimately, it’s important to give visitors recommendations that will lead them to new experiences or provide them something unique to Billings.
So next time you’re going out for a drink, I’d urge you to ‘drink local,’ and if you’re already a fan of a certain brewery, maybe it’s time to try another spot along the brew trail. And if you’ve read this far, and catch me at a brewery… well, I owe you one, so next beer’s on me.
MONTANA’S ONLY WALKABLE BREWERY TRAIL is located in the heart of downtown Billings. This self-guided tour is made up of six breweries, two distilleries and one cider house, all within easy walking distance. Take this 1.5-mile brewery route and enjoy historic sites along the way.