Shea and Jill Dawson had been talking about opening a brewery for years.
Shea, who works in finance and public affairs at the Phillips 66 refinery, worked in a handful of places for Phillips, mostly recently New Orleans, before they arrived in Billings a year and a half ago.
They really liked what Billings had to offer, and with twin girls who are now a year old, Shea said, they told each other, “we’ve got to really start thinking of putting our roots down.”
Those roots are now planted at 3008 First Ave. N., home of the new Thirsty Street Brewing Co., which will have its grand opening on Thursday, Feb. 18.
The Dawsons had been prepared to build a brewery from scratch, but they couldn’t resist when their real estate agent, Chuck Platt, told them last summer that Himmelberger Brewing was up for sale. Brewing pioneer Dennis Himmelberger had worked long and hard to renovate the old brick building on First Avenue North, meaning the Dawsons wouldn’t have to do much to get their brewery going.
Himmelberger, who opened his brewery early in 2012, closed at the end of last November, shortly after which Shea started brewing beer to prepare for the opening of Thirsty Street.
“I’ve got 95 kegs back there ready to go,” he said, gesturing to the brewing equipment behind the bar.
The biggest change is that the Dawsons have converted what used to be a coffee shop on the east end of the brewery space into a game room with two dart boards, a shuffleboard table and a pool table. The game room wasn’t something they’d planned on from the start.
“But we’re both pretty into bar games, and that room is just perfect for it,” Shea said. They’re also into sports, so they installed two big-screen TVs, one in the tap room and another in the game room.
They also brought in new tables and stools and covered the long bar with a sheet of copper, topped with a layer of clear glaze. They’ve got a sizable sheet of copper left over. “So,” Jill said, “if you know anyone who needs 800 pounds of copper…”
Jill came up with the brewery’s name, based on its proximity to First Avenue and 30th Street. “If you combine 30th and First, you get ‘thirsty,’ kind of,” she said.
Originally from New Mexico, both Dawsons have some experience working in bars, Shea as a bartender and Jill as a server. Shea also took a “brewing science” class in college and has been a home brewer for 10 years.
His favorite recipe is for a Belgian Dubbel-style ale that he’ll be serving under the name Dubbel Trubbel. Other beers he’s already got ready are Winterization Pale Ale, made with fresh spruce tips; Staycation IPA, “with tropical undertones”; Goud Times Belgian Blonde; Big Bison American Stout; and Rimrock’d Amber Ale.
He will rotate other beers in from time to time. Thirsty Street will charge $4 for a pint or $3 for a 12-ounce glass of beer, with a dollar off both sizes during a happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
The brewery will be open from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and noon to 5 on Sunday. They will be serving hot dogs and sausages from Pioneer Meats in Big Timber, with buns from Grains of Montana.
There is a fenced-off patio in the brewery’s parking lot, which will be open as weather conditions (and some space heaters) allow. Thirsty Street is right next door to Angry Hank’s, one of Billings’ seven breweries.
The Dawsons said they’ve frequented all of the other establishments and enjoy the camaraderie in the brewing community, the sense of shared passion and the idea that lots of options is less about competition than building a bigger audience of people who like good beer.
They’ve already hired three bartenders and will be serving their beer for the first time next weekend during the Taste of Billings at the Billings Depot.
During the grand opening on Feb. 18, they will have happy-hour prices and will be raffling off five “Mug Club” memberships. The memberships, which normally will cost $30, give regulars a fancy mug that can be used every Wednesday for a $2 fill.