Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company’s co-founders and owners, Sarah Sorensen and Kristin Smith, took different paths to arrive in Libby, Montana. But upon arrival, both knew this was the place they wanted to establish deep roots in the community.
Sarah recalls growing up “a little bit of everywhere” as the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who served several communities during his career. After graduating from high school in Colo-rado , she studied Dental Hygiene at Colorado Northwestern Community College. Upon grad-uating in 1989, she took a job as a dental hygienist in Libby, Montana - the community she’s proud to call home 27 years later.
"“Starting something like this is kind of like when you have a dinner party and don’t know who will show up from your invite list…a lot of our community has really shown up for us.”
Kristin grew up in Boise, Idaho and started her college education there before deciding it was “time to get out of my hometown and experience someplace new.” Her strong background in dance earned her a scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the arts; so at 20 years old Kristin found herself making the move from Boise to Manhattan and “loving everything New York had to offer at that time.” Six years later, a desire to be with her ailing mother brought her back to Boise, and she found herself happy to be reacquainted with the recreational access and pace of life available in the west. In 2000, wanderlust once again took hold and Kristin took a position with a non-profit based in Montana. That experience and some personal connections in Missoula encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree in Community and Environmental Planning at the University of Montana. In 2009, Kristin took a job as the Director of Planning a few hundred miles north in Libby.
Sarah and Kristin were both active community members in Libby, serving on non-profit and community boards, and their friendship grew as their paths crossed several times in social gatherings like a book club they both belonged to.
In 2012, Sarah found herself looking for new career opportunities when her hours working as a dental hygienist were drastically cut. As she recalls, “I was very vested in the community, and knew this is where I wanted to be. I also knew I had to be self-reliant in creating my own job and determining my own fate.” She was visiting Philipsburg Brewing Company in the small town of Philipsburg, Montana when “the lightbulb just went off, and I knew this is what Libby needed. I knew a brewery could be a great venture for me, and the vibrant downtown hub our community needed.”
Back in Libby, Sarah confided her idea to Kristin on the way to a book club gathering, expecting questions. Kristin listened intently before responding “let’s just do it.” The two quickly decided to be partners in a joint venture, and Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company opened its doors to the public in July 2014 as Libby’s first brewery, and Montana’s only exclusively women-owned brewery.
Starting a new business has been a great adventure for Sarah and Kristin - and in their own words, “a tremendous learning curve.” Knowing little about the process of brewing craft beer, the pair opted to hire Grant Golden, a brewer hailing from the craft beer mecca of Portland, Oregon. Grant was new in his career, and eager to have the opportunity to practice his craft among the beauty of northwest Montana’s high peaks and lush forests.
Together, Sarah, Kristin and Grant refined the recipes for Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company’s six signature beers: Bobtail Blonde, Peak Baggin’ Pale Ale, Yaak Attack IPA (award-winning), Bullbucker ESB, Ross Creek Red (award-winning), and Colter Coffee Porter. All of the beer names were inspired by the landscape and lore of northwestern Montana; representative of Cabinet Mountain’s slogan “Tapping Wild Mon-tana”. The Colter Coffee Porter is a collaboration with another successful northwestern Montana business, Colter Coffee Roasting, based in Kalispell. (Ironically, Sarah had met its owner Lindsay Macdonald decades before starting the brewery, when the two were roommates in Colorado).
Cabinet Mountain’s beers are currently distributed as far south and east as Billings, Montana; and as far north as Glacier National Park and Eureka, Montana. Sarah estimates they are on over 60 tap handles across the state. Sarah and Kristin are grateful for the business’ success, and cite community support as being a huge part of that success: “Starting something like this is kind of like when you have a dinner party and don’t know who will show up from your invite list…a lot of our community has really shown up for us.”
The pair also cite the opportunity to educate their community about craft beer tastes, and the ability to showcase local musical and artistic talent on a regular basis as being a hugely reward-ing aspect of running their brewery. They’ve also been able to see the catalyzing effect the brewery’s location in downtown Libby has had on the town’s main street, Mineral Avenue, as other businesses pop up nearby to serve the crowds that regularly gather at Cabinet Mountain.
Perhaps most importantly, starting and growing Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company has al-lowed Sarah and Kristin to live and play in the place they are so happy to call home. Both cite the affordable cost of living and resilience of people here as huge attributes for their business, and as Kristin notes: “I chose to move to this wild, beautiful place - and to be able to create something that’s so fun and so well-received by the community feels great.”