The first and, allegedly, only educational center and microbrewery of its kind, Imagine Nation Brewing Co. in Missoula, Montana, takes the craft brewery model one step further, and operates as a hub for social change.
Though the beer itself is highly favored, what’s enticing about the brewery is everything other than the beer. Imagine Nation is a center for community conversation, engagement and involvement, a staging ground to participate in civil discourse on tough issues, and promote positive change on many of the current cultural themes that underlie society.
Owners Robert Rivers and Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum spent years traveling the world working in conflict zones to facilitate healing within affected communities. This line of work was how they met — Robert is from Montana, while Fernanda is Brazilian, and both made the individual leap to leave their home nations to help others in less fortunate circumstances.
Between the two of them, the couple has over 20 years of experience working in conflict zones like Azerbaijan, El Salvador, Palestine, Romania, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Our whole goal is social change,” Krum says. “Robert and I want to sustain social change, and when we were thinking of models that would allow us to do so, a brewery made sense.”
Toward the end of their time in conflict resolution, Rivers says he began to develop severe PTSD, this signaled it was time to take a break. Day in and day out they voluntarily put themselves in traumatic situations and it had begun to take its toll. Krum also agrees she, too, needed a break, so they decided to regroup in Brazil. There, they began searching for their next move, that next business venture they could use to positively impact other individuals.
“I remember Robert saying, ‘What do Brazilians like the most?’ Because originally we were going to open our business [there],” Krum says. “I answered: ‘beer, conversations, celebrations and music.’”
Beer and conversation, two things that go hand-in-hand, but Krum says Brazil hasn’t really adapted the craft beer taproom culture yet, and certain legislation makes it hard to own a small business in Brazil. Perhaps to Rivers’ chagrin, they decided to move to Montana to begin Imagine Nation Brewing.
Today, the brewery maintains a public house and taproom atmosphere for beer fans and activists alike, but there is a conscious effort to make it a place of learning, civic engagement and social cooperation.
Books, local artwork, quotes and various pamphlets line the walls. A massive chalk calendar is on the wall closest to the entrance. This calendar lists all the different workshops and events that will take place at the brewery throughout the month. There is something every day of the week, from homeowner’s meetings to non-profit appreciation days, teacher appreciation nights to civic action work parties. Imagine Nation builds community with more than beer — they build it with participation and active engagement.
In addition to community events and brews, Imagine Nation produces Beyond Beer: The Magazine, a literary magazine aimed to facilitate social change through the art and literature featured. “We want people to engage in things that they haven’t before,” Krum says. “There is so much going on in the world and people should be aware, even if it is out of their comfort zone.”