Building a Brewery Isn’t Like Drinking Beer

If only it were that easy.

First, I don’t know exactly when we’ll open. I wish. Oh how I wish we had the opening date set. In the future? In the year 2000? Bad Conan O’Brien reference for all you late night fans.  And I know, for all of our followers and fans out there on the social media channels, it has seemed like a long time to wait. Trust me, we’ve been working really hard to get the old and sorry building into shape (and into something that bears structural integrity, which is very important). If we could simply snap our fingers and be open with five flagship brews on tap, we’d do it.

We’ve stopped guessing on our opening because each time we do, like when we said summer or  fall, we’ve been off. Construction operates on its own time scale. Kinda like geology. That being said, we have an incredibly dedicated and talented crew of subcontractors who are working hard to get the building done. Things like the weather tends to make a difference in how fast or slow a project (like the roof) can be completed. Damn you, fickle and unpredictable weather.

But I don’t blame people for asking why it’s taking so long or when we’re opening. I’m thrilled by their enthusiasm. They want to see us open. They want their town to have a brewery. Right in downtown, especially at a time when the north side of Kalispell is being taken over by chains and box stores. It buoys our spirits to have strangers thank us for starting a brewery. Thank goodness Montanans love their beer–we rank third in the nation for  consumption.  We average 40 gallons of beer  for every man, woman and child!

It has been a long wait since the brewery was first announced last January. But remember people, it’s been over fifty years since the town has had a brewery of it’s very own. And we’re trying, day by day, brick by brick (which nearly all of the bricks had to be restored and rehabbed) to resurrect the city’s brewing legacy.

Did you know that in 1894 two German immigrant brothers opened Kalispell Malting and Brewing? Kalispell is no stranger to brewing beer.

Henry and Charles Lindlahr opened Kalispell Malting and Brewing Company on the corner of 5th Avenue West and Center Street. Today you can still see remnants of the old brewery. They also operated the Brewery Saloon, their original Main Street tasting room. The old saloon is now  Sassafras, an artist cooperative.

The Lindlahr brothers were also big promoters of locally brewed beer. In 1898, in response to Milwaukee based Schlitz Brewing Company’s $1,000 reward to anyone proving that their beer contained anything other than hops or malt, the brothers weren’t keen to be outdone. Henry and Charles upped the ante by offering a cool $1 million to anyone “who can prove it is better for the people of Flathead Valley to send money for beer to Milwaukee, when a better article is made at home by Flathead County taxpayers from their own barley, fuel, ice and labor.”  There’s no record of payment of $1 million to anyone disproving the Lindlahr challenge.

I agree with Henry and Charles. Beer is best when brewed in your hometown.

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A brewery with the title of the largest electric sign in the state? You go, Kalispell.

By 1910 the brewery  had a capacity of 12,000 barrels and survived Prohibition with a steady stream of ciders, sodas, and “near beers.”  Seeing a good investment, the founder of what would later become Pabst Brewing Co., Jacob Best, purchased stock in Kalispell Malting and Brewing Co for his nephew Christian Best.   Christian operated the brewery and established Best Beer Brand until 1913.  As Prohibition ended in 1933, Kalispell Malting and Brewing Co. reemerged, producing notable beers including Glacier Special Beer, Topper Beer, Topper Deluxe and the Glacier Bock.

In 1935, the Gustav Bischoff Jr. family purchased the brewery and produced Gus’ Topper beer. Brewing continued until 1955 when Kalispell Malting and Brewing Company closed with the title of the city’s oldest business.

Kalispell Brewing Company is proud to bring back a local tradition to the Flathead Valley. And we’re also breathing life into another significant Main Street business. Our building was the former Hendricksen Motors. The original dealership occupied the south side of the building and in 1955 the showroom was added to the north. The brewery production floor is the southern half of the building and the tasting room will reside in the former showroom. We were tickled when the old murals from the dealership were revealed during the demolition phase. They’re staying, by the way.

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Circa 50s ish? Pre-showroom addition. This wall is now an interior wall and divides the production floor from the tasting room.

To be honest, it would have been easier to construct a new building to house Kalispell Brewing. But when we saw the building on the corner of 4th and Main we knew it was the place to house our brewery and our dreams. It hasn’t been easy or cheap but we wanted more than just a building, we wanted to preserve history and be a part of the downtown, Main Street community.

Soon, folks, soon we’ll be drinking beer brewed right in Kalispell. And Cole and I’ll certainly need a few to get over the stress of the remodel.

Building a brewery hasn’t been easy, but it will be worth it. We’re going to be making beer: it could be a lot worse.

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2 thoughts on “Building a Brewery Isn’t Like Drinking Beer

  1. I was in Kalispell on a business trip and heard about your brewery. We are in the business of supplying boilers to mico brew operations like yours. We would like to talk to you if you are still in the market for a boiler. We have supplied Tim O’Leary at KettleHouse, Missoula with his two Columbia boilers. Please call me at 1-800-261-1041 and see our web site at http://www.oilburners.com. The MPH boilers ( The Brewers Choice) would be perfect for your operation. Cheers, Howard Levens

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