Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Columbia Falls to open Backslope Brewing, early summer 2015

   With the closing of Desert Mountain Brewing, back in September of 2013, residence of Columbia Falls once again found themselves without a hometown brewery.  Darin & Carla Fisher intend to remedy that problem by opening Backslope Brewing in early summer of 2015.

   Darin has over 10 years of brewing experience under his belt and his wife, Carla, has been managing the very successful, Montana Coffee Traders, in Columbia Falls.  With his knowledge of brewing beer and her 15+ years of management experience, it is hoped that Backslope will be slinging beer and providing a community hang out for the thirsty residence of C Falls for decades to come.

   It's their hope too, because they've bet the bank on it's success by investing their savings into acquiring all the 4 barrel equipment from the old Desert Mountain Brewery and a mash tun from MickDuff's in Sandpoint.  Still, emptying your savings into what has been a longtime dream of yours isn't always enough.  The Fisher's want to do it correctly from the get go, vs. playing catch up, by acquiring the needed additional equipment and by upgrading the existing equipment that they have.  Currently they still need a high quality brewery pump, more serving kegs, a new brew kettle, high quality brewing hoses, and several other small but essential brewing components.  The acquisition of the aforementioned equipment is over and above what they have already invested, which is why they have turned to crowd funding for help and who's the king of crowd funding?, of course!  Click HERE to visit Backslope's Kickstarter page.  It is, after all, the season of giving and if you are feeling a bit philanthropic, throw some money their way to help insure that this will be a success.

   About the facility. It will be located at 1107 9th St. West (Hwy 2) in Columbia Falls in a 50'x50' structure that will yield 2,500 sq. ft. of usable space upstairs and slightly less downstairs in the basement.  In addition the acquisition of the Desert Mountain brewing equipment and kegs, they also bought the bar base that is a piece of corrugated metal siding from a barn that was being torn down near Great Falls, a couple of chalk boards from an old Nebraska school house, and what will be the centerpiece of the tasting room, a beautiful bar top that was created from a tree that had been sitting on the bottom of Flathead lake for the past 100 years.

  Outside, on the right of the building, you will find what everyone loves...outdoor seating on a 426 sq. ft. covered patio complete with an elbow bar!  As you walk in you will find the layout to be 697 sq. ft. of seating ahead and to the right with the bar being located towards the back and center.  To your left is where the brewing will take place, in a 439 sq. ft. space, that will have a short partitioning wall, with an elbow bar, separating it from the seating area.

   What about that space in the back of the building, what are going to do with that?  Well, what do we (Flathead residents) all complain so bitterly about when it comes to visiting breweries in these parts, especially when kids are in the mix?  FOOD!  Could it be that Backslope has plans to server you food?  The official lines is, is that they hope to incorporate some food component into the business, but are still looking at options, licensing issues, etc.  Everything needs to be in order before they announce firm plans to open a kitchen.  Keep your fingers crossed.

  Darin will brewing 5 flagship beers: a pale ale, IPA, kolsch, porter, and a stout.  He also has plans to have seasonal and rotators  like Scotch ales, ginger beer, imperial IPA's, imperial stouts, barley wine and various Belgian style beers like a dubble, tripple, and a saison.  Darin also got his hands on some whiskey barrels from Glacier Distilling, so look for a barrel aging program. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Montana Breweries, Bottle Shops, and Books Turn to Crowdfunding

By midnight tonight The Hawthorne Bottle Shop's IndieGoGo fundraising page will end, and the bottle shop will receive funding for the next phase of its project (121% funded at the time of writing). The effort was to raise $20,000 to "uncork the first bottle at our local wine store and wine bar in Helena, Montana!" They succeeded.

According to the fundraising page, The Hawthorne Bottle Shop will offer the following services:

  • Wine from around the world
  • Bottles for $10 and under
  • Open bottles to sample each day
  • Craft beer
  • Growler fills, wine and beer on tap
  • Specialty meats and cheeses
  • Olives, nuts and honey
  • Monthly wine and cheese club
  • Wines by glass
  • Beer by the pitcher
  • Wine flights
  • Wine and beer cocktails
  • Small plates including cheese, charcuterie (“shar-kood-aree”), house made crackers, dips and spiced nuts
A focal point of The Hawthorn is a long communal tasting table where we will host wine seminars and tastings.  We will also welcome other wine professionals and winemakers to share their wine and their story.  We will offer a variety of classes to challenge both the seasoned wine enthusiast and those who are just starting to get excited about wine. This table and space will also be made available for custom wine-inspired events and tastings (business meetings, bridal gatherings, birthday parties, etc.)

Earlier this year, both Katabatic Brewing Co. and Imagine Nation Brewing (formerly Big Medicine Brewing) turned to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, respectively, to fundraise for portions of their brewery operations. And both were successful. 

Even a project tied directly to Montana Beer Finder, the Montana Brewery Passport, was successful in raising $5,500 in order to come to fruition. 

And currently in the fundraising process is Backslope Brewing, which is seeking $12,500 by January 3, 2015 to "to create a positive experience for everyone who drinks our beer or visits our tasting room." If you don't already know, Backslope Brewing purchased the former Desert Mountain Brewing Company equipment when it went under. Part of that equipment was on loan to Bonsai Brewing in the interim. 

Backslope Brewing, however, will not do business in the previous brewery's location. They found a building site at 1107 9th St. W. (see below). The four barrel brew system will get them up and running, and they plan to offer five beers on tap at a time, according to their fundraising page: 

Backslope Brewing will strive to keep 5 beers on tap at all times: Pale Ale, IPA, Kolsch, Porter, and Stout. We will also have seasonal and rotating taps, including Scotch Ale, Ginger Beer, Imperial IPA, Imperial Stout, Barley Wine, and various Belgian styles such as Dubble, Tripple, and Saison. We have also acquired a few barrels from a local distillery, (thanks Glacier Distilling!) and will be running a small barrel aging program.

Photo courtesy Backslope Brewing Kickstarter

The Backslope Brewing Kickstarter is just over 25% funded, as of today. As with other Kickstarter projects, no money is provided unless the project is 100% funded by the deadline. 

Nationally, there are now two more alternatives for crowdfunding beer/brewery-related projects. (currently limited to investing in Wisconsin projects) and opened "shop" to help brewers open breweries and make beer. These new crowdfunding sources sprang up, likely in part, due to restrictions that have existed in the past on IndieGoGo and Kickstarter that discouraged people seeking money to open businesses. The original intention was to fund "artists" of all types to create projects (i.e. make something). For a brewery's sake, it does make beer, so that is something. IndieGoGo and Kickstarter have relaxed those rules a bit more recently.

However, there can be a dark side when it comes to crowdfunding and breweries. In Fortune magazine's October edition, a piece ran called "The perils of crowdfunding a beer." 

The article led with the story how Stone Brewing Co. raised $2.5 million in six weeks to sell "beer futures," though that in itself carried some controversy, notably because Stone Brewing tried calling it a "presales event" instead of "fundraising" (read the comments on the above link). But...they were using a fundraising website, right? So it looks like one thing, yet you call it another? 

Later in the Fortune article it describes that over 800 beer-related projects were launched on Kickstarter, and each of those had higher success rates with funding than the rate of their overall site.

But then there come the poster childs of crowdfunding-gone-wrong. Both a Kansas City- and Texas-based brewery received tens of thousands of dollars from backers, but neither got a brewery open, nor did they give any of the money back. To be fair, the Texas brewery opened for a very short time and then got closed down because of "naked game night," but it is yet to reopen.  

The questions that the article asks, and any potential backer of a project should ask, include: is this a transparent operation? Can I reasonably expect to get the return they promise? Should I fund it even if it fails? Is the business looking to crowdfunding as a "way out" of securing more tradition sources of funds (i.e. personal investment and bank loans)?

Is this all a new way of saying that "beer is social," as my friend at Growler Fills likes to say? Please discuss in the comments below.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Thomas Meagher Bar Opens in Missoula

With 16 tap handles, plenty of beer will be served.
Montana Beer Finder was extended an invitation to attend last night's VIP pre-party for the opening of Missoula's newest spot to buy a pint of beer, The Thomas Meagher Bar, housed in the former Sean Kelly's space at 130 W. Pine. With free food and drinks flowing, we got a "taste" of what's in store for Missoula's Irish Pub scene, and it's pretty darn authentic. 

Behind this project is Sean Graves, owner of Montana Brewing Company in Billings, Montana. Graves is familiar with Missoula, however, as he studied at the University of Montana-Missoula. He will spend some time traveling to/from Billings/Missoula as the bar takes shape. But while he's away, the bar will be in very good hands. 

After Sean Kelly's split into The Stone of Accord, both being owned by Tom Hilley, it was only a matter of time before Sean Kelly's pulled the plug. The original chef of Sean Kelly's had already moved over the the Accord, leaving the sous chef in charge of Sean Kelly's (and adding curries). That chef, and many key staff, have stayed on as part of Thomas Meagher, under the guidance of Graves and his partners.

The drinks were flowing all night.
The beer line up for Thomas Meagher bears resemblances to the taps/bottles Sean Kelly's had, though I admit I can't remember everything they offered. On tap last night was, in part, Murphy's Irish Stout (served as a slow pour), Smithwick's, Stella Artois Cidre, and seasonals from Deschutes, Big Sky Brewing, Kettlehouse, and Bayern.

"But we plan on bringing in at least one seasonal rotator from Montana Brewing Company as often as we can," says Sean Graves. 


Why? Because if you know about Montana Brewing Company's beers you'll also know that they hardly, probably never, served their beers outside their own brewery, and they have award-winning beers! 

Graves also expressed great excitement to be part of next year's Missoula Craft Beer Week, so there's that to look forward to as well. 

Cottage Pie (similar to Shepherd's Pie)

Custom stained glass piece under an existing skylight. 

The Thomas Meagher Bar should be open to the public as of today. Go check it out!

Curious about Thomas Meagher and his connection to Montana? Read this...

Quoted from

Territorial governorship of Montana
Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher
After the war, Meagher was appointed Secretary of the new Territory of Montana; soon after arriving there, he was designated Acting Governor. Meagher attempted to create a working relationship between the territory's Republican executive and judicial branches, and the Democratic legislative branch. He failed, making enemies in both camps. Further, he angered many when he pardoned a fellow Irishman who had been convicted of manslaughter.

The Territory of Montana was created from the eastern portion of Idaho Territory as its population increased with an influx of settlers following the discovery of gold in 1862. When the Civil War ended, many more settlers entered the territory. Searching for riches, they often disregarded U.S. treaties with the local Native American tribes. In 1867, Montana pioneer John Bozeman was allegedly killed by a band of Blackfeet, who attacked other settlers as well. Meagher responded by organizing a militia to retaliate. He secured funding from the federal government to campaign against the Native Americans, but was unable to find the offenders, or retain the militia's cohesion. He was later criticized for his actions.

Meagher called Montana's first constitutional convention to develop a constitution as a step toward statehood. Not enough residents voted for the constitution and statehood to qualify. In addition, copies of the constitution were lost on the way to a printer, and Congress never received copies for review. Montana gained statehood in 1889, more than 20 years after Meagher's death.

In the summer of 1867, Meagher traveled to Fort Benton, Montana, to receive a shipment of guns and ammunition sent by General Sherman for use by the Montana Militia. On the way to Fort Benton, the Missouri River terminus for steamboat travel, Meagher fell ill and stopped for six days to recuperate. When he reached Fort Benton, he was reportedly still ill. Sometime in the early evening of July 1, 1867, Meagher fell overboard from the steamboat G. A. Thompson, into the Missouri. The pilot described the waters as "...instant death – water twelve feet deep and rushing at the rate of ten miles an hour" (i.e., 3.6 m deep at a rate of 16 km/h or about 4.5 m/s). His body was never recovered.

Because Meagher was outspoken and controversial, some believed his death to be suspicious. Since people prefer conspiracy and his body was never recovered, many theories circulated about his death. In 1913 a man claimed to have carried out the murder of Meagher for the price of $8000, but then recanted. Some said that Meagher had been drinking, and simply fell overboard. Others have suggested that he might have been murdered by Montana political enemies or perhaps by a Confederate soldier from the war, and some have supposed that Native Americans were responsible.

Meagher was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth Townsend (1840–1906), and his son by his first wife Katherine Bennett. His son grew up in Ireland and never knew his father.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bonsai Brewing Project, The Little Nano that Could

   Many of us here in the Flathead Valley are already aware of this, but if you haven't heard, the Bonsai Brewing Project is getting a ShopKo.  Wouldn't you know it, as soon as they put something cool and trendy in the Whitefish Mountain "Mall", they go and tell them to find another place to do business.  For the original article on BBP, click HERE.  Not sure what happened to the pics I posted, but the article is still up.

  So, they're being forced out.  That's fine, it's OK, because BBP rocks!  That fact is evident by there being no place for me to sit practically every time I visit them.  Why?  Despite the tiny little area that they occupy, in what was once a cantina in the mall, BBP has attracted a HUGE following.  So while being forced to move is a hassle, it's actually a blessing in disguise, because with the amount of people flocking to BBP's current location, they have clearly outgrown the space.

BBP's current location in the Mountain Mall...yeah, it's pretty small.

   As luck would have it, a space in Whitefish became available and it's going to be so much better.  The new place, in what was once the Rising Sun Bistro at 549 Wisconsin Avenue, will have more of everything!  More square feet, more beer being produced, more seating capacity, more exposure, and more places to enjoy the great brews that brewmeister/owner Graham Hart has expertly crafted.  

   More places?  YES!  When summer comes back around and the thought of staying inside one more minute doesn't sit well with you, fear not, you now have options.  The new digs will have a huge outdoor beer garden with endless possibilities. Graham, if you're reading this, a volleyball net on a sand court would be a nice feature on that big lot of yours...wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

  When is all this going to happen?  Ideally, they would like to open to the public on January 2nd, which is when they opened their doors at the mall location this year, but no promises. 

  Below are a few photos of the new location.  Keep in mind, it's a work in progress and it's in full-on construction phase at the moment, but we all know the end result is going to be awesome.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The One Growler to Rule Them All...

Kettlehouse Golden Growler 2015
Yes, the precious will be on sale for Black Friday at Kettlehouse on Myrtle and Northside, starting at NOON.* What is the precious you ask? Well, it's mine!

Okay, let's get serious. Kettlehouse is doing something similar to a project they last did in 1999 that involved some coveted pint glasses, but more on that in a minute. This Friday they will be selling a very limited number of Golden Growlers (think Willy Wonka). One purchases the growler for $100 (or two for $200), and it entitles the growler owner to fill said growler at either location with any non-Imperial/non-barrel-aged beer for only $5 FOR LIFE (once per day per customer)!

And if that wasn't enough, the growler owner also gets a free pint of beer each time the growler gets filled.

For the mathematically inclined, that's about 17 visits to pay off the initial $100 investment, and then folks are saving $7 bucks per use after that.

Back in 1999, Kettlehouse offered up 50 "Millennium Mugs" at $25 each, and the mug holder got $1 fills for life. It's estimated that about half of these mugs are still filled at Kettlehouse.

Kettlehouse will be hosting other fun festivities on Black Friday from 1-4 p.m.

*an earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the start time at 1 p.m. It will begin at noon.
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