Craft breweries dot NW Montana

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  • Zach Whipple-Kilmer stands in the future home of Limberlost Brewery in Thompson Falls. He and his wife, Kate, plan to open the business this summer.

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    This old blade from a Sanders County sawmill will serve as the beer board at Limberlost Brewery.

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    Limberlost Brewing in downtown Thompson Falls should begin operation this summer. It is located in a century-old building at 1017 Main St. that formerly housed the Westland Chevy garage. (Carolyn Hidy/Clark Fork Valley Press)

  • Zach Whipple-Kilmer stands in the future home of Limberlost Brewery in Thompson Falls. He and his wife, Kate, plan to open the business this summer.

  • 1

    This old blade from a Sanders County sawmill will serve as the beer board at Limberlost Brewery.

  • 2

    Limberlost Brewing in downtown Thompson Falls should begin operation this summer. It is located in a century-old building at 1017 Main St. that formerly housed the Westland Chevy garage. (Carolyn Hidy/Clark Fork Valley Press)

T?he growth of craft breweries has exploded during the last decade and Northwest Montana is part of the revolution.

Nationally, the number of breweries operating in the U.S. surpassed 7,000 in 2018 and that number is expected to grow by close to 1,000 this year.

According to C + R Research, Montana ranks second per capita in craft breweries with 9.6 per 100,000 residents 21 years of age and older. Its economic impact is $549 per capita in the state.

Glacier Brewing Company in Polson is one of the elder statesmen in Northwest Montana. It opened in 2003 and has been successful ever since.

Dave Ayers, one of the owners, had the vision for the brewery and after a few years of working to find the necessary equipment and a home for the business opened.

Many in the community were skeptics of the venture, but after more than 16 years, Glacier Brewery is producing about 600 barrels of beer annually.

It is also on the market.

“Yes, we are still on the market,” head brewer Dave Ayers said. “Some of the original investors are getting out, but we are still brewing our old favorites and our two non-alcoholic sodas. We’ve expanded our public persona with Facebook, merchandise and other things.”

The price tag is $750,000, which includes the property, $250,000 worth of equipment, recipes, distribution deals and even Ayers.

“I want to be included in the sale,” Ayers said, who is also the president and founder. “We have packaged it as a true turnkey. Everything goes with the sale, including me.”

Ayers started the brewery back in 2002 in the same building off of Main Street in Polson well before many newer craft breweries came to the area. He developed all the recipes, beer names and character the place embodies. He did it with the help of a small network of investors who are ready to move on.

Glacier is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

But Glacier Brewing isn’t the only brewery in Lake County — Ronan Cooperative Brewery recently found a home on Main Street in what was once the Masonic Lodge. The brewery had an opening of sorts a few weeks ago as owners and citizens got a tour of the building.

Work has begun to build a bar and seating as well as a brewhouse. Enthusiasm for the brewery has grown steadily since it was announced and there are more than 300 owners.

They can be found on Facebook.

In Sanders County, its first craft brewery — Limberlost Brewing — is set to open this summer. It is located in Thompson Falls in a century-old building that used to house the Westland Chevy garage.

Two Northwest Pennsylvania natives — Zach and Kate Whipple-Kilmer — learned from a close friend how to brew beer more than a decade ago. They saved their money, bought their equipment and bided their time. They bought original tongue and groove lumber from the Corona Lake Ski Club Lodge in Plains and Billy and Nicole Setter are doing the remodeling.

In preparation for opening Limberlost, the Whipple-Kilmers traversed Montana, trying as many different breweries and beers they could find. Their goal was to create a style no one else had.

Two of his major inspirations were Northwest Montana breweries — Bonsai Brewing Project in Whitefish and Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls.

Whipple-Kilmer’s favorite beer is his gold IPA, which he said is unlike any brew he’s tasted in Montana.

He said his stove-top unit will allow him to do smaller batches with more varieties rotating.

“We want to offer more variety than anyone in Northwest Montana,” Whipple-Kilmer said. “It feels really good to be so close to opening. It’s been a dream of ours for the last decade.”

He said Kate will do the brewing while he will handle the management. Both work day day jobs at the Clark Fork Valley Hospital, but they are planning on being open on weekends.

The brewery will not initially have food, but they will have snacks and later they plan to have food carts.

For more information, see its website at limberlostbrewingcompany.com.

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