Kalispell Brewing Company, Montana beer
Q: It sounds like Cole has been brewing beer for some time, but what was it that made you two decide that now was the time to open the Kalispell Brewing Company?
Cole has been toying with the idea for nearly a decade -- right around the time he brewed his fifth or sixth batch of beer. But sometimes it takes awhile to build up enough courage and experience to plunge head first into a business venture of this scale. Since we began dating in 2010, the discussion about opening a brewery evolved from a long-time dream of Cole's to a shared mission. Cole had been working for his family's business, based in Nebraska and his job required a lot travel, including overseas. While he enjoyed his work, it wasn't his passion. Beer had long been his passion. By the summer of 2011, we were keeping our eyes peeled for the right location to establish a brewery. In February of 2012, Maggie noticed a building on 4th and Main in downtown Kalispell was for sale at a reasonable price. Together we decided that brewing beer was what we wanted to do and once we found the building, we said: It's time. Let's do this.
Q: How did you find the historic building you're renovating and what are the pros/cons of putting a brewery in the building? (From the videos and photos I just looked at, it looks fantastic!)
Maggie found the building when grabbing a cup of coffee while on a work break. It was February and the coffee shop, Colter Coffee, shared a wall with this empty brick building. She noticed the for sale sign, and when she returned home from work, told me. We looked up the listing and quickly asked for a showing. The old brick building -- which was once a car dealership, before its many incarnations since the 1980s -- captured our hearts. It was large enough to easily accommodate a brewery, with room for expansion. We really wanted the brewery to be located downtown and the location on the corner of 4th and Main couldn't have been more ideal. When we toured the building, we could visualize the beauty and potential in the aging building. We wanted to revive it. The buildings in the Kalispell downtown district have a lot of character and history and we wanted to be a part of that.
We've found that it's a balancing act between maintaining history integrity and structural integrity. We've done our best to retain the building in its original state, but we've run into instances (like the back wall, which we had to demolish) where parts of the structure were just unable to be saved. In these cases, we've tried to salvage the building materials for use elsewhere in the remodel, thereby retaining a lot of the building's original character. There have been a myriad of issues, sometimes daunting, that needed to be addressed. The roof was sagging significantly, so this winter, steel I-beams had to be installed. The brick was in rough shape, so a crew of masons labored, intensively, to restore and repair the brick. We had to preform asbestos abatement on the tile floors. It's been an adventure and a good lesson in patience. Yet we're committed to the project and to the building. And we are taking steps to ensure that the building is remodeled in the best way, and will last for a long time. The building is looking really great and we can't wait to open and share the space with the community.
Q. I asked Courtney at Glacier County Honey what it's like running a business with her husband, how does it work for you two?
Cole and I met in the winter of 2010, training for the U.S. Telemark National Championships in Whitefish. I was completely new to the sport and Cole was a member of the U.S. Regional team. We became teammates first, and then we fell in love. I think our foundation of learning about each other as teammates and ski races has helped us transition into creating a business together. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, both in telemark ski racing and in life. As teammates, we learned how to best communicate with each other, and especially when we've traveled to Europe to compete in World Cup Telemark races, how to be each other's best fan.
Just like ski racing, there are a unique set of challenges in combining business and marriage. In the years of planning for the brewery and trying to anticipate the business once the brewery opens, we're tried to establish clear lines of communication and put each other in a position that maximizes the other's strengths. But we have to be careful because we can easily have business meetings at 7:30 in the morning, before we've even had a chance to brush our teeth. One of us might want a specific task done in a certain way and if it's not done to our liking, then there's a good chance it will come up over dinner. It's a balance. And we've had to establish boundaries, which is completely a work in progress and we know once the brewery opens, we'll be presented with another set of challenges.
But it's also an incredible and beautiful process. Together, we dream and we dream big. I think that our foundation in love and friendship has created an atmosphere that allows us to be as creative and passionate as possible. And our union as a couple gives us confidence and inspiration -- perhaps more so that if Cole had found a business partner to work with.
We have a giant sketchbook that resides on our dining room table, and when we are struck with great ideas, we pencil our thoughts. We take notes all the time and the flood of ideas is intoxicating. It's extraordinary to create the brewery together, a business that really complements our personalities.
Q: You're both from elsewhere, what brought you to Montana? And why have you decided to put down roots here?
Cole grew up outside Omaha, Nebraska and his parents had him climbing peaks in Colorado when he was still in diapers. Mountains are in his blood. I was raised in northern Michigan and my parents strapped skis to my feet when I was two. Skiing is in my blood. I always knew that one day, I'd move to the mountains. When I was 13, my family took a family ski vacation to Big Sky and I feel deeply in love with Montana. I really wanted to go to college at the University of Montana but my parents said no, fearing that I'd probably quit school and become a ski bum. So I went to college in Indiana and a week after I graduated, I moved to the Flathead Valley. I've been in the Valley since 2004. Montana felt like home the first moment I saw Flathead Lake and the peaks of Glacier. Cole's family visited Whitefish in 1999. A few years later, his parents built a house there and after Cole graduated from the University of Wisconsin, he followed his parents west. Cole loves Montana because of the mountains -- skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. It's really wonderful to have Cole's parents in the Valley too. They've been incredibly supportive of the brewery.
For both of us, especially since we've lived in the Flathead for a while and didn't meet until three years ago, Montana was the only place to call home. What attracts us most is the natural environment; it is unparalleled beauty. To have such wild places in our backyard is inspiring. The community of the Flathead Valley is filled with genuinely good people, good businesses and good places to drink and eat. We both feel fortunate that we stumbled upon the Flathead. It is truly home; although my mom wishes Montana wasn't quite so far away from Michigan.
Q: From what I can tell, the brewery community is growing in Montana. How do you feel about being a trailblazer on the Kalispell brewery scene?
Montana is home to a number of vibrant and successful breweries. They're making really good beer. Statewide, the craft brewing scene is impressive. All of the breweries, in both big cities and the smallest towns are doing great things in their community. We may not see ourselves as trailblazers, but are appreciative of the compliment, we really just wanted to open our own brewery. Geography didn't have a lot to do with it, with the exception that we didn't want to move from the Flathead. But we're certainly honored to be Kalispell's brewery. And that's why we names the brewery after the town -- we're very proud to make beer in Kalispell's honor. We're excited with how the state has embraced craft breweries, and the community of brewers across the state is one of genuinely good people. They're very supportive of new brewers like us. Honestly, the culture of craft brewing, especially in a place like Montana, is extremely welcoming, fun-loving and collaborative. We've called upon so many established breweries with our questions and all of them are so open to helping is. Brewers and brewery fans have been extremely encouraging as we start up. It's a remarkable business.
Q: Maggie, did you know much about beer before you met Cole and what drew you in to open a brewery with your husband?
I've long been a fan of craft beer and enjoy drinking it. I love to try new styles and flavors. Always have. But I didn't know how beer was made and how it was truly the marriage of science and creativity. Cole possesses a wealth of knowledge about brewing beer. He's a scholar of it -- and not in just sampling different beers from all over the world, but he's always reading about things like water chemistry and mash pH, yeast metabolism, malting techniques and brewery QC protocol. Our bookcases are filled with books on craft brewing. Cole has deepened my knowledge and appreciation of craft brewing -- and he's patient and a great teacher. My brain doesn't process chemistry well. I am, after all, an English major (Cole is too, but he has both right and left brian capabilities).
Since high school, I've had many jobs in the food and beverage industry. My family is one that loves to cook and drink. It brings us together. And I love how breweries bring people together. People love to celebrate with beer. Breweries are a place for people to gather. I love the atmosphere of craft breweries and I love how beer punctuates life's food moments -- whether it's toasting on a hot summer's day or sharing stories about powder skiing. Stories are usually best served with a pint.
For me, I'm serving as Kalispell Brewery Co.'s Beer Ambassador. It's a perfect role for me -- I'm a writer and I love to connect with others. While I've helped Cole brew some beers, I've mostly served as his chief taste tester and honestly, how could anyone turn down that job?
Q: Lots of people go out for a drink after work or on weekends to relax and meet with friends, what do you do to unwind since beer is your business?
This probably won't shock anyone, but we do love beer. We can seriously talk and and talk about beer -- different varieties of hops, different strains of yeasts. We can go on and on about beer. And we do enjoy a beer to unwind, especially when the weather is warm and we're sitting outside on our deck with a good book and a pint of Cole's homebrew. We listen to a lot of public radio -- especially jazz. On Saturday nights we listen to Prairie Home Companion. We have two dogs, a St. Bernard and a Malamute and we spend a lot of time with them. Honestly though, we are serious book and beer nerds. We love to read and we love beer.
Q: Being so close to the outdoors and Glacier National Park, do you get to spend a lot of time outside and if so, where are your favorite spots and activities?
I think Cole and I would agree that we fell in love with Glacier first and then each other. In fact, we were engaged in Glacier and last September we were married aboard the DeSmet on Lake McDonald. We try to spend as much time as possible outside, no matter the season. We're both members of the U.S. National Telemark team so a lot of our time, especially in winter, is devoted to telemark ski racing. We also love to backcountry and Nordic ski. Come summer, you'll find us with our boots on. We love Glacier and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, so any free time we have, we're on the trails. We're lucky that our very dear friends, Courtney and Greg Fullerton of Glacier County Honey, welcome us to their home in Babb, Montana. We like to hike with them and camp in their big field, looking at the high peaks on the east side of Glacier. Cole has taught me how to climb mountains, so each spring we draft a lift of peaks to climb. We try to get in at least one big backpacking trip in a year -- we a fondness for the Hole in the Wall backcountry site. We do know what once the brewery opens we'll probably have a little less time that we've had in the past to spend our days in Glacier, but we're okay with that. We'll probably just bug our patrons to share with us stories about their recent hikes or floats down the river.
Q: Looking back five years ago, did you imagine you'd be where you are now?
Maggie: Specifically for marrying a brewer and opening a brewery together, no. But I'm not surprised. I didn't know that I'd meet someone like Cole -- I had hoped to, but I didn't know how beautiful and powerful a relationship could be until I met him. While writing has been my passion and I am in graduate school pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing, I'm tickled that I can be the brewer of words for our company. Looking back, there were so many little steps along the way and five years ago, at age 26 I was still finding myself and finding my place in the Flathead, all those steps, including the missteps, have led to this moment. At this time, I didn't know that in five years, I'd be here, in this moment, but it doesn't come as a shock. I like how life does that, this slow revelation, this slow trail. I think my boots have been well-broken in on this trail and I'm ready for the next set of miles.
Cole: While I was certainly contemplating opening a brewery five years ago, there's an enormous difference between and idol daydream and the reality of the business. The magnitude of the project can sometimes seem overwhelming, and we haven't even opened our doors yet. Twenty-five year old Cole certainly didn't foresee all the minutiae involved in running a business -- he just thought that running a brewery involved brewing a lot of beer. The reality of this brewery is actually more exciting and more interesting than I could have imagined.
Q: What should everyone know about you and Kalispell Brewing Company?
The big question is when the brewery will open: we're hoping, crossing our fingers and toes that we'll be able to open in August. The building is still undergoing major construction. We actually have all of our brewery equipment and we're itching to get it installed and begin brewing. So, if everything goes smoothly with the building (full disclosure: it has been known to throw us a few surprises), the tasting room will open be open this summer.
Kalispell Brewing Company is a 10 barrel craft brewery with a tasting room. Cole loves German style beers so people can expect a lineup of traditional lagers in addition to a selection of Northwest style ales. Our beers will be available on draft in the tasting room. We're planning to have six beers on tap, some of which will be seasonal brews. Cole plans to mash his lagers with the decoction method, which is a little more labor intensive, but it produces distinct flavor, which you rarely find outside of Germany, Austria and Czech Republic. Our hope with our brewery is to cultivate an appreciation for beer, without any of the snootiness. Life is complicated enough, beer shouldn't be.
We've been posting our construction progress, including photos on our Facebook and Twitter sites. Our website will be completed soon, so to stay connected, visit us on Facebook or Twitter.