If you look at a map of breweries located in Montana you will notice that the western side is getting dotted heavily with breweries. However, on the western border between Libby and Superior there is an empty spot that is soon to be filled with an operational brewery. Limberlost Brewing located on Main Street in Thompson Falls will fill that spot, and it is set to open in the fall of this year.
Zach Whipple-Kilmer is the face of Limerlost Brewing and at least at the start will be a one man show as the brewer, server, manager and bookkeeper. He will have help with the serving from some of the investors and his wife will help with some of the brewing and recipe writing, but the bulk of the work falls on Zach. The reason for doing so much himself is to keep the costs down and to promote organic growth. He will start out as a four barrel brewery and he expects to grow to a seven to ten barrel brewery within five years after opening. He also plans eventually to have a wide distribution network to include the Flathead Valley in Montana, Missoula, Montana, parts of Idaho and Spokane, Washington which are all not that far away from Thompson Falls in the grand scheme of things. Consider that the closest cities in any direction where you can go to big stores for supplies are approximately two hours away.
Zach does have commercial brewing experience in the states of Pennsylvania and Oregon. He helped set up a brewery and he has carefully watched other breweries start up and grow to a point where they distribute over several locations. As home brewers, he and his wife have been brewing for over 12 years. As for creativeness in their beers they are primarily inspired by their experiences and they create beers to commemorate those experiences.
Aside from a location that lends itself nicely to self distribution over several state lines, the people in Sanders County who Zach considers to be friends more than potential patrons, the good land owners, it is the building that Zach is putting the brewery in that made him choose Thompson Falls. With its brick construction and large windows the building spoke to him and declared that it was meant to be a brewery. The front, which will be the tap room, was once a coin shop and the back, formally warehouse space with high ceilings, will be the brewhouse that will allow for some fairly tall brewery equipment. There is even land outside of the building that will eventually be used for outdoor seating. Zach would not get too detailed with specifics about the atmosphere, so as to leave an element of surprise when the brewery opens, but he did mention that it would be mountain-man focused with every outdoor hobby represented and that it would be very relaxing, like walking into the mountains in northwest Montana. It will also be dog friendly. The brewery will not initially have food, but they will have snacks and later they plan to have food carts from Spokane and Missoula.
So the first question that ran through my mind was “What kind of beer are you going to offer?” Zach said that his beers are more of the Pacific Northwest style, “flavor forward and well balanced”. He wants to stick with beers that are in the 4-7% ABV range as he feels that is what most of patrons would like to drink. To get a feel for what the locals want, he has been brewing beer on his homebrew system, giving out samples and taking notes. For starters he will have a cream ale at 4%ABV for those that like a light bodied beer, a gold IPA at 6% ABV that was inspired by larch trees turning color in fall and what will probably be my favorite, a 6%ABV milk stout, though I am also partial to IPAs. He mentioned that he will also have quite a few experimental beers that are eclectic.
My second question was “How did you come up with the brewery name?” and the answer was pretty simple. He and his wife lived in Oregon for a while and they went traveling on a route called McKenzie Pass and the saw a sign that said Limberlost Campground. They thought it sounded cool and thus the brewery name was born.
My third question was “Why so long before the brewery opens?” Well as it turns out, there is the usual red tape from the state and feds, permitting issues etc., but also Zach is doing a lot of talking with the local sanitation and public works guys to get everything worked out before the brewery starts using the existing systems. The waste and water demands from a brewery might not be so great for older systems. As far as the equipment and plans go, however; the brewery is pretty well set to go.
When the brewery does initially open, Zach plans only to be open Wednesday through Friday from 5:00PM to 8:00PM and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. The plan is to start slowly, work all the problems out and expand at a controllable pace. Even though they are not opened yet, Limberlost Brewing has a great web presence. You can learn more about the brewery at: limberlostbrewingcompany.com. I look forward to the opening of Limberlost Brewing and I plan to do a follow-up story after they do.