Ket­tle­house Brewing Com­pany

Brewing world-class beer in par­adise has al­ways been the mis­sion of Mis­soula, Mon­tana’s Ket­tle­house Brewing. Now, it fi­nally has the space to al­low its brew­ers to stretch their legs.

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By Kate Ber­not

THE FIRST TIME I MET Ket­tle­house Co­founder Tim O’leary, he took me on a tour of his new pro­duc­tion brew­ery’s waste­water treat­ment fa­cil­ity. It’s not the sex­i­est in­tro­duc­tion in the world; while other brew­ers might have shown off some fer­men­tors or a rapid-fire can­ning line, O’leary schooled me on bi­o­log­i­cal oxy­gen de­mand and sed­i­ment loads. But he ex­plained that this ex­pen­sive en­deavor is what’s mak­ing Ket­tle­house’s en­tire fu­ture pos­si­ble.

“This whole scene and life­style is made pos­si­ble by that waste­water plant be­cause we couldn’t be here with­out it,” he says.

The scene he’s re­fer­ring to is Ket­tle­house’s new 25,000-square-foot pro­duc­tion brew­ery and cam­pus in Bon­ner, Mon­tana, on the scenic banks of the Black­foot River. It’s about a 15-minute drive from the brew­ery’s other two Mis­soula tap­rooms, which have op­er­ated since 1995 and 2010. The new fa­cil­ity has upped Ket­tle­house’s ca­pac­ity to 30,000 bar­rels from 20,000 bar­rels; al­lowed them to in­stall a cen­trifuge, a new can­ning line, and a third tap­room; and most vis­i­bly, given them space to build a 4,000-seat am­phithe­ater. In its first sea­son last sum­mer, the the­ater hosted acts rang­ing from Slayer to Lyle Lovett to Tedeschi Trucks Band to Ween.

“Be­ing lo­cated on the banks of a blue-rib­bon trout stream, where A River Runs Through It was sit­u­ated in the novel—you can’t beat that lo­ca­tion. What we do in beer is we sell an awe­some con­sum­able, but it’s re­ally about im­agery and a story. What bet­ter place to tell our story than the banks of this famed river?” O’leary says. “Ob­vi­ously we don’t want to pol­lute our aquifer or that river and there was no mu­nic­i­pal sewer hook-up, so we had to build our own.”

Wa­ter is cru­cial to ev­ery brew­ery, but to Ket­tle­house, it’s re­spon­si­ble for their most pop­u­lar beers.

“The wa­ter here in Bon­ner is much like our wa­ter in Mis­soula be­cause the aquifer flows in from the val­leys over a sim­i­lar to­pog­ra­phy, so the hard­ness and min­eral make­ups are al­most iden­ti­cal,” he says. “That’s the rea­son why Cold Smoke Scotch Ale has done so well. It’s got the roasted bar­ley in it and dark malts that help do the ph buffer­ing that re­ally smooths that beer out.”

Cold Smoke paved Ket­tle­house’s rep­u­ta­tion across Mon­tana and with vis­i­tors to the state. Be­hind Big Sky Brewing’s Moose Drool brown ale, it’s prob­a­bly the best-known beer to come from the Trea­sure State. One in ev­ery eight beers con­sumed in Mon­tana is brewed in Mon­tana, and a good chunk of that is Cold Smoke. It’s be­hind most bars, even

“We were try­ing to sell beer to bars and just get­ting the worst re­ac­tions from bar own­ers. They’d look at me with lit­eral dis­gust in their eyes,” O’leary says. “We over­came that by mak­ing Cold Smoke, a great beer that our cus­tomers would go out and ask for. We had the dis­tinc­tion of out­selling Bud Light in some bars for the first time ever; no craft beer had ever up­set that.”

the tucked-away cow­boy­ish ones that traf­fic pri­mar­ily in Koka­nee and Rainier, and it’s for sale in Mis­soula’s charm­ingly taxi­der­mied air­port.

That wasn’t al­ways the case, though. In the early days when Ket­tle­house was self-dis­tribut­ing, O’leary and long­time Ket­tle­house em­ployee Al Pils could hardly beg bars to give them the time of day.

“We were try­ing to sell beer to bars and just get­ting the worst re­ac­tions from bar own­ers. They’d look at me with lit­eral dis­gust in their eyes,” O’leary says. “No one wanted craft beer back then; it was a pain in the ass. They wanted to sell the same beers they’d al­ways sold. We over­came that by mak­ing Cold Smoke, a great beer that our cus­tomers would go out and ask for. We had the dis­tinc­tion of out­selling Bud Light in some bars for the first time ever; no craft beer had ever up­set that.”

But just be­cause Cold Smoke has been Ket­tle­house’s best am­bas­sador doesn’t mean O’leary wants to brew it at the ex­pense of new beers. The brew­ery has canned it since 2006 and is only now able to catch up with de­mand for it. The new pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity frees up space for in­no­va­tion in­clud­ing new IPAS and, down the line, a mixed-ipa va­ri­ety pack. The Bon­ner ware­house is also full of cans des­tined for the brew­ery’s other main­stays, in­clud­ing Dou­ble Haul IPA, a World Beer Cup gold medal-win­ning English IPA; Eddy Out Pale Ale; and Fresh Bong­wa­ter Hemp Ale, a sub­tly nutty, am­ber-col­ored ale brewed with hemp. The cans are filled by a brand­new Krones can­ning line, which O’leary brags only pro­duced six low-fills on a re­cent 55-bar­rel batch of Dou­ble Haul.

The pride and joy of his new fa­cil­ity, though, is the cen­trifuge. On a re­cent tour

for other mem­bers of the Mon­tana Brew­ers As­so­ca­tion, O’leary told fel­low brew­ery own­ers that if their banks wouldn’t lend them the money to buy such an ex­pen­sive piece of equip­ment, those bankers could call him per­son­ally for a lec­ture on why it’s such a cru­cial pur­chase. It’s a dou­bly use­ful piece of ma­chin­ery in his eyes, con­tribut­ing to both en­vi­ron­men­tal and beer-qual­ity pri­or­i­ties.

“It makes bet­ter beer be­cause you’re leav­ing a lit­tle more in the beer. The cen­trifuge helps clar­ify the beer and sta­bi­lize it with­out re­mov­ing a lot of the pro­teins and hop aro­mat­ics. And it in­creases our yield,” he says. “So we do it as a sus­tain­abil­ity piece, too. You don’t want to make some­thing and then have it go down the drain.”

O’leary’s sus­tain­abil­ity fo­cus is al­tru­is­tic, sure. As a na­tive Mon­tanan and a for­mer em­ployee of the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA), he un­der­stands the fragility and splen­dor of nat­u­ral land­scapes. But, as a brew­ery owner, his ad­vo­cacy is also a smart business de­ci­sion. Good wa­ter is cru­cial to good beer, and pre­serv­ing the state’s rep­u­ta­tion as a tourism des­ti­na­tion also mat­ters to Ket­tle­house’s fu­ture.

“Peo­ple talk about Mon­tana like they talk about Shangri-la, like ‘Some­day I’m go­ing to live there. It’s the land of gi­ant trout and deep pow­der and no crowds.’ And they’re right,” he says. “And at the end of one of your epic days in Mon­tana, we want you to have an epic beer.”

Back in its ear­li­est days in the mid-1990s, when Ket­tle­house was still op­er­at­ing as a brew-your-own business, O’leary be­gan to un­der­stand what an in­cred­i­ble beer in an in­cred­i­ble place could mean to some­one. He had a cus­tomer come in who asked him to make a cer­tain style to repli­cate a beer the man had while sta­tioned in Ger­many dur­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice. He’d been on a train for eigh­teen hours in hot and cramped quar­ters only to emerge in a pris­tine moun­tain town with some of the best beer he’d ever had.

“That’s what ed­u­cated me about how peo­ple as­so­ciate a great day in their life with a great beer ex­pe­ri­ence,” O’leary says. “It’s our duty and our mis­sion at Ket­tle­house to give our fans the best beer with the best pos­si­ble Mon­tana ex­pe­ri­ence. We want our beer to be a tool to ce­ment that mem­ory in your mind for­ever.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.