WOODS BAY – For four years, thirsty valley residents would journey to this cozy lake community to drink some of the state’s finest beers, straight from the source.
But when Flathead Lake Brewing Company shut down last July, summer weekends on the lake lost a little luster for these beer enthusiasts. This week, the luster returns.
On March 17, the Flathead Lake Brewing Company is reopening its doors, with a new look. The brewery has installed a kitchen and will now serve food, along with the beers that so many people had grown to love. There is a St. Patrick’s Day celebration on March 17.
Then on March 20, the brewery is holding a grand opening celebration with live music by the Bad Larrys. The brewery will be open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m., with music starting in the evening.
James Johnson, co-manager of Flathead Lake Brewing Company, said he was caught off guard by how giddy locals are about the brewery reopening. From Woods Bay to Kalispell, people approach him in supermarkets and on the street to ask about it, he said.
“You couldn’t believe how excited people are,” Johnson said. “I didn’t realize how important it was to this community.”
The brewery’s beers will no longer have the same names – such as Whitecap and Mile 26 – but they will be the same beers, with the same award-winning recipes. There are seven total, called simply by their type: pale ale, brown ale and so on. They will be served in the brewery’s tasting room and distributed in kegs and bottles throughout the valley.
Johnson said the brewery has a deal worked out with Flathead Beverage Company to distribute the beer, both in kegs and bottles. Previously, the brewery didn’t offer bottles, which should now be available by fall, Johnson said.
Johnson manages the brewery along with Sandy Leonard. The owner is Greg Johnston, who was previously co-owner and is now the sole owner.
Armed with the distribution capabilities of Flathead Beverage, Johnson said his business had to buy 200 more kegs just to keep up with expected demand. And for bottles, Johnson said Flathead Beverage has “already said they’ll take about everything we can produce.”
“The beer is so popular around the valley,” Johnson said. “Everybody wants it.”
The tasting room still has the same attractive wood features as before, though with a little touching up here and there. Patrons can belly up to the stylish wood bar, made from a log retrieved out of Flathead Lake. There are now tables for dining.
A room upstairs above the tasting area has been turned into the kitchen. The menu includes pizzas, pub pretzels, nachos, chili made with local buffalo or turkey, elk bratwursts, chicken wraps and an Italian beef sandwich, among other dishes. Johnson said the menu uses as many local ingredients as possible.
“There’s some real good stuff on here,” Johnson said of the menu.
Kids’ portions are available and Johnson reminds that “first and foremost, we are not a bar.” The brewery functions as a place where families can eat dinner and where people can enjoy a beer, Johnson said.
Under state law, the tasting room can stay open no later than 8 p.m. and serve no more than 48 ounces of beer. And to serve food, the kitchen has a separate license.
“People can have a great time here and then go across the street and finish the evening,” Johnson said, referring to the bars in Woods Bay that are open later.
The brewery itself, where the beer is made, has also been upgraded. Special piping was installed at a dollar an inch to improve the system’s chilling abilities. What used to take all night can now be done in an hour, Johnson said, giving head brewer Tim Jacoby more control over the beer’s final flavor.
Also, the brewery now has its own milling capabilities, allowing it to purchase local grain and mill it on site.
“We’ll definitely have some flavorful beer here,” Johnson said.
Flathead Lake Brewing Company is located at 26008 East Lakeshore Route in Woods Bay south of Bigfork. It can be reached at (406) 837-0353 and found online at www.flatheadlakebrewing.com.
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