Gathering the Beer Brewers

By Beacon Staff

Like many married couples, Junior Szklarz and Karen Witt often finish each other’s sentences when discussing something they are passionate about. Last week, the discussion centered on the intricacies of chasing the ever-elusive perfect beer recipe.

“It’s one thing when you have something spectacular,” Szklarz said, “and the next batch you…”

“…miss,” Witt finished.

Szklarz and Witt were standing in their newest business venture, The Beer Store, a homebrewing supply store that shares space with Szklarz’s Brass and Bullets LLC shop on U.S. Highway 93 south of Kalispell.

The couple has countless stories about brewing different types of beer, along with the successes and the failures that come with the hobby. After three years of brewing, they decided they wanted to find other like-minded individuals in the community to share their passion with.

So earlier this year, they established the Flathead Valley Homebrewers Assocation, which had its inaugural meeting on Nov. 20 in Somers. Witt said the meeting was a success in her eyes, with about 20 people attending.

Attendees were asked to bring a growler of their own homebrew or a six-pack of a microbrew they enjoy, Witt said. That allowed those who brew to share their creations, and also gave those who haven’t yet started a chance to see what was possible.

“The microbrews are what inspires homebrew,” Szklarz said.

The homebrewers association also sets the groundwork for a brewers network in the valley, Szklarz said. It can be difficult to meet people with the same interests in the Flathead, he said, because it largely comes down to chance or running into someone in the homebrewing section.

With the association, those who are curious about the craft can find a type of mentoring relationship with other brewers in the valley, Witt said. At the first meeting, about 30 percent of the attendees were non-brewers, Szklarz estimated.

Witt’s journey in brewing began after tasting and falling in love with a seasonal, vanilla-bourbon stout from the Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside. When she realized the beer wouldn’t be a regular on the taps, Witt decided to recreate it for herself.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to figure this one out,’” she said. “I was inspired.”

Now, Witt is on the seventh iteration of her own vanilla cognac stout. Witt also works at US Bank and is a dedicated horsewoman, and the winter is a perfect time for her to practice her brewing skills.

“(In) the winter I can’t ride as much, so I brew beer,” she said. “A lot of beer.”

Packages of malt from Great Britain are seen on the selves of The Beer Store, located in Brass and Bullets south of Kalispell. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The Beer Store has a range of items for any amateur brewer, from beginning kits and recipe kits from established breweries such as Rogue to an array of hops, barley and other beer essentials.

The store also carries winemaking materials, Witt said.

But the real draw is the expertise available in the store’s staff, Witt said. And if they can’t answer a question about beer, there is likely someone connected to the homebrewers association who can, she added.

The website for the association will also give its members the opportunity to post their favorite recipes and collect others, which Szklarz said is the addicting part of brewing.

There are no membership fees for the Flathead Valley Homebrewers Association, and there are no officers either. It’s completely non-political, the couple stressed.

“It’s all about the beer,” Witt said.

For more information on the Flathead Valley Homebrewers Association, visit www.flatheadvalleyhomebrewers.org. The next meeting will be held after the holidays, in January 2013.

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