Pulling New Taps in Columbia Falls

By Beacon Staff

COLUMBIA FALLS – Desert Mountain Brewing and Draughthaus wasn’t open last week, but that didn’t stop curious passersby from popping in and asking about the craft beer being brewed in the back.

Owners Kelley and Shawn Christensen are used to such visits, feeling that it bodes well for their business that the community seems curious and excited for the taps to start pouring.

The wait, they are happy to announce, is over. Desert Mountain Brewing opens to the public on Wednesday, March 6, with a grand opening celebration planned for Friday, March 8.

It’s a week that’s been 14 months in the making for the couple, who moved back to Columbia Falls after living in Butte and Bozeman for school. A couple months after their son Jonathan was born, they decided they wanted a new direction for their lives.

Opening a brewery is something they had contemplated for years, Kelley said, ever since their college days in Lincoln, Neb. It would allow them to follow their passion for craft beer and would give them the freedom of owning their own business.

“We want to be our own bosses,” she said. “We did a ton of research. Everyone wants to open a brewery, but is it viable? Is it possible?”

Moreover, the couple wanted to have the brewery in Columbia Falls because they enjoyed the community when they lived here while Kelley was the editor of the Hungry Horse News for a year until her resignation in April 2011.

With Shawn’s background in home brew, the couple decided to pull the trigger on the idea in January 2012, securing a loan from a local bank and moving back to Columbia Falls that following April.

Since then, it’s been about permitting, getting the location in the Cosley Building on Nucleus Avenue in shape and, of course, brewing beer.

The couple’s only coworker, Matt Hicks, has plenty of responsibility, using his marketing experience and doing whatever odd jobs need to be completed.

The Christensens and Hicks completed much of the brewery’s interior work, including the painting and some of the wooden accents, such as the wooden pallet pieces that were reused to create the wall that will hold the mugs for the brewery’s Dry Peak Mug Club.

The mug club has numerous perks for its members, including free beer throughout the year, T-shirts, growlers, discounted pint prices and invites to member-only events, such as the March 5 club-only opening.

Much of the interior decorations are made from repurposed materials, Kelley noted, including the corrugated metal lining the bar, which came from a barn in Sun River. The top of the bar, which was built by Tyrel Johnson of Columbia Falls, is made from an old-growth blue pine log that was plucked from Somers Bay.

Matt Hicks, Darin Fisher and Shawn Christensen, left to right, try one of Fisher’s brews – a Belgian single – while waiting for the wort to boil at Desert Mountain Brewing Co. in Columbia Falls. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The chalkboard, which features the current three beer selections on tap, was rescued by Shawn’s parents from an old school house that was being torn down in his Nebraska hometown.

“We’re trying to use as much sustainable and reused material as we can,” Kelley said.

They are trying to use mostly local ingredients for their beers, which will include putting in a hops yard in the local community garden in the spring and working with a local farmer to grow hops and possibly malt barley as well.

Following the first shipment of grains, all of their beer will be made with organic grain, Kelley added.

Desert Mountain Brewing will be a relatively cozy endeavor, with the taproom capacity at 30 people and five tanks producing 300 to 400 barrels of beer a year. But the Christensens hope it will be a community endeavor as well, already having scheduled a benefit brew in May for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.

The brewery will craft a special beer for the nonprofit, and will split the profits from the benefit after the cost of brewing, Kelley said.

“We want to see Columbia Falls thrive, and we hope that this business will help that along,” she said.

For more information on Desert Mountain Brewing and Draughthaus, visit www.desertmountainbrewing.com, visit its Facebook page, or call 406-892-BREW (2739).

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