Kalispell Malting & Brewing Co

Appreciating the Kalispell Malting & Brewing Co. is much like drinking a good beer: enjoy it while it lasts

By Jaix Chaix

The Kalispell Malting & Brewing Co. was established in 1894 by Gust Gamer and the Lindlahr brothers, Henry and Charles (not to be confused with the new, exciting Kalispell Brewing Company established at 412 Main Street earlier this year).

It was a time when Kalispell was regarded as the “St. Paul of the West” – the most promising and vibrant “metropolis” along the route between St. Paul and Seattle on the Great Northern Railway. And many entrepreneurs, like the Lindlahrs, came out West seeking opportunity.

Gamer and the Lindlahrs purchased Block 50 – 10 city lots on the west side of Kalispell just south of the Great Northern rail yard – from the Kalispell Townsite Co. Their endeavors in brewing, malting and real estate prospered, until Charles Lindlahr passed away in 1898.

Gust and his wife Sarah kept their share of the business, and continued to live in their small house that was once part of the block-long brewery complex. The rest of the business, formerly owned by the Lindlahrs, was purchased by Captain Frederick Pabst (as in Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer).

Pabst purchased the shares for his nephew, Christ Best (as in Best Beer). Christ Best was a descendant of German immigrant Jacob Best, who in 1844 founded what would later become the Phillip Best Brewing Co. – the largest brewer in the United States in the mid 1870s. Hence, the Kalispell Malting & Brewing Co., Pabst Beer and Best Beer share much history.

Soon another family tradition would begin at the brewery. Gus Bischoff began working at the brewery in 1906. He labored as the business prospered in the 1910s and held on during Prohibition (1920-1933), when the brewery survived by making soda, cider, and “near beer.” In 1935, after working at the brewery for nearly 30 years, Bischoff and his family purchased the brewery.

The Bischoff family (in one form or another) operated the brewery until 1955, when the grain elevator and other buildings were dismantled and the oldest operating business in Kalispell came to an end.

The day the final five-o’clock steam whistle marked the end of the last shift, it must have echoed like a death-knell for the bottle plant workers who typically earned a better-than-average wage, and for the farmers whose local barley had been prized for decades, and for those who imbibed, who could no longer enjoy a good local pour (or wallow in its legacy).

Nowadays, the sprawling plant is no longer. Only a few of the dozens of brewery workers’ homes dot the surrounding neighborhood. And the office/bottling department building (circa 1901) and adjoining beer cellar (circa 1903) are all that remain – having endured a patchwork of use and disuse.

And ironically, despite generations of family traditions, despite the hometown pride of a “local product made with local ingredients,” the Kalispell Malting & Brewing Co. provides a good example – of bad things (much like drinking too much).

Indeed, history is quite like beer: a glass filled to the brim also holds the last drop. Hence, without foresight and historical preservation, historic buildings can deteriorate and disappear. So unfortunately, appreciating the Kalispell Malting & Brewing Co. is much like drinking a good beer: enjoy it while it lasts.

Jaix Chaix appreciates history and architecture. Share ideas and facts with him at [email protected] or at facebook.com/flatheadvalleylandmarks. He is teaching another “Historic Homes of Kalispell” course at FVCC this fall, and guiding “cemetery walks” at the Conrad Memorial and Demersville cemeteries.