If the saying is true, and friendship is the spice of life, then Lesley Thompson and Jen Cronin have taken it to a new level, where friendship and spice have combined to create a sparkling business.
Thompson and Cronin are the owners and founders of Glacier Ginger Brew, a new company that creates fresh, organic, non-alcoholic ginger beers by hand. Their line includes the classic spicy-sweet ginger beer, along with variations on that brew depending on which fruits and berries are in season.
Currently, the lineup includes blackberry, strawberry rhubarb, and Flathead cherry, giving the spicy brews extra sweetness and depth.
They sell them by the growler (64 oz.) and by the Boston round (32 oz.) and various kegs at their location in Whitefish, which is the kitchen of the same building that houses Paddlefish Sports and Fresh Tracks Coffee and Snacks at the intersection of Edgewood Place and Wisconsin Avenue on the north end of the viaduct.
Though Glacier Ginger only started up in April and “got serious” in May, the non-alcoholic brews are on tap at Tupelo in Whitefish, the Belton Chalet in West Glacier, and at the Glacier Distilling Company in Coram.
They will soon be available at Crush Lounge in Whitefish and Truby’s at the Meadow Lake Resort in Columbia Falls.
Glacier Ginger was also a staple at this summer’s Whitefish Farmers Markets, where Cronin and Thompson said the lines were always long and the following grew each week.
That was where they wanted to focus their energy, Thompson said, and their addition to drink menus throughout the valley happened because those businesses pursued the ginger brews.
“We’re blown away,” Thompson said. “It’s so cool to live in Whitefish, Montana and the Flathead Valley.”
Glacier Ginger began as many good ideas do: during a conversation between friends on the last day of skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Thompson and Cronin were enjoying some Moscow mules – a drink that has gained considerable popularity and consists of ginger beer, vodka and lime – and realized they could make the drinks themselves.
Friends for 18 years and neighbors, Cronin and Thompson are both dedicated to organic, healthy living. If they can make a dish or a drink with basic organic ingredients, that’s what they’ll choose to do.
“We like to make things from scratch with organic, healthy things,” Thompson said.
The basic ginger beer has five ingredients: organic Peruvian ginger, water, organic Madagascar vanilla, organic sugar, and lemon. Thompson and Cronin developed the recipe after about a month of trying it out, and decided to start the business.
With Fresh Tracks using the kitchen from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thompson and Cronin have spent many long evenings there, getting to work after getting their families fed and settled for the evening.
Some nights go into the next morning, they said, but they have learned plenty in these late hours. The ginger they use is fresh – “You’re drinking organic, raw ginger,” Thompson said – and hand-peeled and juiced.
Given the variable spiciness of each box of ginger, some batches taste a bit different than others, but that’s part of working with fresh ingredients, Cronin said.
They also don’t skimp on the extra ingredients for their flavored selections; all of the berries or stone fruit are boiled down in pots, and no extracts or syrups are used.
“It’s a ton of work,” Cronin said.
But it’s also fun, they said, especially working with a friend who has the same goals and standards. The brews’ popularity has gained them fans among high school students and non-alcohol drinkers, as well as adults looking for something fresh and local for a mixer.
People from all over the valley and beyond, from Browning to Ninepipes, have stopped by to fill up their growlers. It’s $20 for 64 oz., and $10 for 32 oz., with additional charges if the customer is buying glassware or a stainless-steel fun keg from Glacier Ginger.
Even though they’ve just got their feet under them and can finally breathe after a hectic summer, Thompson and Cronin are looking to the future, and are developing a kombucha that can come out of a keg, as well as other craft mixers.
“We’re having a great time,” Cronin said.
For more information, visit Glacier Ginger Brew’s Facebook page or stop by the shop at 105 Wisconsin Ave.
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