Bonsai Brewing Project Sets Sights on New Location

Whitefish Planning Board unanimously recommends approval of conditional use permit

By Tristan Scott

The Bonsai Brewing Project is drawing closer toward its goal of relocating from the Whitefish Mountain Mall to a building on Wisconsin Avenue, and the so-called “nano-brewery” could receive final approval at the Nov. 3 Whitefish City Council meeting.

At a public hearing Oct. 16 before the Whitefish Planning Board, Bonsai Brewing Project’s owner, Graham Hart, received unanimous recommendation for approval of a conditional use permit to operate the brewery at 549 Wisconsin Ave., at the intersection of Denver Street in a building previously occupied by the Rising Sun Bistro.

Hart has been looking for a new venue for the brewery since learning this summer that a Shopko department store would displace his business and seven others at the mall. Construction of the Shopko will not begin until February, and Bonsai continues to operate at its current location.

The brewery and taproom will operate under State Liquor Board requirements, which limits hours of operation to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, and requires them to only serve each customer a maximum of 48 ounces of beer per day.

Hart explained that while he may sell a few kegs to local businesses, he has no current plans for bottling or greater distribution. The focus will be on selling craft beer in the taproom. While the brewery is technically a microbrewery, capable of producing about 500 barrels per year, city code does not differentiate between nano-brewery and microbrewery so the same requirements apply.

Bonsai Brewing moved into its unlikely location at the Whitefish Mountain Mall in January after raising $17,800 through crowd-sourced funding.

With its doors open, Bonsai offers five beers on tap – a blond, a pale ale, an IPA, a brown ale, and a stout – and has proven a popular staple in the growing craft beer community.

The brewery is open Wednesday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on weekends from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Hart previously worked as an assistant brewer for Tamarack, and in 2011 applied for the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp, a contest where participants compete to be one of 10 people across the country to go to Chico, California, for a week to brew with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. He applied via a video submission and won.

At the camp, he brewed an Imperial Red Ale called Raiders of the Last Hops, two kegs of which made it to the Craggy Range Bar.

Bonsai Brewing Project is located in the Mountain Mall in Whitefish near the food court. For more information, visit the brewery’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bonsaibrew.