BIGFORK – Overlooking the shores of the largest freshwater lake in the West, it’s easy to see why the owners of Flathead Lake Brewing Company are committed to building an environmentally sustainable brewery.
The jaw-dropping views afforded at the new brewery and brew pub site in Bigfork, scheduled to open next month, are a constant reminder of the pristine watershed that the brewery is perched above, and of the stewardship responsibilities that a business owner takes on in the region.
Imagining sipping a beer and noshing appetizers on the wraparound deck that faces Flathead Lake, lead brewer Tim Jacoby says the job has its perks, and that the new facility’s efficient design converts them into a guiltless pleasure.
“It’s a pretty big responsibility running a business here, and we are really proud of the engineering that went into this building. You can feel good about this because it’s environmentally sustainable,” Jacoby said.
Located just five miles north of the company’s popular Woods Bay brewery, the new site serves several purposes – it allows the brewery to ramp up production after years of lagging behind market demands for its tasty, award-winning beer; it provides space for a cannery line; and it puts the company at the fore of a movement to build sustainable, eco-friendly businesses.
The theory is simple: Great beer calls for quality ingredients, and quality ingredients require a healthy environment. So, building a sustainable brewery yields better beer, right?
That’s why at the new brewery, everything is recycled, reused and reclaimed, right down to the menus and ceiling fans (the latter are made from old jib sails that ferried ships around Flathead Lake).
It’s also one of the few Flathead County businesses to build according to standards administered by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an accrediting program established by the U.S. Green Building Council to change the way businesses design, construct and operate their buildings and communities.
And after two years, the waiting has been the hardest part.
Since 2012, the Bigfork brewpub has been renovating an old bowling alley near the heart of Bigfork, improving the vacant site with its model for sustainability.
“This has been a long time coming, and a big reason we haven’t opened yet is because this building project has been so time consuming,” said Sandy Johnston, who owns the brewery with her father, Greg Johnston. “There are a lot of hoops we had to go through, but we wanted to get it right.”
Formerly, the site had no storm water infrastructure and potentially contaminated surface run-off was allowed to flush downhill into the lake. The Johnstons are improving the conditions by designing the roof and parking lots so that the vast majority of storm water will be collected and cleaned as it runs down to the aquifer.
Remodeling the bowling alley has also required intensive demolition work, but the owners have been able to divert waste from the landfill by sorting and re-purposing demolition materials, which were reused in the finished building, including 100 percent of the insulation.
The old windows, doors, ceiling tiles and duct work were donated to Habitat for Humanity, while scrap steel was donated to local groups to sell for fundraising.
Concrete was crushed and offered as clean fill for local projects, while building and interior design materials for the Bigfork facility were selected with preference toward regional and recycled sources. All of the brick was reclaimed from old buildings in Spokane, and the pub entryway was fashioned from a historic bridge that once crossed the nearby Swan River.
All of the lumber was locally sourced, and the furniture by the local company Vinoture is made from old wine barrels.
“Instead of this stuff going into landfills we have reused it,” Johnston said. “All of the wood was dredged out of Montana rivers.”
Four solar collectors on the roof help soak up rays to heat water for the brewery and kitchen, while spent grain is given to local farms where it is used as feed for livestock.
The brewery and adjacent pub house and restaurant will operate as separate entities. While the new brewery facility will be responsible for the bulk of production, the Woods Bay brewery will be used to create new and experimental styles of beer, like sours.
Jacoby, the lead brewer, said the new brewery facility is a dream come true for a craft beer maker. He’s been spending most of his time “flavor matching” the beers at the Woods Bay brewhouse to the beers brewed at the new facility, which uses a unique geothermal system – instead of heating the beer wort with flame, he uses recycled steam.
The facility borrows clean effluent from the nearby Bigfork Water and Sewer District and uses it to run several water furnace heat pumps, which, among other things, boils the beer wort. The equipment provides heating and cooling for the building and brewing processes, and provides yet another renewable source of energy.
As time passes and growth continues, the brewery will continue adding fermenters until it reaches capacity. It currently has eight 60-barrel tanks.
“This new location will really open the doors for us as far as style and creativity is concerned. We will now have the space to play, experiment, and brew all of our styles year-round,” Jacoby said.
The brewery is also set to begin canning some of its most popular styles – the Centennial IPA, Bufflehead Brown and Wild Mile Wheat.
“Everything we do here is to conserve energy,” Jacoby said.
Johnston hopes to open the doors to the pub house’s main floor in mid-January, though a date has not yet been set. The entire facility, which includes a game room with two golf simulators, will open by the fall.
“We’re excited to get this open to the public and show everyone what we’ve been doing,” she said.