Craft Beer Returns to Columbia Falls with New Brewery

Backslope Brewing opens in Columbia Falls with a full food menu and eight craft beers on tap

By Dillon Tabish
Darin Fisher adjusts the taps at Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls on March 8, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

COLUMBIA FALLS — Whether it was at the grocery store or the post office, Darin Fisher has been fielding a familiar question over the last two years. The question has come from all corners of the valley and become almost as ubiquitous as the persistent, “When will the plows clear Going-to-the-Sun Road?”

Now, after tireless hours, weeks and months of work, Fisher and his wife, Carla, have an answer.

Backslope Brewing is open.

The new distinct scent of brewing beer is once again floating through town along with the tasty aroma of a reawakened kitchen.

The Fishers officially opened the doors to their new business March 9, revealing eight craft beers and a full menu of sandwiches, burgers and more made by the talented kitchen staff at the former Palette Café.

The brewery, located at 1107 Ninth St. W. along U.S. Highway 2, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The brewery will serve four 12-ounce glasses; the state allows breweries to serve only 48 ounces to individual customers per day.

The arrival of Backslope Brewing marks the latest addition to the bustling craft beer scene in the Flathead Valley and across Montana. Montana has over 70 licensed breweries, more than double than there were only a decade ago.

Columbia Falls has been the lone city in the valley without a brewery since Desert Mountain Brewing opened and closed within a year in 2014.

Since that time, the Fishers purchased equipment from the former brewery, while also cobbling together other pieces from breweries across the Pacific Northwest. Darin Fisher, a trails manager for the U.S. Forest Service and a city councilor in Columbia Falls, has indulged in his passion of brewing his own beer for over a decade.

About two years ago, the Fishers decided to embark on this labor of love and began developing a brewery that would serve the entire community.

“We had been talking about it for a while, but decided to go for it after the previous brewery went out of business,” Darin Fisher said.

Lyle Mitchell, who owns State Farm Insurance, on Ninth Street West along the highway entering Columbia Falls from the east, believed in the Fishers’ dream. He had purchased the vacant building next door to his business. The building was previously a taxidermy shop and pawn shop. Mitchell and the Fishers went to work transforming it into a brewery.

“Lyle invested a ton into this and made a huge investment in the community to make this happen,” Darin Fisher said.

“I wanted to do something that shows folks if you do a quality project in Columbia Falls, it will take off and people will support it,” Mitchell said.

“There’s a lot of nice things going on in Columbia Falls.”

As a result, the community has followed suit and supported the Fishers and cheered them on along the way. In the beginning in 2014, over 150 people pledged $15,000 in financial assistance via Kickstarter for the Fishers to get their vision off the ground.

“We’ve had so much amazing community support already,” Carla Fisher said.

The building was fully revitalized. It now includes a 2,500-square-foot upstairs space that can seat over 60 people. There is also an outdoor patio that looks into Glacier National Park. The 1,000-square-foot downstairs provides storage space and made it possible for the Fishers to create a kitchen and provide food, which makes Backslope stand out compared to many breweries.

“To us, the experience of enjoying a beer is enhanced when you can also share food with people. It just adds another element that we both really wanted to have,” Carla Fisher, the brewery’s manager, said.

“Then we met Becky and Jake (Sorensen) from The Palette and that sealed the deal. Their food is incredible.”

The Sorensens now lead the kitchen staff that offers a wide selection of lunch and dinner items, including a mushroom portabella sandwich and “Aussie Burger,” featuring pickled pineapple, caramelized onion, bacon, cheddar, fried egg, aioli, lettuce and tomato.

The name Backslope comes from Fishers’ days in the mountains cutting trail. It’s common vernacular and a technical term and it seemed to fit the brewery’s outdoor-friendly identity.

“It’s a cool name and it’s evocative to the outdoors,” Darin said.

The lineup of beers features four standards: The Pilgrim, a Kolsch inspired blonde ale; Crooked Wind IPA; Dr. Randolph’s All-Day Porter; and Sun Cut Stout. There will also be a rotating lineup of seasonal choices that currently includes Buxom J., a light ginger beer; The Huntsman, a peated malt beer that is partially barrel aged; The Quandry, a black ale aged in red wine barrels; and The Mendicant, an IPA “bursting with citra hops.”

“Generally I like American style ales,” Darin said. “I keep experimenting and also learning from other breweries.”

The Fishers’ goal is to focus on being a family friendly destination rather than growing into a large enterprise. The Fishers’ target audience is locals or visitors on their way to and from Glacier National Park. They are even developing a section of the brewery where kids can play; it’s sure to be a popular play site for their 3-year-old daughter.

“Maybe we’ll get some bigger fermenters in the future but we’re not trying to conquer the world,” Darin said. “We want to be a CFalls brewery. We want this to be a community gathering place.”

For more information about Backslope Brewing, call 897-2850 or visit backslopebrewing.com.

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