Not everyone can be as fortunate as Jordan Van Eimeren, who grew up on the confluence of the South Fork Flathead River and its prized tributary, known in most parts as simply Spotted Bear.
During the heart of her youth, from the time she was 3 until she was 18, Van Eimeren’s backyard was the Spotted Bear River, that crystalline gem accessible to most by driving 50 miles on a rutted out gravel road, tracking along Hungry Horse Reservoir and continuing south until arriving at these sacred waters.
Her father Kirk Gentry owned the acclaimed Spotted Bear Ranch from 1993 to 2005, and ran it for two years after that, employing fishing guides and packers, cooks and lodge personnel, and guiding guests deep into the Bob Marshall Wilderness as far south as White River Park, where they could start their float back on the South Fork.
For Van Eimeren and her sisters, the Spotted Bear was a romantic refuge, a wild and meandering stretch of water cut through 300 million-year-old limestone deposits, replete with deep turquoise pools and football-shaped westslope cutthroat, all of which combined to create a mystical sense of untold adventure that ensorcelled Van Eimeren.
They formed her sacred waters, and as she watched her father make a living in the outfitting business, introducing out-of-state visitors to their majestic properties, she was instilled at a young age with an obligation to share the experience with others.
To that end, Van Eimeren and Gentry, along with business partner Rob Gambino, are introducing a new venture to the world, aptly named Sacred Waters Brewing Company.
“This is our way of bringing our sacred waters to the world,” Van Eimeren, 29, said during a recent tour of the brewery, set to open in earnest the week of Thanksgiving. “Everyone has their own sacred waters, and we wanted this space to be a reflection of that.”
Even for those uninitiated to the Spotted Bear River, walking into the gleaming taproom at Sacred Waters, located at 3250 U.S. Highway 2 East in Kalispell, immediately summons the cozy appeal of a wilderness lodge, and the long concrete bar, set with an almost-to-scale rendering of the namesake river system’s corridor and tributaries, transports visitors to the heart of the Bob.
“We really want to promote and celebrate the wilderness waters here in the valley,” Gentry said.
Still, impressive as the aesthetics are, it’s important to remember the primary reason why one visits a brewery — the beer.
Enter Rob Gambino, a local alumnus of Flathead Valley Community College’s Brewing Science and Brewery Operations program, whose dedication to craft beer was evident for years prior to his decision to go professional, as a home brewer for six years.
His flair for brewing earned him high marks from his instructors, as well as a gig at Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish. When Van Eimeren and Gentry began casting around for a head brewer, they called Joe Byers, director of the college’s brewing program.
“He said Rob was our man,” Gentry recalls.
Showing off his glimmering 10-barrel tank system in a spacious new addition to the existing building that houses the tap house, Gambino explained that he designed the brewery’s operations to ensure there was room to grow, picking the brains of other brewers about the lessons they’ve learned through trial and error.
“The one thing that experienced brewers consistently told me was to leave room to grow,” he said.
Although Gambino, Gentry and Van Eimeren are focused on generating local demand and devotion to Sacred Waters before they even think of expansion, there’s certainly room to consider that down the line.
“Right now we are just going to focus on our local customers and our craftsmanship,” Gambino said. “We want to build a demand for our beer before taking it outside the building. But once we create that demand, there is certainly the possibility of canning, bottling and distributing.”
With the upcoming debut of Sacred Waters, the Flathead Valley becomes home to nine craft breweries, but the business partners say demand for the brewery experience continues to build and a tipping point for the region doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
“All of the other breweries have been so supportive, and part of that is because we’re all so unique, both in our space, our locations and our product,” Van Eimeren said.
Located near the airport, Gentry said they’ll have the brewery market cornered along the busy corridor, while being set adjacent to Rough Cut Cider, Glacier Sun Winery and the Apple Barrel Country Market creates a compound of liquid libations.
“If we all help each other out, we all win,” Gentry said.
The fishing theme runs deep throughout Sacred Waters, and customers can expect their flights of craft beer to be served in an oversized fly-fishing reel as they sip their ales while bending an elbow above the river that runs through it.
The logo, featured prominently on a panel set into an interior wall, pictures a woman wearing a fishing hat over her long blonde hair, wading up nearly to her hips in what must surely be the sacred waters. She’s casting a fly rod as the sun sets in the distance. Her name is Cathy.
This is Van Eimeren’s late mother, who passed away in 2015 after battling cancer for six years, and raised her family for a decade on the banks of the Spotted Bear.
For Van Eimeren, the Spotted Bear’s waters never would have been so sacred without her mother’s presence, so it’s only fitting that she be the first to greet the guests who visit Sacred Waters Brewing Company.