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Flathead Lake Brewing

From, 11-23-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Bayern Brewing: The Only German Brewery in the Rockies, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)


Some Montana breweries are hard to find, tucked away in alleys or side streets, but not Flathead Lake Brewing. You can't miss it.

It's five miles south of Bigfork right in the middle of Woods Bay, a tiny berg along scenic State Highway 35 at mile marker 26.

Technically, though, you almost missed it because in July 2009, after disagreements between owners, Flathead Lake Brewing closed its doors, lost its head brewer, and remained closed for nine months until it re-opened in March 2010, with a new owner, Greg Johnston, who immediately re-hired former head brewer Tim Jacoby.

Fortunately, when you walk into the taproom, you'll find the same thing you did before the short closure--great views, great beers and great people.

But not everything will be the same. Johnston, Jacoby and their crew completely refurbished the interior. "Everything has a fresh look to it," Jacoby said, except the exterior, which remains the same and hard to miss when you drive down the east side of Flathead Lake.

Besides new ownership and new interior, the other difference from the Flathead Lake Brewing of the past will be food. The brewery added a full kitchen, so you can get some tasty pub fare with the award-winning microbrew.

Since the Flathead Lake Brewing has the same brewer, the beer won't change much. "Most of the beers will be the same," Jacoby assured--at least at first, but he also said he'd be trying some new recipes.

Since our founding in 2004," added Sandy Clare, the brewery's general manager. "we have had three primary ambitions. The first: to brew the best beer in Montana. The second: to nurture a maturing beer culture and palate. And finally: to build community-based relationships."

One more goal, added in 2010, she said, was to provide our taproom patrons with "the finest beer-inspired eats, with a focus on fresh, local ingredients." A full menu of original recipes was developed to "showcase the finer qualities of the beers with which they're paired."

In addition to re-opening the Woods Bay operation in 2010, Flathead Lake expanded into Missoula and opened a satellite location there. No beer brewed there, but the brewery's tasty brews are served along with a great menu of pub fare. Now, in 2013, due to huge increases in demand, Flathead Lake plans to expand again. The brewery purchased an old bowling alley close to downtown Bigfork and is currently renovating it with plans to move into the new location in late 2013.

"In this new location, patrons will still be able to experience the amazing views of Flathead Lake," Clare assured. "Even more importantly, the brewery will be able to increase and expand its production capabilities ten-fold."

Why make a big move, but only five miles down the road from Woods Bay to downtown Bigfork? "The reasons are simple," she answered. "Location: it's hard to beat drinking a world-class craft brew while enjoying a beautiful view of Flathead Lake, our namesake; and water: it's some of the purest in the country, pulled from an artesian aquifer that's replenished by glacial melt."

Clare said there no plans to close the Woods Bay operation when the main production facility moves to Bigfork.

Flathead Lake also distributes draught beer throughout the Flathead Valley, but plans to stay close to home for a while before trying to penetrate other markets. Jacoby said they're thinking about doing more bottling--and possibly canning, too-- in the future, but right now, the brewery only offers specialty brews in 22-ounce bottles called "Bombers."

Flathead Lake is one of two breweries in Montana (along with Bozeman Brewing) to sell beer in super-cool, custom ceramic growlers made by Carlburg Pottery of Kalispell.

Right now, Flathead Lake Brewing has aggressive growth plans, so expect a more changes and expansions down the road. Or as Clare put it, "Montana's big sky is our limit,"

Owner Greg Johnston (left) and brewer Tim Jacoby.
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