WCR: Dave, welcome to the program
David: Well thank you.
WCR: So tell me how you got started brewing and what your set up was?
David: Well, I got started like most brewers, as a home brewer. I began this, I call it a hobby gotten out of control, I began it when I was in college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. And I actually I blame my wife for me getting into this. She worked for the park service and she was gone working as a naturalist for the summer so I was left to my own devices and I was actually one day riding around Fort Collins on my bike and I stumbled across a home brew supply store and thought this was kind of neat. At the time, Fort Collins had just a small handful of craft breweries and I was really starting to get into some of the craft beer. The local craft beer and I saw an opportunity in this home brew shop to make my own. Being a cheap college student, that really appealed to me. So I bought a $30 kit. Humped it back to the apartment and started making home brew. That’s really how I got hooked into it. It was just a simple 5 gallon extract kit and I did that for a few years and then I was lucky enough to become the weekend keg washer at a small microbrewery in Fort Collins called the HC Burger Brewing Company. So there was the HC Burger Brewing, there was O’Dell’s brewing, and there was New Belgium Brewing Company. Those were the 3 small breweries in Fort Collins. There was also a really neat brewpub there; it’s still there, Coopersmiths. And so it was definitely the place to be if you were interested in learning more about brewing. When I was home brewing all the time, this actually dates me a little bit, I would go to New Belgium and you could buy bottles from them for your home brew. They were in a small little railroad depot building that was about the size of our brewery right now. They were a tiny little brewery back then. So I knew I was in the right place in Fort Collins to learn more about this really weird craft.
WCR: Yeah, it’s definitely kind of a mecca right now.
WCR: Can you tell us about some of your early experiences brewing and any memorable successes or failures?
David: Well, as I said, I was home brewing for years and then began working at HC Burger as a brewery grunt, doing all the dirty work that I was told to do. I was lucky enough to get promoted to become assistant brewer there after a year or so. And, during that process, we also expanded the brewery physical plan considerably from an 18 barrel to a 50 barrel system while keeping the 18 barrel system online. And one of my failures there was brewing on the 18 barrel system. I was making a batch of stout and it was a hectic brew schedule and I was flustered, kind of new at the gig. Got all done for the day and it was one of my first solo brews that the head brewer wasn’t watching me over my shoulder and so I felt a kind of an exhausted, kind of proud aura beaming off of me as I was packing away the hosed. But then I looked up on the platform and saw 2 buckets of hops that I forgot to add into the boil. And by this time the beer was already in the fermenter. Nobody was around and I just thought, holy BLEEP. What am I going to do now? So what I ended up doing, in a panic, I dumped the hops into the fermenter. Essentially I dry hopped it. And this was a beer that was not supposed to be dry hopped. So it got noticed and I kinda had to fess up to a certain degree what had happened. I didn’t get fired luckily but we did end up with a specialty beer that didn’t really sell that well. It wasn’t in our normal line-up of beers.
WCR: Did they name it after you?
David: (laughing) You know, I don’t remember if they ever did name it anything. It may even have been just that it got blended into something else. But it was a god-awful hoppy beer that just didn’t work.
WCR: Do you remember what the first craft beer was that you tried and what the brand was?
David: I do, I absolutely do. It was Boulder Beer, made in Boulder, CO. And it was, I believe it was their porter. It just struck me as being different from anything else I had before. Prior to that, I guess I was a born beer snob, prior to that I thought I was the coolest guy around drinking Foster’s Lager out of the big oil cans and I would go out of my way to find these giant 12 packs of Foster’s and thought that was really, just something completely out of the norm look at me, I’m so cool having this, what I thought was – back then, kind of akin to a craft beer. Find out years later that Foster’s is not a craft beer. I tried the Boulder Beer and like I said it just tasted different. And it made me notice that this has a taste to it. It’s not just cold, fizzy alcoholic water, there’s something here. And it made me sit up and notice that, what else is out there. Right on the heels of Boulder Beer it was the Sunshine Wheat from New Belgium Brewing. That just, man oh man, that knocked me right off my shoes. It was a wonderful, just full flavored, beautifully labeled beer.
WCR: You worked at one of the oldest micro-breweries in the state of Montana, Lang Creek Brewery and you worked under the original owner John Campbell. Can you tell us what that experience was like working at the most remote brewery in America and what you learned?
David: Sure, I worked for John and his wife Sandy. They…Lang Creek Brewing Company, their main operation is located way out, or was, way out in the middle of nowhere by the Lincoln county line in western Montana. They also had a satellite brewery located right in the middle of Kalispell.
WCR: Oh, ok. I did not know that.
David: And that’s where I worked. I was the brewer for that small little kind of satellite brewery operation. It was designed with a, to basically give the appearance of a brewpub partnering with a restaurant right next door. It was a great, neat little location. John actually for years prior to, well maybe not years, but prior to me meeting him, he was trying to sell that brewery. My wife and I were going to buy it from him, that’s how I got to know John. We were in negotiations to purchase the satellite brewery when September 11th happened and pretty much that whole deal fell apart. A lot of our financial backers decided they were going to hunker in and not do anything at that time. But, my wife and I, the bug had bit us and we knew that we wanted to be up here in Montana so we moved up here with the intention of opening the Glacier Brewing Company and in the mean-time, John needed a brewer, I needed a job, there you go.
WCR: So you didn’t start working for him until after you had already came up with the idea of opening Glacier Brewing Company. And you just wanted that experience?
David: Basically, it kept my foot in the brewing world and also I found it to be very valuable to be working in the area where I wanted to open a brewery in the industry I wanted to work in. It gave me a chance to really kind of see first-hand the ebbs and flows of the northwest Montana brewing scene.
WCR: So when did you finally get to open Glacier Brewing Company?
David: Well, we finally opened Glacier Brewing Company in early 2003. That was after, literally after years and years of planning and effort. The idea for this brewery, Glacier Brewing Company actually happened in a lightning flash on a drive across western Wyoming. I was driving my wife, then she was my girlfriend, up to her summer job in Glacier National Park where she works as a ranger naturalist so we were driving from Fort Collins to Glacier. Middle of the day, beautiful Wyoming summer day. She was asleep in the passenger seat next to me and I was driving, I think it was just south of Pinedale and kind of zoning out on the road and suddenly the entire idea of the Glacier Brewing Company was handed to me in my brain, fully formed. I say it like that because it really felt like it was just placed there. I wasn’t trying to come up with an idea, I didn’t really think I was ever going to own my own business but the name was there, Glacier Brewing Company, several of our beer names were there…in an instant. I wanted it originally to be in West Glacier. So, when I got back from that trip, I wrote down all of my ideas. I even sketched out what I wanted the place to look like. And I filed that away for about 10 years but just always kind of thinking about it as I worked with these other brewing Companies. I worked at the HC Burger Brewing Company in Fort Collins. I was there for several years, eventually leaving as their award winning head brewer. And, then I took a little bit of time off from brewing, learned commercial and residential remodel and construction, which, lo and behold, helps you out a ton if you’re going to build your own brewery. And then I was able to get another brewing gig in Telluride, CO at the Smuggler’s Brew Pub which was just an amazing place to work and live. Just phenomenally beautiful. If you ever get a chance to, get down to Telluride.
WCR: I haven’t been there yet.
David: Oh my gosh, Switzerland of America. So then it was, while we were living and working in the Telluride area that the Glacier Brewing Company buzz kept ringing in my ears. I had talked about it for years and years with my wife and one of her brothers. At the time, this brother of hers was moving up here to northwest Montana and he stopped by Telluride before he made the drive. We were all having lunch at the brewpub talking about the idea of the Glacier Brewing Company and one of us just kind of said, you know, we should either do this idea or we should never, ever mention it again. And we kind of chuckled at that but then we…the words just hung in the air and we realized, yeah, we have to try this. So that night I went home and started writing the business plan. A few months went by, got the business plan financials done. My brother in law, he had moved up here already so he was looking for pieces of property to put it. We found a brew system, a used brew system online, bought sight unseen. A 10 barrel brew system located in a brew pub in Huntington Beach, CA. Gave notice to the job. We packed up, packed up our 2 year old with all our possessions and drove up to Montana. We arrived on a Thursday, unloaded the truck, went to bed. Friday morning I was on a plane to take possession of the brew system. I’d never been to California before. I arrived on a Friday night, rented a car, and headed to Huntington Beach on the biggest highway I’ve ever seen in my life. So I truly was a country mouse in the city. After about a week or so, I had finally gotten the brew system uninstalled. That was one nice little surprise is that we bought the brew system but it was installed in this building and the business was shut down and so they just said, ok, here are the keys to the building, let us know when you have it out. And that was that. Everything, the brew system, how it was originally designed, it was designed to be craned into the place through a hole in the roof. These people didn’t want to cut a hole in the roof so everything, all the tanks, the brew kettle, the mash ton, the boiler, everything had to be turned over on its side and squeezed out a double door. Which was mental trauma I can’t even begin to explain. It was awful, it was a dark time. But I got everything out to the parking lot, loaded on a flatbed. It was hauled up here to Montana and we unloaded it all onto my father in law’s Christmas tree plantation up in Creston. So that was the holding area. So all these silvery tanks and copper vessels sat among these Evergreens for almost a year while we looked for a location. It was really a surreal scene. You’d go out there and see these beautiful Christmas trees growing and all these silver tanks and copper tanks. So after about a year of searching up in the Flathead, and Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Kalispell, Somers, Hungry Horse, we couldn’t find a suitable location. We wanted to be on a municipal water and sewage, having learned some lessons from John Campbell. They were on a well way out in, west of Marion and he told me of some significant issues they had with that so I knew that we had to be on a municipal system. My brother in law called me one day and said hey I found a location in Polson. Come on down. At the time I was living in Creston so I drove on down, pulled up here to this address and it was a vacant lot with a tall, narrow, cinder block building on it. Walked inside, it was an old racquetball court built by the Elk’s club in the mid-70s. We looked at it, walked around. It was dirty, dusty; there was grease and oil everywhere. We thought, this is perfect, we’ll take it. So that’s how we ended up where we are.
WCR: I bet that felt good after, sounds like a lot of trials and tribulations and kind of, thinking of the idea 10 years prior.
David: It, yeah, I didn’t really appreciate how long this thing had been gestating until it was born. Persistence.
WCR: Where do you guys currently distribute your packaged beers to?
David: We actually are all across the state of Montana. We do not go outside the state borders; we’re a Montana thing right now. In the last year, we were able to add 3 new distributors so we are available from east to west, north to south, all across the entire state, in selected markets. You can find us in a lot of grocery stores, gas stations, bars, restaurants. You’re mostly going to find our product in bottles. I would love to ship out a lot more kegs, but it’s just more convenient for retailers and distributors to handle cases instead of kegs.
WCR: What about canning?
David: What about canning?
WCR: Do you guys have any plans to do that in the future?
David: No, we don’t. When we first looked at getting into bottles we looked at canning and way back then, the only craft brewer in the country that was canning was Oskar Blues down in Lyons, CO. And I thought to myself, this looks like a trend that’s starting. Cask systems were just starting to really take off across Canada. Cask is the canning machine company and having worked at other breweries where we bottled I knew the cost of the quote, cheap, bottlers versus the cost of the canning machine and the canning machine was considerably cheaper so we looked at that. We were going to move into canning. I was just about getting ready to order the canning machine when I decided well; I better just call up the can supplier and find out what their minimums are. What’s the smallest amount of empty cans that I can order from these guys? And it turns out it was a truck load, a semi-truck load of empty cans back then and it was one label. That was to the tune of about $18,000 and being a small business starting out, that figure choked us. And we thought, even if we did come up with the money for that one label, where would we store all these empty cans. So that really kind of put the kibosh on the canning idea. We don’t have any plans of going into cans right now. Again, we are a small business. Our die has been cast in bottles. We have chosen to pursue that market. Canning is, does have a value in the market place; however, I don’t want to chase every fad, especially at the production level. There are some that are worthwhile chasing. Canning for us, it’s just too expensive.
WCR: Got it, so what’s your current production capacity and are close you guys to maxing out?
David: No we’re not close to maxing out yet. Our capacity is around 2500 barrels. Because of where we are, Polson is a very seasonal town. Tourists come here in the late spring, summer, and fall and the winter time they all flee so in the summer time, yeah, all our tanks are full. I’m brewing all the time, we’re packaging all the time. IN the winter, things slow down considerably so we have, we have a good amount of capacity that we could still fill throughout the entire year. In the summer time, there are definitely weeks when we are at capacity.
WCR: So what’s your best selling beer?
David: Again it depends on the season. Right now it’s Flathead Cherry Ale. Right behind that is the Golden Grizzly. The Golden Grizzly seems to be the best seller all year round. It’s one of my favorite beers; I’m just very sentimental about it. The Golden Grizzly Ale recipe is the first beer recipe that I designed and made commercially from scratch and that started way back at HC Burger. I was given the task by the head brewer to make a new specialty beer and I designed that beer. It’s a golden ale a kolsch style and because it was my recipe I hung on to it. And when I opened up this brewery that was actually the first beer I made was the Golden Grizzly Ale.
WCR: Awesome. So is that your favorite beer that you guys make?
David: Oh boy. Its cliché but it’s like asking a parent what child is your favorite.
WCR: Oh everybody has a favorite.
David: Everybody has a favorite, of course they do.
WCR: They just don’t want to say.
David: I hope my daughter’s not listening. The Golden Grizzly is definitely one of my top 2 favorites. The Golden Grizzly Ale and the Glacier Select Oktoberfest.
WCR: I don’t think I’ve had your Oktoberfest.
David: Lovely. It’s, I call it the most beautiful beer I’ve ever seen. The color of it still stops me; I just think it’s a gorgeous beer.
WCR: So what’s your favorite beer from another craft brewer in the area?
David: Oh boy.
WCR: Again, this is like picking a favorite child.
David: You know, I’m a little ashamed to say, but I don’t get out of the brewery, or Polson very often to visit other brewers. It is something I wish I just had more time to do but I just don’t. Tim O’Leary’s beers, or not Tim…yeah, Tim O’Leary’s beers have always hit me, even when they were smaller. Kettlehouse brewing. Even when they were a smaller operating, his beers have always struck me as being very clean, very creative. And also the other Tim, Tim up at Flathead Brewing. I always gotta give him props. He’s been through a lot in his brewing career and he keeps a smile on his face. He makes some really, really good beers.
WCR: Yeah, for sure. So sometimes I’ll try a beer just because I think it has a funny name. What goes into picking a name and do you have any favorites from Glacier Brewing’s history?
David: Oh boy. Yeah, one of the ones, maybe any parents with kids listening should warn them away now. I made a barley wine years ago and boy was it good. Just a fantastic barley wine. It came in I think right around 9-10%. I was struggling with a name for it. I wanted it to be, the name to be something along the lines of glacier and outdoors oriented. My brother in law Bob came up with the name Bald Beaver Barley Wine. And we even had graphics for it of this poor little beaver shivering on top of his beaver lodge. It’s funny, we had some t-shirts and some sweatshirts printed up with that graphic and I think as good as the beer was, I think the, I think the image sold better than the beer. People like that connotation. It was one that I always chuckled at but I also kind of gritted my teeth about, you know. Try to keep it classy.
WCR: Right, right. So what do you predict the next emerging trend in beers is going to be?
David: Oh boy. The next emerging trend…hmm…local ingredients. I predict that breweries are going to start using very local ingredients. Currently we use Montana grain in our beers, which is great. I was so happy that we were able to make the move to use grain grown in Montana for beer made in Montana but I predict that more and more breweries are gonna start using hops grown locally in their area and we’ve seen that here in the Mission and Flathead. A couple hop farms starting up and they are starting up right. They’re actually becoming a going concern and hopefully they’re gonna be around for a long time. I think it’s, I think it’s a great thing. Hops grow wonderfully in northwest Montana. It’s a great market. All the brewers are here, we need the hops. I also see brewers are going to start using a lot of other different local ingredients besides just locally grown grains and locally grown hops. There’s a lot of other botanicals out there you can put in beer.
WCR: So what’s your process for creating a new beer and how long does it take for you to put it into production?
David: Well, it usually starts with a discussion with somebody. Of what our next specialty should be. And a lot of times, I’ll come out from the brew house to the tasting room and across the bar I’ll just ask the customers, what do you want to see, what specialty beers should I make next. And it’s kind of a fun conversation to have with people you don’t know and even funner with people that you don’t know. Suddenly they’re engaged, suddenly they’re emotionally invested and I actually really do, I take their suggestions and I make some version of that beer that they suggest. Once I get a solid idea of the beer style, it takes not long at all. Because we are a small brewery and I do have a tap here in the tasting room dedicated just to our specialty beers. So I have a ready outlet for it and it’s just about as fast as I can produce it, it goes on tap. Usually within 2-3 weeks depending on the beer style. The barley wine took months and months and months. I aged that one for, geez, 9, 10 months before I released it. But, it’s a relatively fast process.
WCR: Right on. So are there any mad experiments that never made it into production?
David: (laughing) You know, again, because we’re a relatively small operation, if a beer idea gets to the formulation stage and actually gets into the mash ton, I will put it all the way through. Kinda, you know, in for a penny, in for a pound, we’ll see what happens. You never really know what the next big hit’s gonna be. My beer tastes are just that-mine. I don’t really pretend to know what the public is going to absolutely love or hate. So I will make some strange concoctions and I’ll just push them through the tasting room here and see what happens. We’ve had some great success with that. The Flathead Cherry Ale was a specialty. That was supposed to be a one-off. The Oktoberfest, Glacier Select Oktoberfest, was supposed to be a one-off and those are 2 of our biggest sellers.
WCR: Right on. So have you brewed a beer that you thought wasn’t going to be good…or that you thought was good but couldn’t sell because no one else liked it?
David: I’ve always been able to sell all the beer I’ve made here at Glacier. Some of it has sold very rapidly, sold out very rapidly and some has taken longer, a longer time to sell. I made a session beer…Silver Linings Session Ale. It was a lower alcohol beer, probably coming in around 3.8% or something, right around there. And it was an amber, a lightly hopped amber. I designed it for people who wanted to come in here and they didn’t want one of our beers that’s 5 and a half percent or 6.8%, they wanted something lighter. And good bad or whatever, it didn’t sell as strong as I thought it did, as strong as I thought it should. But in the end, I did sell all of it…I sold it all but that one took a while. I’m not sure what kind of social comment that makes about the northwest Montana beer drinker but…
WCR: We need it stronger.
WCR: After Backslope Brewing opens in Columbia Falls there will be 9 breweries in Northwest Montana area. Do you think the explosion of craft-breweries in the area will help make the area a craft brewery destination?
David: Boy, 9 breweries in this area, that is, that is funny to me. Back when I was planning this brewery, I called around to local presidents of distributorships in the area and basically told them what I was planning and I wanted to get their feedback and the feedback I got at the time was very negative. And I got the same response from distributorships down in Missoula at the time. Very negative and what I kept hearing over, again and again, is this area cannot support anymore breweries and at the time there was 2, maybe 3 breweries in Missoula and that was it. This area cannot support anymore breweries. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to them, but it did give me some concern when I kept hearing that again and again until I kind of considered the source and maybe it was a competition issue. I think this area is already a mecca for craft beer lovers. All the time I encounter people in our tasting room that say they’re doing a brew tour of northwestern Montana. They come up from Missoula, they hit us, they go around either side of the lake hit Tamarack, Flathead, go up through Kalispell, Kalispell brewing, up into Whitefish, those guys and now they can go up into Columbia Falls. So absolutely this is a mecca, absolutely.
WCR: So how do you think the scene stacks up to other areas, other meccas like San Diego, Portland, Colorado, and what could we do better?
David: What could we do better…we could get more tourists in here throughout the year. 12 months of the year, get more people in Montana who are visiting, vacationing throughout the year, not just the summer. How do we stack up? We’re right there with them. We’re making some of the best craft beer in Montana. Let me rephrase that. Some of the best craft beer in the country is being made in Montana. We know our game. We’ve’ got, we’ll put our beer up against anybody from Colorado, San Diego.
WCR: Do you think some of the brewery laws; the alcohol laws hamper the growth of the craft brewing industry in general?
David: Absolutely, oh absolutely. And, they’re designed that way. They’re designed to hamper the industry. We are restricted here in the tasting room. We can sell people 3 pints per person, per day, 48 ounces. We can’t serve after 8 o’clock. If your brewery produces more than 10,000 barrels a year you can’t charge for your beer in your tasting room. These are all economic strangulations techniques to really limit how successful a brewery can be. Can you imagine a bar or restaurant – you have to shut down by 10 o’clock. You can’t sell more than 4 beers to a person in one day in a bar or a restaurant. It would just never happen. And the history of these laws and who really is pushing these laws, who has pushed these laws, who’s keeping them is the subject of…boy that would be a great book.
WCR: So on the subject of the brewery laws, 2 bills were introduced earlier this year and failed in committee. One was a license stacking bill called the “Montana Brewers Act”, and the other bill would increase that limit from 10,000 to 60,000 barrels to operate a taproom and it was called the “Pro-Beer Act”. What are your thoughts on both of these bills and I guess we already talked about the brewery laws?
David: Yeah, the license stacking, that was a very interesting proposition. It would have gone a long way to evolving the Montana brewery laws. My opinion is that it would have been a good thing. There’s been this, I don’t know if it’s animosity but definitely there’s been heated competition in my experience between breweries and tavern owners. We’ve even seen that in our early days locally here and the thing I always go back to is it’s not the same clientele for the most part so it’s not really like we’re stealing customers from the bars. With the license stacking bill, if it passed, it would have given us, the brewery, the opportunity to purchase a beer and wine license or a full, all beverage license on top of our brewer’s license so we could essentially remove those tasting room limitations. Other side of that coin is, bars and restaurants would have been able to get a brewer’s license and become a full brew pub. It really seems to me it was a missed opportunity for the economy of the state. You go around to these other brewery meccas around the country – brewpubs are everywhere, full brewpubs. You go to Montana and it’s almost, to the visiting public, a bit of a laughing point that we have these limitations on us and there aren’t real true traditional brewpubs. There are a few examples around the state, but they’ve been such a…those owners have had to do such a ridiculous work-around to get those setups with a state that is as economically driven as Montana is, I don’t like the phrase, but that is really a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want Montana businesses using Montana produced grain to make as much Montana product as possible? It seems silly. The other bill, it’s a whole other interesting animal. There are a small handful of breweries in Montana that are producing more than 10,000 barrels or bumping up against that limit. They are the ones who would benefit from that other bill. The majority of Montana breweries would not ever even get close to that 10,000 number. I would love to be up there, I know that we’re not gonna.
WCR: Do you think if you started distributing out of the state though that demand would go up and you would be getting closer to that 10,000 limit?
David: Of course, sure. It’s, it all goes back to get your beer in front of the biggest population you can. We’re doing that with trying to get all across the entire state, into every market we can. If we were shipping out state, absolutely. And, I wish I had the ability to do it, I really do because one of the things that sells our beer, and a lot of Montana beer, to out of state tourists is, I mean the beer is great, but you’re selling the Montana image to these people. It really is one of the last best places and that’s what people visiting, that’s why they’re here, because Montana is not like any other place. It is still remote, it is still wild or semi-wild. There are things in Montana that you cannot experience anywhere else in the country. That’s why people want to be here. If we were able to export that out of the state in a bottle of beer I’d love to and that would increase our production quite a bit.
WCR: So if you could, if you were a legislator and you could propose a bill, what would your perfect bill be? How would you write the laws if you could?
David: Oh boy.
WCR: I guess this is kind of a deep question…you said earlier you could write a book about it.
David: It is. I would scrap the alcohol license quota system.
WCR: You’re not the first one to say that…yeah.
David: I think that is probably the root of all this evil. Is the fact that at some point in the past, that a quota system on how many licenses a town could have based on its population was enacted. And at the time, most of those towns were already, instantly out of the gate they were over quota so the only way to add a new alcohol license would be to increase the population. That is one of the first things I would do and right alongside that, I would allow for breweries to get one of those new licenses and vice-versa. Open up the economy once again.
WCR: So how has Glacier Brewing dealt with the hops shortage? Do you make any sacrifices in any of your beers to keep costs down?
David: Well, right from the get-go when I designed all these beers, I wanted them to be German styles, or based on German styles so I intentionally used a lot of German noble hops, hop varieties in the beers but I kept the actual quantities low. Looking at the, the cost of all the ingredients, the grain, the yeast, the water, the hops, the labor…hops were one of the most expensive items ounce for ounce and so I intentionally designed the beers to have a low hop build designed into them. The hops shortage, when it really hit hard years ago, we did see some significant production slow-downs. What we did at the time is we scrambled, we looked everywhere we could for more hops. We found some here and there…they were incredibly expensive. Hop, average hop price went from being around $4 a pound. At the height of the crisis it jumped all the way up to $42 a pound. Which, at the time when I saw those numbers, I thought, this is it, this is how we go out of business. Is, we are just priced out of the market. One of the heroes of the hop crisis helped us out; it was the Boston Beer Company, the makers of Sam Adams. Those guys came onto the scene and they put out a notice to all the breweries across the country. They said, we have surplus hops, tell us what you need and we’ll put you in a lottery. And they did that, and we…the first round we didn’t win the lottery, the second round we were in there and Boston Beer Company sold us the hops we needed at their price when they bought them which, I mean, it not only saved our business but I think it saved a lot of the breweries across the country. Why they did it? I think they wanted to keep the craft beer movement going. They saw the value in educating the people across the entire country of what good beer is. And they knew all it would do is benefit their business if people knew they did this goodwill act and also if people were educated that beer, craft beer, like they make, is really good and it’s not just these macro produced, alcoholic fizzy water quote beers.
WCR: I didn’t know that story, that’s pretty cool that they did that
David: Yeah, and the second part of your question – we didn’t sacrifice anything in our beers, like I said, we scrambled and we paid the prices.
WCR: So do you work with any local hop farmers to use their hops in your beer?
David: You know, I was working with a gentlemen he was looking at starting a hop farm out on Finley point on Flathead Lake and he got some test batches done and he actually let me use some of his hops, I made a specialty I brewed…it wasn’t pelletized so I was brewing with the whole hops. Any brewer will tell ya it can get kinda messy, especially at the commercial level when you have kettle full of whole hops floating around. So I used some of his hops and it turned out, the beer was wonderful. I’m very anxious to see what the hop farmer between Kalispell and Whitefish is going to do. He has some very interesting infrastructure going up there and in production.
WCR: Is that Tom Britz’s place?
David: It is, and I think he’s gonna, he’s gonna be the guy to go to for local hops
WCR: What's the weirdest thing you've heard of or yourself have put in beer during the brewing process? Doesn’t have to be beer you’ve made here, maybe just home brewing.
David: Well actually it is, it’s a beer that I make here. Its spruce tips. I brew a beer, I actually have it on tap right now, my last keg. It’s a saison brewed with Flathead Valley spruce tips. I go out in the spring time, when the new growth is budding out of the spruce trees and I’ll pick the tips off. They’re very, very soft, they give a wonderful citrus flavor to the beer. Very high in vitamin C too by the way. And, I’ve brewed this beer for 2 or 3 years now as a specialty and I just think that spruce tips are one of the really, kind of unsung, wonderful ingredients you can put in your beer. Now they’re not the only thing, I also use hops in that beer as well. But the spruce tips give it a very distinct flavor.
WCR: I just tried a beer down in Cabinet Mountain and they use spruce tips as well and I think they do it in the early stage like you’re doing. I thought that they were used mostly in darker beers. It was really sweet tasting, it was really unique.
David: It really is, it’s surprising. It’s real surprising.
WCR: It’s a cool ingredient to use.
David: You mention spruce tips to people and they think, ew gin. It does not have that taste at all. Like I said it’s like a citrus tea.
WCR: The first thing that pops into my mind is like Christmas beers, you know like that season, that style but no, like you said it’s very citrusy and delicious.
WCR: What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten regarding one of your beers that you’ve created?
David: The best feedback…hmm…what pops to mind is our 6 packs and that goes back to, I guess the marketing of it. The beer itself in the bottles is not the entire story, good or bad or whatever. It’s, goes all the way through to the packaging and the marketing. For years when we started bottling we couldn’t afford to get into the traditional 6 pack baskets that most breweries use and so we used these plastic snap rings that snap around the necks of the bottles and so the bottles hang down from this and when you carry them around they cling-clang, cling-clang, cling-clang, cling-clang together and we nick-named them the wind chimes. And it really got us, it allowed us to get into the bottle market at a very early time and really increase our sales quite a bit; however, people hated the wind chimes and I hated the wind chimes so when we eventually moved our 4 best sellers into the 6 pack baskets, people loved it, they raved over it. The coolest feedback I received was that people started collecting the 6 pack containers themselves just because of how they look, because of the artwork. That really just, as my buddy Steve Lozar would say, I was all cheeks, which means I was grinning ear to ear.
WCR: Did you make the design for that?
David: I designed them all.
WCR: Oh, that’s awesome
David: Yeah, and I just thought, right on, right on. You know, this brewery, this business is such a labor of love. And, an insane labor of love at times. Again, because we’re a small business and our resources are very limited we have to do everything we can do ourselves within reason and that includes designing all the labels. So I’m very proud that when I see my beers in stores across Montana, I say, not only did I make that recipe in that beer, I brewed that beer, I designed the label, I made the 6 pack, I actually bottled that, I touched every one of those bottles. It’s just a, it’s a unique point of pride that I really have. I don’t know how many brewers can say that.
WCR: That’s really cool. It’s probably pretty cool to see somebody carrying it down at a grocery store.
David: I still, it still stops me, it still surprises me. You are buying my, how did you hear about this? Or I see our sticker on the back of a car. And I just, oh my gosh there’s one of our stickers. I point it out to my daughters all the time, look, another one of our stickers!
WCR: Do you guys offer brewery tours?
David: Yes we do. When we first started and our tasting room was right next to the brew house, it was easy to do tours then. People could…because it was an old racquetball court, there was an observation deck there and people could go up there and just look over into the brewery and see me down there tripping over hoses and doing all the brewery stuff that we do. Now that we have this new tasting room…new, we built it 5 or 6 years ago, it is, the brew house and the tasting room are separated by a wall so it’s a little bit harder to get people back there but we definitely try to accommodate anybody who wants to go check out the brewery if we’re able to, unless we’re doing some kind of production back there that’s just not safe for the public to walk through, absolutely we do brewery tours.
WCR: So do conduct the tours as well?
David: I do, yeah I do actually most of the tours
WCR: Is there something you don’t do? (laughing)
WCR: If you could sit down and have a brew with anyone, living or deceased, who would that be?
David: You know, boy, it’s a great question. There’s so many people that I would love to just pull out of the public spotlight and hang out with and just really get to know them. I think however the person would be my brother Hans, I would love to have one more beer with him.
WCR: I assume your brother’s not around anymore
David: Nope, he’s not around anymore.
WCR: Sorry to hear that
David: Thank you
WCR: And last question, what is your advice for those getting into brewing and what are some good resources and most common mistake new homeowners make. Or, home brewers?
David: Advice…don’t. No, just kidding. Definitely get into it, try it out. Get yourself a small little home brewing kit. It’s something you can do yourself, you don’t have to rely on mass produced beer, this is weird for me to say because I’m selling mass produced beer but you can make your own beer. It may not be exactly what you’re used to but it will be yours. Definitely try it. You may like it, you may not. Mistakes that home brewers get into…funny your slip of home brewers and home owners. Probably the same thing. They try to start too big. But, start with a small system and keep at it. You’re gonna make bad beer. Bottom line, there’s gonna be some batches that you’re just gonna dump. And if you don’t dump some of your batches early on then you’re really not getting outside of your comfort zone. And that’s really how you learn how to do all this stuff is just try different things. It’s an experiment, just try it, it may work and you may really just knock one out of the ballpark or you strike out who knows, but you gotta at least try.
WCR: Anything else you want to add?
David: Yeah. If you’re a home brewer and you’re looking at going into commercial brewing, find a local brewer to talk to. Sit down with him. Most of them are more than happy to talk to you. Especially if that brewer is the one that started the brewery. There’s a ton of advice out there for people who want to start new breweries but you just have to go and approach the people. You can take class upon class of how to become a professional brewer, and actually Flathead Valley Community College is just starting a new program for that so kudos to them, and those programs are very valuable; however, they don’t tell you the whole story. Running a brewery is not just about making beer. Unfortunately that can become just a small part of it. There is so much more, everything from administration to marketing to logistics management…
David: Licensing, oh my gosh. Location. Construction. Do you put in a trench drain in your floor or not, what kind of trench drain, is the floor sloped, what kind of wall covering do you need, what kind of brew system do you need? Are you going to be a production brewery or are you going to be just a tasting room brewery? Are you going to bottle? Can? Keg? Put it into bev pouches? What are you going to do, there are just so many questions. So go, if you really want to have an idea of starting your own brewery, go talk to somebody. Go find a brewer. Anybody out there listening wants to start their own brewery, give me a call down here at the Glacier Brewing Company. I have talked as I say, I have talked many people off the ledge over these years about starting a brewery. I’m not saying don’t do it, but get the information before you go into it. This is an expensive business to run. If you get into it and don’t know what you’re doing, it’s an expensive business to lose.
WCR: Alright Dave, thanks for being on the program.
David: You betcha, thank you for the opportunity I’ve really enjoyed this.