WCR: Alright Zach, welcome to the program.
Zach: Thanks, thanks for having me.
WCR: First question, do you remember what the first craft beer that you tried?
Zach: Yeah, it was Magic Hat #9 out of Vermont, it was an apricot IPA. It’s probably 20 years old.
WCR: How did you get started brewing and what was your set up?
Zach: We started brewing about 6 years ago. It was a dream I’ve always wanted to partake in…I’d been volunteering at other breweries before that and never had the time or put into it so it finally got there and we started brewing in our stovetop using a plastic cooler as a mash ton and it just kind of took off from there.
WCR: So you tell us about your early experiences brewing and successes or failures you had?
Zach: Yeah. We first started brewing we pretty much just did IPAs. That’s what we like to drink and we wanted to drink what we made and we wanted to drink something a little more cost effective than what we were paying for at the grocery store. Eventually we branched out and started doing some spruce beers, some juniper berry beers. From there we kinda started doing blondes and stouts and all the other kinda staples. You know, the first few batches were terrible but as you do it more and kinda dial your recipes in it generally gets a little better from there.
WCR: So, any failures that you can remember?
Zach: Yeah, quite a few. I think our first few batches we ended up blowing them out of the tops of the carboys just because we had too much carbonation in there. Yeah, there were some bad ones. We had one where we were brewing a triple IPA and there was so much yeast and froth in there it just blew up in a clothes closet we had. Stained the closet, got all over our clothes. We cleaned it up as much as we could but the resin, residue was still there so not so much fun.
WCR: Your currently working on opening a brewery named Limberlost Brewing in Thompson Falls, MT. When did you first decide to open a brewery and what can you tell us about the future of the brewery and your progress that you’ve been making?
Zach: Well, we decided about…before we started home brewing really, we wanted to open a brewery. It just seemed like something we could use our creativity and hard work for and it just kinda took off from there. We’ve been putting plans together, visiting other breweries and talking to a bunch of people to get all the information that we could and the progress is going good. It’s a slow process but we, we’ve got our building, we have most of our equipment lined up and hopefully by next spring that’s where we’re gonna end up being. Just slow and steady wins the race. That’s all you can kinda hope for at this point.
WCR: So what’s the estimated time frame, you said spring time?
Zach: Yeah, we’re hoping spring, probably early May. We’re trying to get that tourist summer season to kinda come through here.
WCR: So how did you pick the name Limberlost and what does it mean?
Zach: We were driving through central Oregon on Mackenzie pass over Three Sisters and we saw campground called Limberlost. And so we just thought that was a really cool name. The story comes from the Midwest, in Indiana, there’s a giant swamp there called Limberlost Swamp. Back in the 1800s, a guy named Jim Limber went into the swamp, got lost there for 10 years, everyone thought he was a goner, he came out of the swamp and it was Limberlost. So, that’s the name behind it.
WCR: That’s a cool story. Cool name too.
WCR: What type or styles of beers will you brew at Limberlost?
Zach: Yeah, we’re going to be doing a lot of more Northwest style ales. We kinda want to be IPA centric focused but we’re gonna be doing blondes, stouts, seasonals. We’ve got a group of beers called our Homegrown Series where we’re gonna be using local produce to make sours and wits and different things like that. Basically for the folks that don’t want to drink a big heavy beer. You come in and drink a real light, fruity beer. Almost like a wine cooler, but with a lot more class to it.
WCR: So when I walk into Limberlost Brewing, what can I expect to see when it opens?
Zach: Well, when you walk in it’s gonna be a big open room. We’re gonna have a bar in the back, we’re gonna have some couches up front with these big windows. We’re gonna have, we want to be really lumber focused. Just because that was the big industry here and that’s what people kinda associate Thompson Falls with so we have saw blades, and beer, old Montana beer merchandise and skis and that Montana experience you know? Kinda like that.
WCR: So what’s gonna be the capacity, your brewing capacity when you open?
Zach: We’re gonna be doing 4 barrel. We got a 4 barrel system. Capacity, it’s really just how much you can brew with demand. People look at capacity different ways and I’m gonna look at it the way that we’re gonna aim for 180 to 200 barrels a year.
WCR: I think that’s what Bonsai started with is a 4 barrel.
Zach: It was, he’s up to I think a 6 barrel now. And I don’t think he can keep up with production just because it’s taken off so well.
WCR: Very much. So how has the community reacted in Thompson Falls to the news that a brewery’s gonna be opening?
Zach: Really excited. Down here it’s more of a county wide thing because we’re so dispersed and so rural. You talk to people in these little farm towns all through the county and they’re really excited. They know that that brings tourism in; they know it’s just one more entrepreneur coming in and trying to be part of the community and fit in so all kinds of people are really excited about it.
WCR: Can you tell me about your involvement in revitalization efforts for downtown Thompson Falls? I understand you serve on a committee to help develop a revitalization plan for downtown?
Zach: Yeah. It’s called the, it’s the Thompson Falls Main Street Committee and we are about 10 people strong and we are looking at possibilities and different ways to enhance the economy, the living conditions for Thompson Falls in hopes that that will build a stronger community and stretch out to the rest of the county. We recently received a Main Street Grant from the state. We’re the last city to receive that grant before they renewed the process and it’s just been great. We get to hire an engineer to come in, make a plan, and we can go from that.
WCR: Have you heard of any other businesses wanting to open since they’ve heard about you guys, Limberlost, opening a location?
Zach: Oh, like other businesses in town?
WCR: Yeah, just because they see that there’s kind of a revitalization.
Zach: Yeah, I think there’s several businesses just besides ours that people look at that, there’s been a couple other restaurants coming in, fancy restaurants. There’s been other people that have been buying historic buildings and kinda turning those around because they kinda see the light is at the end of the tunnel for trying to turn Thompson Falls around.
WCR: What’s your process for creating a new beer?
Zach: Trial and error. Its, you really wanna just find something you want to experiment with and go from there. My wife is a really good cook and she kind of formulates all our recipes. I sometimes get out voted in that regard but I know it’s for the best of the beer. She really adds a nice flavor to it. Experimenting, that’s all I can really say.
WCR: I like it! Do you have the names picked out for your beers?
Zach: We do. Our blonde ale is going to be Barefoot Blonde; we’re kinda going for the June Cleaver feel, really downhome flavor. Most of the gals in Montana, they’re running around bare feet and they outshoot their men and it’s a nice light beer to get started on. Our citrus IPA is going to be called Alpenglow. It’s what you call the sun bouncing off the mountains, just that nice beautiful orange. Our stout is going to be Muddy Bank. We have a pale ale called Pe’L. There’s a town in northwest Washington that’s name Pe’L and we just thought it would be a cool slang term for a pale ale. So those are the four staples besides the seasonals that we have.
WCR: What do you predict will be the next emerging trend in beers?
Zach: I’m gonna go with everyone else and say sours. I think that’s, I think people are kinda over this high alcohol, really chewy beers and I think people just want something to sit on a summer day and enjoy…and get some flavor out of.
WCR: Have you entered your beers into any contests and won any?
Zach: No, we’ve never gone that route. We usually just, our approach is we give it away for free to the community and we get, like the honest feed-back for that. Maybe down the road we’ll do something like that but just getting that local market taken care of first.
WCR: Do you think with the explosion of craft-breweries in NW Montana we’ve kinda become a mecca or what do you think about that?
Zach: I think that we’re becoming that. I think that people really, they go to Glacier and they just go to Glacier and maybe they’ll hang out in Whitefish and do some stuff but I don’t know if they know all the breweries are here. And especially with HA, Libby, Bonsai, and Columbia Falls being so new, and Kalispell being so new I don’t think people really know the quality of beer we have here. I think in the next year its really going to explode but I think right now we’re just getting those grass roots efforts going.
WCR: Do you think there’s anything we could do better to kinda get the word out.
Zach: I think marketing. I think maybe working together on one marketing plan to kind of put in a Brew News or put in different beer periodicals around the internet, I think that would maybe help get people here a little bit, just to get that awareness out that we are here.
WCR: So other craft brew destinations have seem to signature style like the West Coast IPA or the Northwest Style Beer. Do you think there is a signature style for Montana beers?
Zach: I think there’s…there is I think a diverse Montana style. I think it’s a little more maltier and a little more balanced than those beers are. And I think with Northwest Montana beers, just because we’re also isolated, I think we have a good shot at our own uniqueness and I think that’s what helps us stand out. All the beers are different every place you go.
WCR: How supportive is the craft brewing community? Is Limberlost getting any help from other brewers?
Zach: Yeah, they’ve all been awesome. We’ve talked to everybody in northwest Montana for one question or another. Everyone’s been so helpful. They don’t turn you away…they’ll give you internal documents, they’ll help you with recipes, they’ll let you borrow equipment and stuff like that. I mean, you can’t ask for much more support than that.
WCR: And you’ve got some equipment you bought from Backslope Brewery, correct?
Zach: Yeah, Darin Fisher sold us his setup and let us kinda do a payment plan on it and it’s been awesome. We wouldn’t be able to do the brewery right now without his assistance. It’s been awesome.
WCR: It’s awesome that it’s kinda supportive like that.
Zach: Yeah, definitely.
WCR: Are there any local brewers in the community that you admire or look up to?
Zach: I would say all of them. I mean, honestly, the fact that they’re doing it and living that dream, its just inspiration that you can do it yourself. So, definitely.
WCR: Since you are right in the middle of the process can you tell us your thoughts on the local laws and regulations regarding opening a business in Montana? Has the process to open a brewery been difficult or has it been business friendly?
Zach: It’s been business friendly. Montana is number one in the country for entrepreneurship and there’s really very lax laws and no business taxes to get in your way. It’s a bunch of paperwork typical for any business but Montana’s been awesome. It’s been really great.
WCR: Two bills were introduced earlier this year and failed in committee about brewing laws. One was called the “Montana Brewers Act” and that was a license stacking bill, and the other bill would have increased the limit to 60,000 barrels to operate a taproom and it was called the “Pro-Beer Act”. What are your thoughts on these bills or do you, have you really thought about that since you’re just getting started?
Zach: Yeah, you think about it because, you look for expansion definitely down the road which you want to do and you know, it would be nice to be open past 8:00 sometimes. But at the same time, we live in a community where a lot of folks aren’t out past 8:00 so that part of us doesn’t really affect us but I think down the road it’s going to hinder a growing industry and we need to look at something and get the politics out of it.
WCR: What would your solution be?
Zach: Just let us do what we want to do. I’d rather pay a higher brewery license fee, you know, we pay, its $600 a year and its $150,000 say in Sanders County to have a beer and wine license. I’d be willing to pay more money to maybe stay open later, make more barrels, sell out of my taproom, distribute across the state and stuff like that so that’s where I see it for us.
WCR: Does Limberlost Brewing Company plan on working work with any local hop farmers to use their hops in your beers?
Zach: You know, there’s…yes and no…there’s not a lot of options right now but there’s several people up in Dixon, which is about 20 miles from here, who are trying to get hop farms, like hop co-ops, started in the Clark Fork Valley and we’ve been in contact with all them. We’re first on the list when they get started and stuff like that.
WCR: Have you been up to Glacier Hop Ranch yet?
Zach: I have not yet. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. Just not ready to make that, quite make that step yet.
WCR: What's the weirdest thing you've heard of or you yourself have put in beer during the brewing process?
Zach: Cucumbers, squash, pickles
WCR: Oh, pickles…
Zach: Not cool…I meant to try it but I just look at the bottle and I’m like, I can’t do this, it’s not right. Get that vinegary flavor, it’s gonna kill it.
WCR: At least it wasn’t a whole chicken.
Zach: No…yeah, or bacon.
WCR: Rogue’s got one…its maple bacon and it’s actually decent…ish.
Zach: Oh wow…that’s cool…it’s drinkable right, to try something new.
WCR: What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten regarding one of your beers you’ve created?
Zach: That they’re, I guess flavor wise, people are just really surprised that you can make something on your stove that tastes this good. We get a lot of feedback just being people excited about having a brewery in the community. We take compliments; we take it to heart and use it as constructive criticism. We’re not openly seeking it but any positive feedback is great.
WCR: So do you have a favorite beer that you brew?
Zach: Yeah…I’m pretty partial, it’s like asking someone to pick your favorite kid. I like the beers we brew. I would say our citrus IPA is one of my favorites and I would probably say our stout. We do it a little different than most people do.
WCR: And what’s the name of your citrus IPA again?
Zach: The Alpenglow.
WCR: The Alpenglow, alright. So if you’re not drinking one of your own beers, what’s your go to beer?
Zach: A lot of times it’s what we can get kinda cheap at the grocery store. Like a New Belgium Ranger, Bitterroot IPA are really good. If we get a specialty beer, we like, there’s a brewery in Bend called Crux Fermentation Project has a really good beer we try to pick up when we can.
WCR: If you could sit down and have a brew with anyone, living or deceased, who would that be?
Zach: Can I pick a few people?
Zach: Teddy Roosevelt, Senator Mike Mansfield from Montana, and Wayland Jennings. And Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Had to throw that one in there.
WCR: That’s gonna be a party!
Zach: I know, old people and beer…you never know what you’re gonna get into.
WCR: That’d be pretty awesome. So last question, what is your advice for those getting into brewing and what are some good resources and the most common mistake new home brewers make?
Zach: You know, you could start out by buying a kit and getting extract but I would just go to all green and do your research on the internet. There’s great resources like homebrewtalk.com, probrewer.com has a lot of great resources. And one of the biggest mistakes is just trying to do too much too quick. I think it’d be best if you went on internet, found a recipe, and copied it exactly, get it down a few times, and then start branching out into your own and finding your own style.
WCR: If somebody wants to help you out get started, how can they do that?
Zach: You know, as far as home brew goes I’d say internet or finding a local group.
WCR: No, I’m talking about if somebody wants to help you with Limberlost, get that started, how do they go about doing that? Are you guys doing a kickstarter?
Zach: Yeah, we’re gonna be doing a kickstarter in a couple months once we get a little further along. You know, we’re probably gonna use indiegogo because with kickstarter you don’t keep your money unless you get your match and that’s gonna be great. If you’re looking to start a brewery definitely probrew.com or come into a brewery and talk to a brewer or an owner. Everyone’s really supportive and we’re looking to pay it forward to if anyone else ever wants to have some advice and whatnot.
WCR: Anything else you’d like to add?
Zach: Come and drink our beers when we’re open. Look for us online. Just support your local brewers.
WCR: Next May correct?
Zach: Yeah, next May. 2016.
WCR: Alright, thanks Zach.
Zach: Thank you, thank you very much. It’s been awesome.