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Glacier Brewing

From Newwest.net, 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 Newwest.net. All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)

glacier_Dave_Ayers
Dave Ayers owner.
Photo by Bill Schneider.

WHEN YOU DRIVE UP THE MAIN STREET OF POLSON TO GLACIER BREWING YOU GET A LITTLE FLASHBACK TO THE WILD WEST. SWINGING SALOON DOORS ALWAYS DO THAT.

The weathered BREWERY sign above the swinging doors helps, too. Later, I found the idea for it came from the historic H.S. Gilbert Brewery in Virginia City, which was Montana's first-ever brewery--and where the Virginia City Players still act out a comedy called The Brewery Follies, which its website touts as all "satire, nonsense, foolishness and absurdity."

After a shift as head brewer at the now-closed H.C. Berger Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, Dave Ayers, along with his wife, Christine, and brother-in-law, Bob Hardy, founded Glacier Brewing in 2003. (Bob, however, is no longer active in the business, having retired in January 2010.)

So, at Glacier Brewing, typical among the microbreweries in Montana, a few friends or family members have joined together to contribute to the state's small-business-rich economy. They not only work hard it but also have fun doing it. Asked about the taproom hours, for example, Ayers answered, "noon to eight, eight days a week in the summer. The rest of the year, check our website for current hours."

During my nickel tour, he showed me his office, a tiny windowless cubbyhole, which served as the tasting room for the first four years, complete with the even smaller, unisex "used beer department."

Glacier recently retired that cozy little tasting room and added on one of the largest taprooms in Montana. "We thought there was a real need for a family friendly place in Polson," explained Ayers, referring to the far-too-common conversion of local family restaurants to casinos.

"We are family friendly and encourage people to bring their kids," he emphasized. "We also now are serving a very creative and tasting menu of unique pub food thanks to the beer garden kitchen, Dude's Place. Dude's Place menu and hours are available on the brewery's website.

In addition to their six basic beers and the rotating One Barrel Batch tap, Glacier brews three non-alcoholic drinks for kids and adults who prefer them--Glacier Root Beer and Polson Pepper Soda (think Dr. Pepper) And they're on tap, just like the real beer.

Unlike the cramped tasting rooms found in most breweries, Glacier's large taproom with adjoining beer garden can accommodate a lot of people, so local residents have started using it for meetings and birthday parties--also encouraged, of course. "We've even been called the unofficial chamber of commerce for Polson," Ayers said in jest.

Ayers and his partners have used the heritage theme of the 1800s as much as possible. Hence the saloon motif. They named their beers after western Montana features--i.e. Slurry Bomber Stout, Golden Grizzly Ale and Wild Wolf Wheat--but unlike some breweries, Ayers doesn't consider any of them signature beers. "We like all of our beers," he insisted.

Glacier Brewing has recently added a new beer to its basic lineup, Wildhorse Island Pale Ale. It replaces the North Fork Amber Ale, which will still make cameo appearances at the brewery in the future.

Glacier depends on the Polson, Kalispell, and Missoula markets, selling kegs but bottling into long-neck six-packs has taken off huge. “We also just started distributing in the Great Falls area this summer” Ayers said.

Ayers started out bottling in short-necked "heritage" bottles instead of the long necks used by most craft breweries--and in environmentally friendly six-packs, of course. Later, though, he upgraded his bottling operation and moved to the more efficient long necks, which helped him more than double his bottled beer sales. He also plans to move away from the plastic six-packs and into more traditional cardboard packaging. In addition to filling your growler, you can buy six-packs in the taproom, even mixing it up to get one of each beer.

Western memorabilia adores the walls of the new taproom, and "everything we have up there has a story to go with it," Ayers said.

Asked to tell me a few, he pointed to the handcrafted blanket blessed by a tribal elder from the Flathead Indian Reservation, which surrounds Polson, when they opened the new taproom...or their first Glacier Brewery sign made out of piece of wood his father found down in Utah's Monument Valley when he stopped for some roadside relief...and of course, the chastity belt. "A guy brought it down and said he just had it laying around and asked if we wanted to hang it up," Ayers recalled. "A few weeks later, he came in and told us his wife was pregnant." Since then, however, the guy has opted to return the belt to his family collection.

There are more items and more stories, so be sure to ask Dave for a few good ones when you go there to enjoy some mighty fine microbrew.

-Bill Schneider

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