Tamarack Brewing Company is a craft brewery and local hot-spot located in Lakeside, Montana (with a secondary location in Missoula, Montana). They are constantly crafting both unique and irresistible brews that bring the whole community together for a pint. From their Blonde, to their ever popular Whiskey Barrel Porter, there is a craft brew to satisfy everyone at the Tamarack. And if great beer wasn't enough, they have the food to back it up. If it's your first time visiting... this place is instantly one of your new favorite brew pubs.
We had the chance to sit down with Joe, the Brewmaster, and Barrett, the manager, to find out a little more about the Tamarack and what goes on in their brewery.
Joe the Brewmaster
What are some of your responsibilities as Brewmaster?
- Making sure we have all of the raw ingredients in house, supervising the mashing all the way to the serving of the beer, managing of the brewing assistants, scheduling, dealing with distributers and both restaurants to keep the inventory at where it needs to be.
How long have you been working for the Tamarack?
- I started brewing about 3 years ago, but have been working here for about 3 and half years (waiting tables, bar tending, and volunteering in the brewery). I stumbled into the Tamarack one day after a rafting trip and just loved the beers and the environment. I was looking for a winter job since I was just doing some summer labor... and it just sort of snowballed from there.
What is your favorite beer at the Tamarack?
- The Rye Sally Rye. It's out Pale Ale brewed with rye malt (which gives it a bit of spiciness) and citra-hop (a fruity/citrusy hop with a fresh aroma). It's easy drinking and thirst quenching. I like the hoppier beers.
How much beer do you think you drink a day? Is tasting for consistency a big part of being the Brewmaster?
- laughs. Don't let my mom see this. If I average in the heavy days with the light days... I would say about a growler a day. I do love beer... but tasting is a big part of the job. There are times when I'll sit down and have a pint of our blonde ale. It may not be my personal favorite since I am a fan of the hoppier beers... but we need to keep tabs on the consistency of all our beers and to make sure that the flavors are coming out appropriate for the style. It is important to make sure that not all beers drift towards a style that we personally like, but to keep the consumer in mind and to keep the flavors consistent to the style of beer being produced.
How much beer to you pump out on average per year?
- We are growing every year. We are up about 50% - 75% each year over last couple of years. Last year we produced 2,250 barrels (4,500 kegs) worth of beer. We also have a canning line that we are getting hooked up and running. This year we are shooting for about 4,000 barrels (8,000 kegs) of beer. Right now at this time of year we are making about 50 barrels a week.
How many different beers has the Tamarack produced so far?
- I would guess about 50 in the past 5-6 years. We have 8 year round beers and at any given time we'll have 4-5 seasonals on tap. They typically rotate and the recipes slightly change... so if you want to get nitty-gritty about it, we've probably made 100 or so different styles.
Does there seem to be a consumer favorite out of all your beers?
- Yes, and it is seasonal. It is the Old Stache Whiskey Barrel Porter. It's a big, industrial style porter... about 9% alcohol. It ages in Jim Beam whiskey barrels for about 3 1/2 months. It is released in conjunction with Lanny Mcdonald's birthday (Barrett's father). Lanny is a Calgary Flames hall-of-famer who helped win the Stanley Cup back in 1989. The beer is big, robust, sweet, chocolatey, carries hints of toffee, and it picks up warm alcohol notes from the bourbon.
Barrett, the Manager
What makes the Tamarack different than other Montana craft breweries?
- We offer something for everyone, which I think is something that not all breweries do. In my opinion, most breweries focus on certain things... where we try to keep the consumer in mind and not just make beer that we like as individuals. We have our Bear Bottom Blonde - for fizzy beer drinkers, we also have the hoppier beers and of course things like the Old Stache Whiskey Barrel Porter which is really unique. We have a beer flavor profile that will fit everyones taste...... and our brewers are better looking. laughs.
Is there a heavy competition between the Tamarack and other craft breweries in the area?
- Everyone in Montana started making craft beer because they wanted something different. They wanted to showcase what they could do or what beer, in their minds, could taste like. It's good to share ideas and information because it helps us to have other breweries in town. People always think.. "Oh hey, ..they closed down. That's got to be good for you." ... but it's typically not. More breweries bring more people to the area. And if you get down to it, you could say that the competition is breeding people to make better beer.
When did the Tamarack first open?
- The restaurant/brewery itself opened in July 2007... but it was a dream in the works long before that. My family always wanted a business to call their own and my brother-in-law worked within the brewpub atmosphere down in Arizona. We really wanted to bring that combination of great beer and good food to Lakeside.
Have you run into any sort of legal barriers up here in Montana?
- LOTS... and we still are. There are constantly battles going on with being able to brew and how much you can brew. Only recently could you brew anything over 8% - 9% ABV. You could import beer or wine over a certain percentage... but you couldn't make it in the state. It really didn't help growing the local economy.
How did you settle on the name and location of Tamarack Brewing Company?
- It was one of the names that got kicked around in the whole beginning stages. Locally there are things that relate to the name, Tamarack. It was what my father called "a strong name." It actually wasn't my first choice at the beginning. But we thought of what we associate Lakeside with... and it's the outdoors, the trees, the lake, and those kind of things. My parents found Lakeside by accident in 1974 and started a property right away. So this area has been the first and only choice for us as far as we're concerned.
Do you encourage your customers to branch out and try your different types of beer?
- Yes. We try and steer people away from something that they are comfortable with or used to. I think it's good to get or to try different beers. We see our customers go through kind of an evolution as far as their beer drinking goes. They start with one thing... and they'll kind of learn to appreciate the taste of something else... and then one day they'll realize that beer they used to drink doesn't really have any of the character that they like now. There are definitely a lot of people that just have a beer, like it, and drink that... but it's fun to see people who come in and turn to look at the board to see what's on there... or find something that's going to spark their interest right now. We definitely encourage people to try different things.
What do you want people to know about Tamarack that they might not know?
- We offer something for everyone whether it's in the food or the beer. We see people come off the lake in their shorts and flip flops and even kids doing their winter formal events here. People of all ages and walks of life come here because it's a comfortable place... and it can be whatever they want it to be.