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Old is new at the Rack - New Lakeside brewery has aged feel, from building to patrons’ and owners’ tales
Old is new at the Rack - New Lakeside brewery has aged feel, from building to patrons’ and owners’ tales

LAKESIDE - Fitting in often means looking the part.

That's why the owners of Tamarack Brewing Co. in Lakeside put so much effort into making their new building look like an old favorite.

Weathered timbers and rusted metal adorn the outside of the brewpub. Inside, grumpy old men - guys who've built most of what exists in the area - and their wives inhabit the barstools and the patio chairs.

It seems like they've been coming here forever. It's just that kind of place.

Even the warm Grape-Nuts smell of hot grains being cooked into beer right behind the bar smells old - in the way that a smell can bring back a comfortable memory.

Besides a cool nickname, the Rack has stories, old stories that go back to the very beginnings of the pub, way back before the long winter of 2008.

"I think it was the first week they opened, last July, or whenever it was," David Fetveit said, beginning the story the way he always does from his favorite seat out on the patio next to Stoner Creek. "They had just poured the patio. The fire pit was brand new."

Fetveit explains that when he learned that some ambitious folks from Arizona were going to open a brewery and a restaurant in Lakeside, he called to ask them if he could reserve a private room for a family member's pre-engagement party.

Back in those days, the Rack was so new that it didn't have any chairs or tables in the banquet room, so most people gathered around the patio.

"We ran across the creek to get pallets to burn," Fetveit said. "Andra (a co-owner) brought us paper and fire."

And this is the point in the story where Fetveit sometimes chokes up.

"Right when the embers get really, really hot, the fire pit explodes, embers go everywhere," Fetveit said. "My sister-in-law got burned, and (the owners) were like, 'Please don't sue us.' "

But like many of the old-timers who hang out at the Rack these days, the Fetveits learned the lesson about making fire on fresh concrete the hard way.

"It was our own fault … ," Fetveit said. "It's the first week and here we are blowing it all up."

But the Rack survived that first week, and those old stories are the stuff of legends now, legends that J.W. Brown likes to remember when he sits sipping an ESP on a warm pre-summer day.

"I saw them break ground," Brown said, harkening back. "We had an idea a few months before they opened up what they were doing. Everybody was looking forward to it. It's a nice building and definitely adds to the community."

Brown takes another sip of his ESP, which brewer and co-owner Craig Koontz makes in the style of a traditional English Extra Special Pale.

Though the "P" in this ESP stands for Place, because the locals and the newcomers alike agree: Lakeside is a pretty special place.

"The first time I tasted the beer I was impressed," Brown said. "They do nothing but good things. They really try to be community oriented."

Even the grumpy old men who inhabit the bar at lunchtime and swear up and down that they can't stand the place keep coming back.

"There are only parts of the bar you can like," Terry Swanger teased. Then he got serious: The wait staff, he said, is "wonderful."

"They'll talk to you. And the chow is absolutely fantastic."

Swanger fairly beams at being asked about his history with the place.

"I'd gone to all the big places in Bigfork and Kalispell," Swanger said. "But they know me here. I had to come over here and test it, and it happened to meet my challenge."

Swanger, a longtime resident of the lake, is a familiar face to everyone at the pub, and he gives compliments and criticism as easily as he takes them.

He frequents the Rack almost daily.

"This is not like a regular taproom with ordinary people sitting around a bar drinking," Swanger said. The owners, he said, "are concerned about what they make and whether people will like it. They're concerned about how food tastes. Good food, good place, good people."

Josh and Andra Townsley, co-owners of the Rack, have memories in Lakeside that go back before the brewpub was even a fantasy in the recesses of someone's mind.

"Their family spent entire summers here," Josh Townsley said of his wife's heritage in the area. "Lakeside was more of a home to her than Calgary was when we started dating."

Josh Townsley is from Minnesota, but something about the landscape of Lakeside reminds him of home.

"We wanted a place were we'd want to take our families," Andra said about building the Rack. "Growing up in Lakeside meant we wanted to build a place were we were comfortable and where our friends that live here would be comfortable, too."

One of the biggest changes that the Tamarack Brewing Co. and the restaurant brought to seasonal Lakeside is a year-round mentality. It created a place to hang out that is family-friendly, smoke-free and come-as-you-are.

"I'm scared for summer," Michelle Fetveit confessed. "We'll get squished out, have to come for dinner at 3 p.m."

The Fetveits and their four boys hang out at the brewpub regularly, and the thought of huge tourist crowds and part-time Lakesiders invading the in-between-seasons serenity of the brewpub is daunting.

"We just love that it's consistent, open every night, great food, consistent beer and a great family atmosphere," Dave Fetveit said. "A lot of places shut down in the winter, or they're packed out."

There is a bit of a theme to this place, in fact. Old, it seems, is new.

"It was kind of hard for us," Craig Koontz said. "Being a brewery, we had to make it fit. Breweries have been around for a long time. Before Prohibition, there was one in every town almost. You drank fresh beer in every place, there was no national distribution."

And thus was born the destination brewery, a place one travels to in order to get fresh beer available nowhere else. A place as honored for its ambiance as its food and service.

Old is in.

But even building an already-old-style brewery in Lakeside with built-in locals and enough ambiance for 10 such towns, is difficult today.

"The brewpub part in Montana is tough due to some pretty archaic laws," Koontz said. "We have two separate businesses run in close proximity."

By close, Koontz means you almost sit in the brewery while you're enjoying your blue cheese and brie burger with a pint of Yard Sale Ale.

The massive steel fermenting tanks are just the other side of a pony wall, and the sights and smells of brewing happen as if you were just another fly on the wall. Except that this brewery is meticulously cleaned, and a fly might have a hard time getting in without permission.

These days, Tamarack Brewing Co. seems to have always been there, nestled at the base of the big hill to the south of Lakeside.

The way the building looks, it might have been an old trading post, added onto by others who built a storage area for hides and guns.

Or it looks as though it might have been a machine shop in the '50s and '60s.

But whatever it wasn't for all those years, the Rack - for its entire brief history - has always been about Lakeside and its people.

"People of all walks of life enjoy a pint or eating good food, maybe people watching," Josh Townsley said. "That's what brewpub culture is all about. People."

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