With giddy customers sitting near giant windows overlooking the Blackfoot River swirling slowly below the surrounding snow-covered mountains, the KettleHouse Brewing Co. held a grand opening celebration for its new Bonner taproom on Friday.
It’s the local craft beer company’s third taproom, and they’ll continue to landscape and add amenities so that there’s outdoor seating with speakers and a natural gas fireplace on the deck by next summer.
“The vision for the future is to make the outdoor space match the quality of our beer, because the KettleHouse goal is to match the quality of beer and the quality of the taproom experience with the quality of the Montana outdoor experience,” said Will MacKenzie, KettleHouse’s retail sales manager. “And this taproom is very much an offshoot of that. It’s probably one of the best views you can get in a taproom."
KettleHouse already has power hookups for food trucks, so customers can get a bite to eat while enjoying a Cold Smoke, Fresh Bongwater or another KettleHouse brew. The new “crowler” fill station also allows a patron to buy a large aluminum sealed container for a tap beer of their choice, and it comes with a screw top re-sealable lid for boating.
The interior was designed using upcycled and recycled materials, including sawn-off kegs for lights and recovered logs from the Blackfoot River for the tables, bar and trim. The KettleHouse’s Bonner location is in the former Bonner mill site, where logs cut from up the Blackfoot River valley and areas beyond were floated down to be cut into lumber. Many of the logs sank, but were preserved by the low-oxygen environment and recovered for projects. MacKenzie estimated the wood in the taproom to be 200 years old.
In the future, the taproom may build some kind of access down to the river next to the building but that’s not firmed up yet.
“Ideally, yes, that is our plan,” MacKenzie explained. “We kind of want a little launch, nothing too serious. We’d kind of like people to be able to stop their boats and come up and check out the taproom. It’s a little bit hard because it’s a steep embankment and there’s liability issues. We also have to get the Army Corps of Engineers involved, so that is on our radar but we don’t want to make any promises. We already had people asking if they could boat to the grand opening, and our response is ‘No, not yet, but maybe in the future.'”
The taproom will stop serving for in-house beers at 8 p.m. like other breweries in the state (although KettleHouse's Southside location near the Hip Strip has permits that allow it to stay open later). The maximum occupancy of the new building is 136 people, and MacKenzie said the place was packed with people during a soft opening last week.
"This is essentially our flagship," he said. "So if you notice the decor in here, we wanted to reflect on the history of Bonner/Milltown, so all of the wood is reclaimed from the river. It's pretty cool when you think about it."
Purposefully, there are no televisions, and with huge communal seating tables, MacKenzie said the hope is for people who don't know each other to put down their cellphones and visit. The taproom will be open before concerts at the new KettleHouse Amphitheater nearby, a concert venue operated by Logjam Presents.
The KettleHouse Bonner taproom recently launched a Renew-A-Mug program, in which customers get a free beer every day in the taproom if they purchase a solar panel on the roof to offset their electricity use. MacKenzie said they've sold about a third of the panels so far.
People in Bonner, as well as those in the nearby communities of Turah, West Riverside, East Missoula, Potomac, Clinton and other little towns are excited about the new community gathering spot, according to local resident Orlando Rodriguez.
"I knew almost everyone in there last week when they opened," he said. "It was a lot of fun."