When Missoula City Council released the agenda for its final meeting of 2013, it became abundantly clear that Dec. 16 would be a big night. The public weighed in on a host of hot issues from the expansive Russell Street project to a proposed crackdown on "aggressive solicitation" in the downtown district. In the midst of all that heady debateall five-and-a-half hours of itthe council made quick work of approving an eyebrow-raising little item: A conditional use permit for a microbrewery on the corner of East Main and Pattee.
It's a safe bet most of Missoula had the same reaction: "Another one?!"
Ice Bridge Brewing is the third proposed microbrewery to get the green light in the Missoula area in the past two months. Meg Gorseth, who is co-founding the Norwegian-themed Ice Bridge with her father, Mark Gorseth, says she understands the city might be nearing a saturation point. But she's not convinced Missoula's there quite yet.
"Maybe in the next couple years we will be, but we're making it in by the skin of our teeth," she says.
Missoula's brewing community hasn't seen a surge like this in ... well, about three years. Back in spring 2010, Big Sky Brewing co-founder Neal Leathers told the Indy he was surprised Missoula hadn't given rise to a fourth brewery. The comment was barely six months old when Flathead Brewing opened the doors at its Missoula taproom. Tamarack followed several months later. And by fall 2011, beer was pouring from the taps at Missoula's fourth locally born brewery, Draught Works.
Things went quiet until about two months ago, when news broke that Great Burn Brewing would be going up on Missoula's Southside. Lolo Peak Brewing received approval to break ground just a few miles south in Lolo. That makes Ice Bridge the tenth taproom in the greater Missoula area. It will also be the first Montana brewery to share space with a distillery. The Gorseths will be splitting the old Firestone building with Montana Distillery, formerly known as Flathead Distillers of Eureka.
Gorseth says the current goal is to open in June and establish a niche as a Belgian-style brewery specializing in barrel-aged beers. She adds there's "definitely still room" for more local breweries after Ice Bridge opens. Maybe, maybe not. But as far as nicknames go, "The Beer Garden City" does have a nice ring to it.