Big changes, same taproom



Kettlehouse Brewing has wrestled for years with the knowledge that, someday, demand for its popular craft beers will cause the company to breach the state's 10,000-barrel production cap. That day is coming fast now, and when it does, Kettlehouse faced the prospect of having to close its Myrtle Street taproom. But co-owner Tim O'Leary has a plan to maintain the status quo.

Last week, O'Leary announced via Facebook that Kettlehouse will soon split into three separate companies. Work is already underway to relocate the Myrtle Street brewhouse to an adjacent building, which will become the new headquarters for Kettlehouse Brewing. The newly established Myrtle Street Taphouse LLC—owned by O'Leary's mother, Helen O'Leary—will take over the existing taproom location and is currently acquiring a beer and wine license to keep the taps flowing. Kettlehouse's Northside location will be renamed the Northside Brewing Company and operate as-is under sole ownership of O'Leary's wife, Suzy Rizza.

"The major difference is the brewery will be owned by me and the beer bar will be owned by Mom," O'Leary wrote Jan. 18. "We don't expect to change our serving hours or quantities drastically. In fact we may not even serve wine. That is an option that the proposed license allows but does not require. Our goal is to maintain the atmosphere at 602 Myrtle that our longtime customers have come to love."

And since Myrtle Street Taphouse is a separately owned and operated company, Kettlehouse will be able to produce enough beer to satisfy increasing demand among wholesalers without upsetting local desire for neighborhood taprooms. O'Leary told the Indy last week that numerous other Montana breweries have already applied similar business models to comply with the state's varied and restrictive microbrew laws.

That's not to say there aren't still hurdles. Myrtle Street Taphouse needs a conditional use permit from the city before it can use a beer and wine license; the company's permit application is scheduled for a public hearing before the Missoula City Council Jan. 28. But if O'Leary's plan goes off, Kettlehouse will finally be free to expand—even as the original taproom maintains its familiar blue-collar flavor.

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