In the process of opening the new Sacred Waters Brewing Co. taproom, the founders discovered the generosity of the Northwest Montana brewing community.
“The biggest thing for us is the amount of support we’ve gotten from other brewers and breweries in the valley,” head brewer Rob Gambino said. “On any questions, they’ve been open books. That’s the type of industry we work in — we’re all working toward the same goal.”
Sacred Waters, located on U.S. 2 south of Glacier Park International Airport, has been open only three weeks, but Gambino already has been approached for advice from other aspiring brewers.
“We got a ton of help and we just want to help everyone else to make sure they don’t stumble and fall,” he said.
The community spirit of small breweries was a big part of what motivated Sacred Waters founder and owner Jordan Van Eimeren to enter the beer industry. She grew up in a business-oriented family, with her father, Kirk Gentry, running Spotted Bear Ranch south of Hungry Horse Reservoir for 15 years and later establishing Gentry River Ranch on the Flathead River. Gentry has joined his daughter in Sacred Waters as landlord and all-around adviser.
Sacred Waters was also inspired by Van Eimeren’s mother, Cathy Gentry, who had been an outdoor enthusiast before she died in January 2015. The logo featuring the silhouette of a fly-fishing woman celebrates and honors her mother’s memory, Van Eimeren said.
In creating their business plan, Van Eimeren and her father drew aesthetic inspiration from Spotted Bear Ranch. The design of the taproom is meant to mirror the environment of a fishing lodge, with rustic accessories and wood materials throughout. Large windows looking out on the back of the property offer natural lighting.
The backyard is in rough shape now, but will be landscaped for summer to provide more seating plus a music venue. With room for up to 200 customers, the outdoor space will add substantially to Sacred Waters’ indoor capacity of 113.
Van Eimeren has a degree in business management from the University of Montana. She worked as a server at Highlander Brewing Co. in Missoula for six months to gain firsthand experience in the industry. After finalizing her business plan, she contacted Joe Byers, director of the Brewing Academy of Montana at Flathead Valley Community College, for more assistance and he put her in touch with Gambino.
An Air Force veteran of 16 years, Gambino had done some home brewing, but wanted to turn his passion into a career. He applied to the FVCC brewing program and became one of its first graduates. He interned at two Flathead Valley breweries, Flathead Lake and Great Northern, and was hired to work in the packaging department of Great Northern in Whitefish.
Gentry said Sacred Waters was lucky to find Gambino.
“He got the practical experience first, then the head knowledge,” he said. “A lot of guys home-brew, but don’t get the science. We’re lucky that the mentor he had [Byers] was top notch.”
The location of Sacred Waters offers endless potential, Gentry said, with thousands of vehicles driving by each day.
“We want to be the brewery on the way to the airport or on the way home,” he said. “This is a corridor that no one is paying attention to. At a craft-brewing convention, we were told breweries build community. This will be a catalyst.”
The Apple Barrel Country Store located next door has been a fixture on U.S. 2 for decades, and Glacier Sun Winery was established on the east end of the complex in 2011. A new dining counter, Wilderness Provisions Eatery, sits between the Apple Barrel and Sacred Waters. (See related story)
Sacred Waters is starting out with six beers on tap. Gambino plans to experiment with inventive beer flavors in his 10-barrel system, but he first wanted to perfect a roster of well-known varieties to hook beer lovers on the Sacred Waters brand. The cream ale is at the light end of the spectrum, with a coffee oatmeal stout offering the heaviest drink on tap.
“A lot of people who didn’t think they would be dark-beer drinkers have fallen in love with the coffee oatmeal stout,” Gentry said, counting himself among the converts.
Sacred Waters also brews a pale ale, Montana red ale, saison and IPA.
“It’s about putting the right glass of beer in the customer’s hand,” Gambino said.
Sacred Waters is already cultivating regular customers, with one man showing up eight times in less than two weeks, Gentry said. About 200 people have joined the brewery’s “Founders” club, paying $200 for a $250 gift card plus a number of other benefits.