Hockey and Beer Come Together at Lakeside’s Tamarack Brewing Co.

By DILLON TABISH for the Flathead Beacon Newspaper

During his lengthy Hall of Fame hockey career, sharp-shooting Lanny McDonald earned the nickname “Machine-Gun Lanny.” But since retiring from the NHL with a Stanley Cup championship in Calgary, McDonald has picked up another familiar moniker in his new home away from home in the Flathead Valley.

“The Old Stache” is enjoying retirement these days, jumping back and forth between Canada and Lakeside, a place he’s cherished for more than 30 years and where his family operates the successful Tamarack Brewing Company and Alehouse.

McDonald helped his daughter Andra and her husband Josh Townsley open the brewery and restaurant in 2007, and five years later the business has expanded with a second location and is increasing production every year.

“We’ve had so much fun with it. It really is a family affair,” said McDonald, whose sons also help manage Tamarack.

“I’m just in the background having fun. I’m on quality control. It’s the best job you could possibly ever have.”

The brewery is planning on producing more than 3,200 barrels in 2013 and is considering packaging two of its most popular beers in 16-ounce cans, the Hat Trick IPA and Yard Sale Amber.

Working between the isles of large fermentation tanks, assistant brewer Kyle Carlson prepares filter pads for a thorough filtration of one of the beers being brewed at the Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon.

On Feb. 14, two days before McDonald’s 60th birthday, Tamarack released its popular seasonal Porter that’s aged in whiskey barrels and named after its inspiration, the Ol’ Stache. A limited supply goes on sale and lasts about a month.

“The boys let me try it and this year’s might be the best ever,” McDonald proclaimed the day before its debut.

Along with savoring his role as taste tester, the former Calgary Flames captain still frequently laces up the skates. Especially when it’s for a good cause like this weekend’s Craft Brewers Cup Hockey Tournament and Brewfest at Woodland Park in Kalispell.

McDonald is participating in the annual fundraising event for the Flathead Valley Hockey Association. Five teams from across the state and one from Canada will play in the two-day hockey tournament, March 1-2, inside the Woodland Ice Center. Players for each team raised individual pledges as part of their entry fee this year, and the group with the most money will be able to draft McDonald or one of the other former NHL players participating this year.

“I’m not sure I can help anymore. But I love to play,” McDonald joked. “I think (the event) is fantastic.”

Between action, a brewfest will be held from 2 to 8 p.m., Saturday, at the outdoor facility and will feature craft beers from across the state.

All proceeds from the weekend will support the FVHA, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 that runs youth hockey programs during winter. The group owns and maintains the rink at Woodland Park.

“The hockey association has a pretty big mortgage over their head and a lot of costs to pay for everything, so if we can help in some way, we want to,” Townsley said.

He helped organize the Craft Brewers Cup with Mike Lozar and members of the FVHA. Along with gathering sponsors and teams, Townsley approached the Kalispell City Council and urged them to allow beer to be served in a public park. His goal was to create an event similar to successful brewfests across the state, such as Missoula’s annual fundraiser for the legion baseball team. The council granted a special one-time permit.

It’s no surprise that hockey and beer blend together at the Tamarack.

Lanny McDonald – a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and inspiration for the Old ‘Stache beer – remains actively involved with the Tamarack Brewing Company and his family in Lakeside. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon.

Even before meeting his famous father-in-law, Townsley was passionate about the sport. Growing up in Minnesota, he started skating at age 3 and played until college. He met Andra when they were both living in Arizona and she later brought him to her family’s favorite vacation destination, Lakeside. The McDonalds began regularly visiting Northwest Montana during Lanny’s storied playing career.

“We love the area and it’s so laid back and relaxing. That lake is probably the best kept secret around,” McDonald said. “Now more and more people are finding out Flathead Lake is spectacular.”

When Josh and Andra moved to Lakeside in 2006 they saw an empty lot and envisioned an upstart brewery. Because of the state’s tricky regulations, Townsley purchased a liquor license to go alongside the brewer’s license. As it stands, the restaurant, Tamarack Alehouse, purchases all the beer from the adjoining Tamarack Brewing Company.

It’s not an ideal situation, and it’s emblematic of a thorny topic at the state level. Breweries and bars are increasingly squaring off over regulation changes that could either tighten or loosen tavern and brewery laws.

“There’s a lot of hoops to jump through,” Townsley said.

He worries that changes in legislation could threaten new and existing breweries.

“Montana has a great brewing industry. You don’t want to see anybody have to shut down,” he said.

There are currently two breweries planning on opening up locally, in Kalispell and Columbia Falls. Townsley welcomes the new additions.

“I hope that they do well,” he said. “Brewers are a great community of people. For the most part we stick together and are more than willing to help each other out.”

Townsley remembers the early days when Tamarack was first starting. So does McDonald.

“Everyone said, ‘Are you nuts?’” McDonald recalled. “Lakeside had about 600 to 700 people. But now it’s around 1,100. The cool part about that is you never thought you’d be here in five years time. But the fact that you are and you’re even talking about expanding, that’s good stuff.”

Craft Brewers Cup Hockey Tournament & Brewfest
March 1-2, Woodland Ice Center, Kalispell
Friday: Draft, 4:30 p.m.; Games, 5:30-10 p.m.
Saturday: Games, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Brewfest, 2-8 p.m.; Skills competition, 5:30 p.m.; Championship/Consolation, starts at 6:45 p.m.