Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The house that Roys built

Lolo Peak head brewer talks about building the dream brewhouse

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Paul Roys likes to joke that he spent several nights in recent months sitting on the concrete floor of what would become Lolo Peak Brewing’s production space, drinking red wine and picturing what his new brewhouse might look like. In reality, he says he did much of that work from home, sketching out blueprints in pencil and erasing them so often that the paper would “literally wear through.” Lolo Peak opened for business just three weeks ago, but Roys estimates it took him 2,000 hours of work to finally pour that first pint of beer.

“You want the real picture, picture me in my pajamas from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. drinking coffee and working,” Roys says, sipping a glass of No Salmon Pale Ale on the brewery’s second-story balcony on a recent Friday afternoon. “One or two computers running, blueprints laid out. It was kind of a mess.”

Roys is a familiar face in Missoula’s craft beer community. He worked on the Kettlehouse Brewing crew for nearly nine years, cranking out a constantly rotating lineup of flavor-infused seasonals and one-offs and eventually becoming head brewer in the company’s Myrtle Street brewhouse. He’s a certified hang gliding instructor as well, meaning odds are pretty good that observant locals have seen him soaring above town on bluebird days.

Signing on last fall as Lolo Peak’s head brewer put Roys in the rare position to take everything he’d learned through years in the industry and construct his dream brewhouse from scratch. Part of his interview even involved taking a look at the existing layout and voicing suggestions to increase efficiency. Every inch of the production facility was custom made by Washington-based Marks Design and Metalworks. Roys says he must have shot designs back and forth with the manufacturer “a dozen times” in an attempt to get every door frame, every pipe and every manifold exactly right. Once the concrete was poured, Roys went so far as to draw chalk outlines of the equipment just to make sure there was still enough room for pallets to pass from the loading dock to the basement.

“I’ve cut or drilled holes in every brand new piece of equipment back there,” Roys says. “You try to lock it down as best you can with the suppliers, but you still have to fab it. You’re always making changes on the fly. So even once you think the plan is dialed, it’s all come together from the manufacturer, you’re going to have to adjust the heights, the angles, the layout down the road.”

The result is an office where every nut, screw and bolt was put there by Lolo Peak’s sole brewer. Co-owners Al Zepeda and Patrick Offen invested heavily up front to make the brewhouse a one-person operation—a reflection of the approach the two took to the building as a whole, from the handcrafted timber frame to the spacious beer garden and bone- and rock-encrusted bar top.

Roys says Lolo Peak will likely remain a one-brewer business for the foreseeable future. Seven of the eight beers now on tap run off serving tanks rather than kegs, cutting down significantly on labor. Of course, building the brewhouse wasn’t without its challenges. Roys quips that if you were to draw a typical production facility, “it is never a triangular floor footprint with an off-center vaulted ceiling.” And with high windows looking out on the mountains, Roys has to “chain myself to the brewhouse” at times. But the first full days of brewing went smoothly, with Roys translating eight different recipes from paper straight to 500-gallon batches.

“I don’t think I even have words for it,” Offen says of his first pint of Lolo Peak beer. “You know, I smelled the beer first and I knew that was going to be the one. It was the LouLou Amber. It wasn’t even carbonated yet, just straight out of the fermenter. I knew we were going to brew successful beers after that day.”

As production continues, Roys plans to have as many as four rotating seasonals and one-offs in addition to Lolo Peak’s six flagships brews. He’s already aging his Old Toby Porter in several bourbon barrels. That rotating beer lineup will provide a variety of food pairing opportunities when the kitchen starts up in a few months, and Lolo Peak is planning to have social media rep Radd Icenoggle become a certified beer and food pairing expert through the Cicerone Certification Program. The brewery is even working on a food fermentation space in the basement to prepare its own pickles, corned beef and sauerkraut.

“We like to say we have more ideas than time around here,” Roys says, “and it’s true.”

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