Great Northern beer returns to shelves after a hiatus of over a year


For 25 years, the Great Northern Brewing Company curated and produced beer in the heart of Whitefish until its Central Avenue location closed in February 2020.

The iconic brewery was a favorite scene with locals and a staple in Whitefish as it was the oldest craft beer establishment in the Flathead Valley. The doors to the building, originally the Black Star Draft House, may still be closed, but Great Northern beer has recently returned to store shelves.

The Great Northern Brewing Company’s most popular beers, Wild Huckleberry and Going to the Sun IPA, are again being produced with several more favorites potentially in the works.

Brand owner Jeanie Konopatzke of Whitefish works with Uinta Brewing in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company that authorizes her to produce the beer. The two companies started working together shortly after Great Northern shut down its Whitefish pub and the partnership works well on both sides, Konopatzke said.

“It was a great relationship from the start and we both made it easy and made it work,” she told the driver.

After selling the draft house, she says people approached her to buy the Great Northern brand, but she waited for a potentially better deal. There were also other companies discussing contract brewing or licensing with her, but Uinta’s contract manager and sales director Joe Mastrorocco had ideas that matched what Konopatzke was looking for. .

Under the license agreement, Konopatzke provided Uinta with all the revenue and will also be involved in any new innovation for the brand. Uinta brews, packs and works with wholesalers for the distribution of Great Northern beers. Uinta has also renamed and refreshed the packaging and labels, but the beer retains the same taste and quality as when brewed at Whitefish, they note.

According to Uinta Brewing president Jeremy Ragonese, contract brewing and licensing is pretty common in the brewing industry, and he assures that Great Northern Brewing is still a Montana-centric business. As part of the rebranding, its slogan is now “Born in Whitefish”, which Konopatzke and Uinta say represents the transition well.

“The brand itself still lives there,” Ragonese said. “The heart of the brand is still very much Montana which we want to represent and of course the ownership remains with Jeanie. The big difference now is that we are a different cuisine, the beer is produced here (Utah).

The Great Northern beers relaunch lasted more than a year as the two companies began to talk about the potential of working together soon after the Whitefish Brewery began liquidation. However, Uinta Brewing, who has over 25 years of experience in the business, already knew Great Northern long before through regional events and similar markets.

“[Great Northern Brewing] has such a great history and a loyal following in Montana, and we’re a regional craft brewer just like them, ”said Ragonese. “We thought it was a wonderful opportunity to keep this brand fresh and alive with the consumers we both serve.”

“There are a lot of similarities in terms of our brand positioning and the values ​​we bring, we are both very focused on the outdoor lifestyle and the businesses that support the local community,” he said. he adds.

Great Northern beers were back on shelves at the end of the summer, although both breweries had hoped to relaunch the brand sooner but were delayed due to logistics and the pandemic. The two beers currently available are Wild Huckleberry Lager and Going to the Sun IPA, but Ragonese says they plan to produce more popular favorites like Good Medicine Red Ale, Wheatfish and several others.

Konopatzke is delighted to see the community’s response and enthusiasm as the beers from the Great Northern Brewing Company are once again in the hands of their loyal customers. Although she says people miss the gathering place at the brewery, the response to the beer release has been well received.

“It was very rewarding – when we closed the business there were so many people who reached out and were sad to see us go,” she said. “I’ve had so much good feedback since we started bringing beer back to market so I know there’s a fan base that’s being reached and it’s exciting for me to see her come back. “

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