Early last August, when Mike Uhrich, the owner of Carter’s Brewing, took over the adjoining space previously occupied by the Railyard Ale House, he hoped to have a new and expanded tap room open there by some time in September.
It took a little longer than expected — an open house to show off the new tap room will run from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday — but Uhrich doesn’t seem to mind. He managed the major expansion without taking out any new loans, and he relied exclusively on local contractors, many of them regular customers of his.
“It’s working out the way it’s supposed to,” Uhrich said. “We’re doing it right.”
A lot of diehard fans have been saying the same thing about Uhrich’s countless varieties of beers since he opened for business at 2526 Montana Ave. just under 11 years ago. His was the fourth brewery in town at the time, and only the third to offer a true tap room, as opposed to the full bar at Montana Brewing Co.
Uhrich had been eyeing the Railyard space for years, knowing he’d eventually have to expand in an increasingly competitive market. For more than 10 years, all his brewing equipment, tap room and casks for aging have been confined to one relatively small space.
“We have people who walk through the door on a Friday night and they turn around and leave because there’s nowhere to sit,” he said.
There’s plenty of room now — with about 170 chairs in the new tap room, compared to a very crowded 65 in the old room. And everything about the new space is distinctive. For starters, Uhrich bought 300 linear feet of old boxcar flooring to make the long bar and all the tables in the tap room.
The woodworking was done by one regular customer, Andrew Munson, while another, Paul Szillat, hand-welded all the iron frames for the bar and tables. The bar top and tabletops were seal-coated by another regular, Keith Epley.
“They support us, we’re supporting them,” Uhrich said.
Artist Sarah Morris, who used to work in the tap room, painted a mural of a railroad tunnel over a hallway door opening that had been covered with cinder blocks. Another artist, Terri Porta, created a flow-chart mural of the beer-making process. It is on the east wall of the new tap room.
Another big plus in the new space is that Uhrich was able to convert most of what was previously the Railyard casino space into a walk-in refrigerator for beer kegs. The conversion actually took the room back to its original use, when the old trackside warehouse was used for cold storage of meat and groceries.
The casino’s small bar has been preserved, to be used as a growler-filling station, and eventually it will also feature a machine for making “crowlers,” 32-ounce aluminum cans of beer sealed with an aluminum top.
Both bathrooms were completely renovated as well, and stencils of some of Uhrich’s more popular brews adorn various walls. He’ll have 20 brews on tap Friday.
Once the new tap room opens, Uhrich will be able to convert the old tap room into strictly a brewing room, and in the future to add packaging of canned beer.
“That’ll be Phase 2,” he said. “We’ve got to get the tap room paid for first.”
He also plans to triple the size of the outdoor patio. It will be nine feet wide and 130 feet long, on the south side of building right up against the railroad tracks that give the brewery its theme and many of its beer names.
Uhrich has eight part-time employees now. Once the new tap room gets going, he said, he’ll be converting some of them to full-time, and he may need to hire a few more people.
Considering the relative popularity of newspapers and craft breweries these days, Uhrich probably made the right decision after graduating from what was then Mesa State College in Colorado with a degree in mass communications. He landed an internship at a weekly newspaper, but he never did find a full-time job in the industry.
Instead, he parlayed his interest in home-brewing into a job at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co., where he and owner George Moncure built the city’s first tasting room, where small samples of a beer were given out one or two nights a week.
Uhrich became the head brewer at YVBC, and after seven years there he branched out and opened Carter’s Brewing, named after his first son.