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Great Northern Brewing’s Bittersweet Departure
Andy McQuary leaves Whitefish brewery to lead upstart in Memphis
Andy McQuary, assistant brewer at Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
WHITEFISH – You may not know Andy McQuary, but you’ve probably seen him at work and you’ve most likely tasted the results. McQuary, 30, has become a staple at Whitefish’s Great Northern Brewing Co. and can often be found working behind the glass in the three-story downtown establishment.

This week, after six years as assistant brewer at Great Northern, McQuary is moving to Memphis, Tenn. to lead a new upstart brewery. The bearded brewer said it’s a bittersweet departure, but one he is ready for.

“It’ll be weird to work at a different brewery,” he said. “I’ll be sad to leave, but you’ve got to do what you got to do.”

Although McQuary made his mark in Whitefish as the friendly neighborhood brewer, his beer career actually began in a Florida backyard as a 23-year-old college student at Florida State University. McQuary was studying art and considered joining the family business, dentistry, when he saw a commercial for a home brewing kit. He placed the order and, when it arrived, he went to work. The early results were mediocre.

“It didn’t turn out well,” he said. “It wasn’t undrinkable, but it was close ... I still drank it.”

Soon his newfound hobby became his passion and after two years of whipping up brews in the backyard, he decided to attend the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, which was founded in 1868 and is America’s oldest brewing school.

Part of the program included a trip to Germany, where McQuary and his classmates made beer at a small, historic brewery. There, the Florida native honed his palate. He said while German breweries are steeped in tradition and skills, they rarely stray far from a few established types, mostly wheat ales and lagers, which gave McQuary the desire to create different beers.

After graduating in the spring of 2008, McQuary landed his first job at Lang Creek Brewing in Marion, known as “America’s most remote brewery.” Unfortunately, that clever tagline also spelled the end for the brewery – it closed its doors in 2009. Soon after, McQuary started helping out Great Northern’s head brewmaster, Joe Barberis. After a few months, McQuary was hired full time and became assistant brewer.

Over the years, McQuary’s duties have grown, but the primary goal has remained much the same: make beer. He jokes that he’s a “glorified janitor,” because one of a brewer’s most important chores is keeping the equipment clean.

“I basically keep the place clean for the yeast,” he said. “I keep the yeast happy and it’ll treat you well – you’ll get good beer.”

He’s also had a hand in creating some of the brewery’s most memorable brews, including the Good Medicine imperial ale and the Tea Pale Ale, both of which were created as “happy mistakes.” The former was created when the brewery was making an Oktoberfest beer.

Instead of using lager yeast, they used ale yeast, which gave it a totally different flavor. It’s since gone on to be one of Great Northern’s bestsellers.

Great Northern’s co-owner, Marcus Duffey, said McQuary has been a huge part of the brewery’s growth over the last four years. And Barberis said he wasn’t surprised that his assistant would be moving on to bigger things.

“Andy has grown a lot with the brewery and the brewery has grown a lot with him,” Duffey said.

Two new brewers will be coming in to replace McQuary and help expand the operation in coming months.

McQuary said he’s excited to see how the brewery he helped establish grows in the future, but he’s also excited about his new opportunity in Memphis. Wiseacre Brewing Co. was established last year by a close friend of McQuary’s and is one of the first large production breweries in the city. But even with the opportunity to lead his own brewery, McQuary said he’ll miss Great Northern and the people he worked and drank with.

“The people I’ve worked with and hung out with were the best part,” he said. “It’s been a family.”
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