Kalispell potter spins custom growlers and flasks

STORY & PHOTO by TIM TEPAS

What began as a one-man pottery studio producing cups, mugs and bowls in Kalispell has grown to a burgeoning small business specializing in custom handmade ceramic works of art intended for microbrewery and microdistilling consumers. Tim Carlburg, owner of Carlburg Pottery, is an artist and entrepreneur who found a niche market in beer growlers and flasks. A growler is a half-gallon jug intended to transport beer between a brewery and home. Plenty of microbreweries offer simple glass growlers, but Carlburg can custom design his jugs with personalized logos, sculpted features and painted graphics.

With only four businesses nationwide that create ceramic vessels for beer and spirits, Carlburg Pottery is the only company that allows customers to custom design their own unique piece of art flask or growler. “About 90 percent of our production is completely one-off customized pieces,” Carlburg says. “We make a lot of one-of-a-kind pieces for enthusiasts and we create customized logo pieces for distilleries.” Many Montana brewers and distillers sell Carlburg’s designs, and the market is growing nationally. Shipments are made regularly across the country from Hawaii to the East Coast.

Orders for growlers and flasks pour in all the time. Images of movie characters and celebrities are popular designs as well as military insignia and logos to commemorate weddings or retirements. The challenge to make specific ceramic jugs keeps Carlburg constantly innovating. He tries his best to honor all of his customers’ requests, but some orders are just too difficult or won’t work correctly. This past year, Carlburg began casting various sized flasks along with handmade cups and mugs inspired by old rusty jars and cans he has found. Many of the ceramic pieces have sculpted ceramic nuts, washers, and levers that can actually spin.

An avid outdoorsman, who likes to camp, fish and hike, Carlburg moved to Montana with his wife in 2006 after serving in the U.S. Army. “As soon as we drove over the hill from Somers and saw the valley and mountains, we knew we were home.” Together with wife, Leah, and his young daughters, Kaya and Josie, he spends as much time as he can spare away from his busy studio out in nature. “We just celebrated our fifth anniversary,” Carlburg says. “With the growing economy and a healthy beer-loving community, I think we’ll continue to have a strong pottery business.”

For more information, visit www.handmadegrowlers.com