I was originally going to just write one article for my entire trip to Montana. But I ended up visiting too many awesome breweries that I wanted to write about, so I’ll be breaking it up into two! This first one will focus on those in Missoula, the second largest city in the state. With Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel rising to the east, this college town was a pleasant surprise when it comes to craft breweries. Not only were the beers delicious, but the taprooms were absolutely fabulous as well! Montana may be best known for wide open spaces and outdoor activities (we were there to visit Glacier National Park after all), but after you’re done exploring, there’s a plethora of craft options for you to choose from
- Big Sky Brewing
- Kettlehouse Brewing
- Draught Works
- Imagine Nation Brewing
Probably the most well-known brewery in the Treasure State (they distribute to about half the country), Big Sky was an excellent first stop on my visit. Founded back in 1995, they were part of the movement to bring craft beer to Montana before it was cool. Their current location out by the airport was opened in 2002, which was built so they could expand their brewing and bottling functions. This taproom is a neat place, as a small upper level not only looks down on the bar area, but provides a glimpse of the brewery itself. And hanging from the ceiling? A parachuting man of course! The cool flight board you see below was hand-made, and all the mountain and forest themed artwork is a great touch. I’d like to discuss the 3-7-77 in their logo, but don’t have the space so give it a Google!
It may seem boring to choose it as my favorite, but I’m a big fan of Moose Drool, their flagship Brown Ale. Smooth coffee notes with some more subtle chocolate on the tongue makes this often overlooked style a true winner! Besides that, I only had beers I hadn’t tried before. That included Merliner Weisse, their to-style Berliner Weisse that had a solid sour base. Huck It! is a deliciously soft Huckleberry Blonde. Huckleberries are a fairly common ingredient for breweries out here, and I enjoyed the distinct flavor it provided, as well as the tightrope balancing act between sweet and tart. Named for a Montana bar game, Shake-A-Day is classic American IPA (7.5% ABV, 65 IBU), with notes of grapefruit rinds, pine, and citrus, while not straying too far down the bitter path. Prior to this, I’ve also enjoyed Trout Slayer (Wheat Ale) and Big Sky IPA.
Due to it’s location, Big Sky is an excellent way to start your trip. While they are the largest in Montana, they do serve many offerings in the taproom that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get other places. And remember, go look up 3-7-77!
With three locations in Missoula, Kettlehouse is rooted in Montana beer history. The owners opened the state’s first ‘brew-on-premise’ in 1995, and a few years later were part of a small core group of brewers who helped change laws that would allow breweries to serve beer! Prior to this, they could give away beer, but could only sell it for off-premise consumption. I visited the Northside location (opened 2009), which is located in an old train stop. It’s a phenomenal place that drips with history. Exposed brick and beams draw your eyes up, the bar top comes from a now defunct local bowling alley, and you can read about the time Teddy Roosevelt spoke here in 1912! Interestingly, below where the taproom now sits was a large refrigeration area where produce could be delivered to via train. And yes, the tracks directly behind the building are still in use!
Nitro Cold Smoke was one of the best beers I had in Missoula. Cold Smoke is their flagship Scotch Ale, and I upgraded to the nitro version. Obviously, that meant a smooth beer, but what I enjoyed most was the symphony of caramel malts, light coffee notes, and perhaps a tough of grainy bread. The most eye-popping name was Fresh Bongwater, which of course is a Hemp Pale Ale. Using Montana barley with Canadian hemp, this was a little more nut forward than other similar beers. For a solid White Ale, Rind Trick fits the bill. Nothing fancy, a great citrus backbone that builds as you sip towards the aftertaste. Sour of the World is a Barrel-aged Sour, and while the whiskey was a bit too strong for my taste, I imagine plenty of others would enjoy it.
I have to imagine their other two locations are great stops as well. And since they are a big reason why you can drink in a Montana taproom, maybe say ‘Thanks’ while you’re there!
Speaking of cool taprooms, Draught Works turned a former recycling plant into a haven for brews! They’ve been around since 2011, and maybe their coolest feature is the wrap-around deck that is open YEAR-ROUND! Yep, complete with misters, umbrellas, and heaters, they are prepared for any kind of weather! Similar to Kettlehouse, the exposed beams are a focal point, but one fun feature is a children’s corner complete with a chalkboard. Maps of Montana are posted up on the walls, and another corner features a couple dart boards. An interesting tidbit? On their website they have a series of videos that explain their brewing process, a neat way to learn! With 18 beers on tap, you’ll be sure to find something you can try, and if alcohol isn’t your thing, they also have a house root beer!
While they had 18 beers on tap, I found it odd that the “darkest” beer they offered at this time was Shadow Caster, their Amber Ale. A straight-shooter, a sweetish, bready body greets every drinker. My favorites were the two sours (duh). Blood Orange Gose took the hypothetical gold medal, as the juiciness from the orange cascades upon your senses before relinquishing their hold to allow the salinity characteristics to guide you home. A delicious beer! Meanwhile, Blackberry Bramble Sour is fairly self-explanatory. Vibrant, with pronounced berry throughout the experience (especially on the nose), I would certainly have this beer again as well. My final beer was the most intriguing. Sweet Heat is a Mango Habanero IPA, and might be the hottest beer I’ve had. The heat is a kick in the mouth, and lingers for a considerable amount of time (luckily, I had water). A bit much for me, but I’m sure there is a group that would enjoy it.
Memorable taproom, memorable beer, this is another worthwhile site to pop into! They also seem to have live music quite often, so you can enjoy some rhythms while you sip on your favorite drink!
I’ve discussed breweries that raise money for causes and why they are important to me. To refresh, I’m obtaining my Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Well, Imagine Nation is not just a brewery, but also the Community Center for Transformation! Since they opened a little over 4 years ago, they have hosted over 3000 community events and meetings! There’s a separate room adjacent to the taproom where groups can meet. Nearly half of the profits go back into the community, and it’s clear this is a locally-focused spot. As for the taproom, it’s a slightly quirky, and somewhat whimsical environment. Colorful walls, a curvy bar, and disco ball provide probably the most unique experience in Missoula! You can sneak a peek of the brewery through windows behind the bar. There’s also a lovely patio that looks out towards the Clark Fork River, and it comes complete with a small stage and a sandbox area.
Yes, I know ANOTHER sour, but Zeitgeist is truly wonderful. Raspberry, Peach, lactose, and local honey combine their best qualities in this Fruited Double Berliner Weisse. The Raspberry seems to take center stage, but the complexity of the other ingredients is certainly there. Not to be outdone, my other favorite was Propinquity Reconciliatory Robust Porter. A mouthful both in name and flavor, this rich, robust brew will sure be a favorite for those that like dark beers. There were several other winners as well! I haven’t done much for hops so far in this article, but both Tropicalismo Summer Pale Ale and Alchemy II NEIPA are worthy orders. I slightly preferred Alchemy II, and the 5.5% ABV means you can enjoy a couple (plus it has a tantalizingly complex aroma)! And for a lighter choice, you can request Metamorfoza, a well-crafted New Bohemian Pilsner that I got some delicate spicy notes from, as well as precise hoppiness on the aftertaste.
“Beyond Beer”. That slogan, along with their excellent logo that depicts a bison covered in a global map, points towards a place that is engrained in the neighborhood in more ways than one. I could write so much more about these guys, very happy I was able to go here!
From large, nationally distributed offerings, to taprooms housed in historic, local buildings, the diversity here in Missoula is both fascinating and delightful. While it may not be the first city you think of for a beer-cation, I highly endorse coming here. There are even more that I did not get the chance to visit that were recommended to me (Bayern, Gild, and Great Burn). And on top of that, you can enjoy hiking up mountains, fly-fishing one of the area rivers, or simply sit back and marvel as the sun sets on the expansive landscape.
I mentioned Glacier National Park in the introduction, and let me tell you, it is stunningly beautiful. But of course, I’m here to talk about the breweries, and I was able to hit quite a few up in that area of the state west of the park. Some incredible taproom views accompanied the delicious brews!
Current Brewery Count
517 breweries across 226 cities in 39 states. These numbers are current as of 8/16/19. For an up-to-date count, and to follow where I go, check out my social media accounts!