A review of Montana Breweries
Glacier National Park. Remote, difficult to get to, and absolutely worth the journey. We were blown away by the beautiful vistas and untouched wilderness throughout this area in Northwest Montana. Hidden Lake at Logan Pass and Wild Goose Island in Saint Mary Lake were two of my favorite views, but truly at every turn it seemed to be a buffet for your eyes. Along the western side of the park are several towns running down from Whitefish Lake towards Flathead Lake. And in some of these towns are breweries serving up delicious beer! I was able to hit most of them in the area, and was quite happy with the quality I received. Below are some of the highlights:
- Flathead Lake Brewing, Bigfork
- Bonsai Brewing Project, Whitefish
- The Great Northern Brewing Company, Whitefish
- Sacred Waters Brewing, Kalispell
Definitely one of the best views I’ve experienced at a brewery. Sitting on a hill overlooking (you probably guessed it) Flathead Lake, your eyes will enjoy this stop as much as your taste buds. The star of the space is of course the outdoor patio that offers the best look at the water, but you can still see fine from several spots inside the clean, modern taproom. Originally started in 2004, they would shock many people by winning two WBC medals just two years later. While the name has always been there, this location on the lake actually opened its doors in 2015 (and interestingly it was formerly a bowling alley according to their website). The 30 bbl brewhouse is churning out a variety of beers, and there’s also a nice food menu for those hankering for a bite to eat.
My favorite here was the Rising Sun Espresso Porter. As one would expect from the name, espresso plants itself firmly at center stage, and fiercely fights to hold your attention. It’s a smooth body, and sits very nicely on your tongue. Fun fact: the coffee blend comes from Fieldheads Coffee Company, which is less than a mile away! The other three from the flight were all solid as well. Batch 500 Kriek has plenty of tartness, as well as a deep cherry that seems to slowly seep into your senses. While I wasn’t blown away by the other two, they were fine choices as well. Sunshower Saison and Citrus SMaSH (IPA) check the boxes you need for each style. For those curious, the ‘single malt and single hop’ utilized in the IPA: Montana-grown and malted 2-row barley, and Equanot hops.
It can be hard to draw your focus away from the lake, but when you do, you’ll find a great variety of beer and food options. But yes, take your time to savor landscape!
Whitefish is a wonderful little mountain town. With magnificent vistas and a quaint downtown area chalk full of shops and restaurants, it’s a lovely place to visit. Located on the north side, not far from where the waters of Whitefish Lake greet the land, Bonsai Brewing Project is a quintessential Montana experience. Outside, a gorgeous beer garden has ample seating, plenty of greenery, and a walk-up kitchen for food. Inside is a quirky taproom, as it feels almost like it could have been a former house. Some Native American art is above you on the ceiling, a small fireplace sits in one corner, and next that is a bookshelf complete with readings on beer, Montana, and of course, bonsai trees. They offered 11 beers during my visit, many of which were intriguing.
I rated them similarly for the most part, but Inherence took the cake. A Belgian Saison aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels, it had a distinct complexity. The barrels seem to be more apparent the longer you waited, especially on the aftertaste. Another barrel-aged delight, Lake County Sheriff is a Sour Brown Barrel-aged on Flathead cherries and Jasmine tea. Copious notes of cherries seem to overwhelm the tea, but it’s there if you focus. Banana Factory has nothing to do with the yellow fruit, but instead is a Berry Smoothie IPA highlighted by Galaxy hops. The berry was a little more muted than I expected, but a solid option either way. While those were all more “out there” on the flavor profile, Lil Blonde Honey reels you back in, and is an attractive lighter option. A Blonde brewed with Montana honey, the local addition provides a considerable sweetness that while evident, does not overpower.
This is an awesome stop even if you are not staying in Whitefish. From the unique space to the unique beer, you won’t have an experience like it elsewhere. Stout fans can check out After Dark, which is aged in Whiskey and Red Wine barrels for an entire year!
Remember I mentioned those Whitefish vistas? It’s hard to top the views from The Great Northern Brewery. Nestled onto the edge of downtown, this multi-tiered establishment is yet another worthwhile addition to any brewery-hopping extravaganza. The lower level features a small bar area, a merchandise and to-go beer section, as well as views into the brewhouse. Upstairs is a larger bar, more views of the brewhouse, and two lovely balconies to enjoy a beer on. One looks out onto a main drag through downtown, and the other allows you to gaze over a park towards the mountains. They’ve been around since 1995, so they are also one of the original spots that brought craft beer to Montana. A special little addition that I enjoyed was a detailed diagram of the building hanging by the stairs that connect the two levels.
All the beers here were solid. Maybe it was because I was in the Glacier Park mood, but Going to the Sun IPA snuck by as my top selection. Named for the famous road that laterally bisects the park, this beer had a balanced citrus bitterness that makes it a great go-to IPA. Glacier Chaser keeps the theme going, and this Berliner Weisse was another simple sour that was to my liking. I’ve mentioned Huckleberries being used in other Montana beers during my Missoula article, and Wild Huckleberry Lager was another example. The Huckleberry seemed more subdued early, but was more bountiful towards the back end. I also enjoyed this beer at a restaurant in the park! The final two were darker options. Fred’s, a light-bodied, yet robust Black Lager, and Big Brown Trout, a to-style Oatmeal Stout.
Another Montana brewery that highlights what is outside as well as inside. Two-story taprooms always intrigue me, and they did a good job of tying the two separate areas together.
On the northern edge of Kalispell, out towards the Glacier Park International Airport, sits Sacred Waters Brewing. The backstory here is quite moving. After the founder’s mother passed away, she decided to open this brewery in her memory. And the logo that showcases a woman fly-fishing is in honor of her (which is displayed quite prominently in the taproom). Even without the logo, this place feels like it belongs in Montana. Dark woods, taxidermy, and plentiful prints of picturesque local landscapes highlight the interior space. There are also two outdoor areas, the smaller, simpler front patio, and the larger, fenced in beer garden out back, complete with a stage for live music. Another fun addition is that the flight boards are shaped like a fly-fishing reel! If you enjoy the great outdoors and craft beer, you find a lovely harmony between the two here.
I enjoyed all four options I sampled here, but Sunburst Berry Wheat was my favorite. I’m a sucker for bolder flavors, especially when those flavors include blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries! Hungry Horse Hazy is an IPA that draws you in with bright notes of pineapple and mango. While hazy is in the name, the appearance is not quite what you would expect, but it was delicious nonetheless. Taking a trip to the darker side, Bull Trout Coffee Stout unsurprisingly features a rich coffee body that sits nicely on the tongue, but the aroma tapers off a tad. The name alone makes this beer worth ordering considering the theme at play here. Finally, my passion for sours is met with Stone Fruit Sour, which is as its name depicts. Tart, lively, with enough fruit present to nip at your attention, this is a solid beer for those who enjoy the style.
This was one of the nicer surprises from the trip. I thoroughly enjoyed this stop and wish I would have had more time to hang around and try some other beers. It’s a little out of the way compared to the others in town, but if you’re going to or from the Park or airport, you can pop in!
Obviously, people should come here to visit Glacier National Park. But, if you make the trek, pencil in some time to enjoy local brews as well. A couple others to consider: Bias with a plethora of delicious options (especially Loopback, the Tea Pale Ale), Kalispell Brewing serving up classic styles in downtown, and Tamarack down in Lakeside offering up solid all-around beers in a beautiful taproom. I should also note that many of these towns have wonderful downtown areas with plenty of shops and restaurants! This may not be the first place many people think of when planning a vacation, but I am wholeheartedly giving it my stamp of approval!
In the heart of the Hawkeye State sits the state capital of Des Moines. And in Des Moines are several breweries for Iowans (and visitors) to enjoy. I was able to hit up four of the local spots and will look forward to sharing my experiences!
Current Brewery Count
525 breweries across 230 cities in 40 states (plus DC). These numbers are current as of 8/23/19. For an up-to-date count, and to follow where I go, check out my social media accounts!