A Montana Brewery and Distillery Tour
1 week. That’s the answer to how long it takes to visit all of Western Montana Glacier Country’s breweries and distilleries, which numbers 21 breweries and 5 distilleries. And that’s just in Western Montana’s Glacier Country alone, and doesn’t include the rest of Montana, such as Butte, home to Headframe Spirits, which will soon be the largest distillery west of the Mississippi, and Bozeman, which has several breweries.
However, most of Montana’s breweries and distilleries (with the exception of Big Sky), you’ve probably never heard of, since they largely only distribute within Montana. So today I’m giving you a quick and dirty guide to Glacier Country’s breweries and distilleries in Western Montana.
If only every distillery did what Montgomery Distillery in Missoula has done: The distillery downstairs and the cocktail bar upstairs. Not every person visiting a distillery wants to drink straight-up spirits, which is often the case at most distilleries. You can do that at Montgomery Distillery, but you'll want to try their spirits in cocktails, which they do at the bar. Their current spirit offerings include a gin, vodka, and aquavit, with whiskey on the way (first release in 2016). Tours go down every Wednesday through Saturday with their Missoula tasting room/bar open daily until 8 p.m. (7 pm on Sundays), which is a statewide regulation of Montana distilleries.
Located in a red barn they refer to as the “whiskey barn,” Montana's Glacier Distilling has my name all over it, yes, because of the architecture and atmosphere, but also because they do a number of different whiskies, including moonshine and rye. However, I was particularly surprised by their Fireweed whiskey, a bourbon infused with cherries that isn’t over the top like other fruit-infused whiskey. Stop in for a tasting and tour on the way to or from Glacier National Park, though you may want to call to make sure someone is home.
Flathead Lake Brewing Company
Flathead Lake Brewing Company's newest taproom overlooks one of my favorite lakes (Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi) in one of my favorite Montana towns, Bigfork. It features a growler refill station, fireplace, trivia every Wednesday, full dining menu, and a deck overlooking Flathead Lake. What else could you need from a brewery? They have a long list of beers, including amber, pale ale, IPA(s), saison, porter, stout, and a series of sour beers.
Big Sky Brewing
Big Sky Brewing, located in Missoula, is far and away the largest brewery in Montana, and the only Montana beer you’ll likely find outside the state, producing more than 30,000 barrels of beer per year (in part because state regulations keeps most breweries below 10,000 barrels annually). Moose Drool, Big Sky’s brown ale, is one of their most popular beers, though they have a number of other beers, including Scotch ale, IPA, wheat ale, and porter, among several others.
Kettlehouse Brewing Company
Kettlehouse Brewing Company in Missoula doesn’t shrink away from being unique with beers like the Fresh Bongwater Hemp pale ale, which uses Montana grown barley combined with Canadian grown industrial hemp. However, it’s also home to one of my favorite beers I’ve ever drank, Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, a dark, yet very smooth ale with a nitrous version in the taproom.
Draught Works Brewery
Like Flathead Brewery, Draught Works Brewery in Missoula gets bonus points for its atmosphere, which includes an outdoor patio. Not to mention it has one of the largest selections of beers, including six year-round beers, such as pale ale, cream ale, IPA, and pilsner, as well as even more seasonal beers, such as hefeweizen, triple IPA, and German bock.
As the name presumes, Bayern Brewing is a German microbrewery in Montana with its brewers and equipment both from Germany. What’s unique about Bayern is that it’s the oldest operating brewery in Montana, located in Missoula, dating back to 1987. Also unique about Bayern is their commitment to the 1516 German Law of Purity (Reinheitsgebot), which means they don’t use any additives. Bayern’s year-round beers include an amber, black lager, pilsner, and hefeweizen, and a number of seasonal beers, such as doppelbock, dark wheat beer, and Oktoberfest.
Tamarack Brewing Company
Go for the beer, but stay for the food at Tamarack Brewing Company, which has a full restaurant in addition to its brewery. Located near Flathead Lake, it’s one of the newest Montana breweries, with an impressive lineup of beers, all of which can be ordered as a flight. Their beer offerings include IPA, blonde, Scotch ale, IPA(s), stout, and pilsner, among others.
Kalispell Brewing Company
If it’s good enough for the governor of Montana then it’s good enough for me! I walked into Kalispell Brewing Company last month to the sound of cheers, which I quickly realized was for the governor who walked in right behind. Nonetheless, this Montana brewery brews a solid (but small) roster of beers, including pilsner, IPA, dunkel, stout, and pale ale. On the weekday afternoon I was at Kalispell, there was also live music, which they frequently have.
Great Northern Brewing Company
Also located in Whitefish is Great Northern, which has deep roots in brewing, since it was started by the great-great grandson of beer pioneer Henry Weinhard. What I love about Great Northern Brewing’s beers is that they are all very balanced and approachable, which I can’t say about most breweries. If you try nothing else here, try the huckleberry lager, because huckleberries. Other flagship beers at this Montana brewery include IPA, red ale, and wheat lager.
Bonsai Brewing Project
Bonsai Brewing Project recently opened in new digs that feel so homey, in part because it’s essentially located in a house, with a porch, yard, and all. It’s prime to become the go-to summer beer spot in Whitefish, which is my favorite Montana town. As the name presumes, Bonsai does some interesting beers, such as their blonde ale with habanero and ginger and IPA with coriander. They also have some everyday beers, such as a amber and IPA, among others.
Philipsburg is technically located just outside of Montana Glacier Country, yet is worth a mention, if nothing else because Philipsburg, Montana is one of the most charming towns I’ve ever visited. It doesn’t hurt that Philipsburg Brewery makes some good beers as well, such as raspberry wheat, summer pale ale, saison, hefeweizen, amber, porter, and stout. Go on Wednesday nights for trivia night, which brings out everyone in town, which feels like 50 people, but still a popular night in what's largely a sleepy town.
This covers many of the breweries and distilleries in Western Montana, all of which I visited, though there are number of others (as well as new ones opening), such as Blacksmith and Wildwood in Stevensville, HigherGround and Bitter Root in Hamilton, and Missoula Brewing Company, which is opening this summer. So if you try to do 25 breweries and distilleries in a week in Montana, then maybe consider padding in another day, and most importantly, have a driver.