The mountain town of Missoula, Montana, is widely recognized for its award-winning beers. In addition to the seven breweries that this welcoming town of 66,000 now boasts, visitors can also find a variety of restaurants serving locally sourced dishes and endless opportunities to play among some of the most spectacular scenery in the West. Several breweries are within walking distance of each other, so park the car and get ready to explore.
Begin your journey at Montana’s oldest operating brewery, Bayern Brewing (1507 Montana St.). Bayern opened in 1972, but since Jürgen Knöller has taken the reins, all of its beers follow strict German brewing standards. Start with Dancing Trout, a refreshing wheat aged for 28 days, or the very black yet deceptively smooth Schwarzbier.
After Bayern head one block up Russell Street to hop on the paved Milwaukee Trail that bisects Missoula then walk or bike one mile downtown to Tamarack Brewing Co. (231 W. Front St.). Tamarack’s beers are brewed in Lakeside, Montana, but you can find its wide range of beers and a full menu in Missoula. At your seat on the deck, you will catch all the action in neighboring Caras Park and the Clark Fork River. Grab a pint of the earthy Yard Sale Amber or the chocolate caramel of Switchback Stout. Hearty dinners include barbacoa pork nachos served on a Tamarack keg top and étouffée featuring local Redneck andouille sausage.
A table outside of The Catalyst Café (111 N. Higgins Ave.) affords the best place to savor the morning sun and people watch between Missoula’s two farmer’s markets, which flank the ends of Higgins Avenue. Dig into Catalyst’s creamy decadent potato cheddar casserole or a bowl of house-made granola.
Pick up the car and head 15 miles up Snowbowl (1700 Snowbowl Road), Missoula’s neighborhood ski resort. Open throughout the summer, Snowbowl offers zip line tours, mountain bike trails and the chance to folf (play disc golf) atop Big Sky Mountain. Quench your growing thirst with a selection of local microbrews inside the Last Run Inn set at the mountain’s base.
Take a slight detour from the heart of Missoula at Big Sky Brewing Co. (5417 Trumpeter Way). Big Sky is unique in that it has exceeded the 10,000-barrel rule, so by Montana law can only offer 4-ounce tasters, meaning free samples of Montana’s best known beer. Its signature Moose Drool Brown Ale has a roasted surprisingly sweet finish, and Summer Honey brings to mind a bowl of honey and spices.
Time for lunch back downtown at the Flathead Lake Brewing Co. (424 N. Higgins Ave.). As with the Tamarack, Flathead’s beer is brewed elsewhere, but the brewers have found a niche here with their extensive beer list and seasonal menu items. Couple a plate of gnocchi with a Swimmer’s Itch Saison, a perfect combination of orange and coriander, or bite into the espresso-rubbed mandolin burger with a pint of toasted grain Bufflehead Brown.
From Higgins Avenue head west to tour Missoula’s historic red-brick architecture that sprung up along the railroad in the early 1900’s. In three-quarters of a mile you will reach Draught Works Brewery (915 Toole Ave.). Grab a table inside the cavernous taproom and be sure to time your visit to hear local bands play every Saturday starting at 6 p.m. The Quill Pig pilsner offers a wide floral profile or try one of the ever-rotating cask-conditioned ales.
One of Missoula’s newest breweries, Imagine Nation Brewing Co. (1151 W. Broadway St.), dubs itself “the country’s first microbrewery and center for community transformation.” Even if you’re not ready to save the world at this very moment, Imagine’s beers are worth a taste, namely the Freedom Fighter IPA, a carbonated tangy pour that dances on the tongue.
The Old Post Pub (103 W. Spruce St.) has its own motto, “It’s better to eat in a bar than drink in a restaurant.” Old Post backs it up with a wide variety of rotating Montana beer selections on tap and a menu with some of the best bar food in town. Pair Bayern’s Dragon’s Breath dark heff with the crab cake BLT or Big Sky’s Pygmy Owl Itty Bitty IPA with the flaky spanakopita.
End your day at one of two KettleHouse Brewing Co. locations (Northside, 313 N. 1st St. West, Southside, 602 Myrtle St.). Home of the mad scientists of Missoula’s beer scene, KettleHouse surprises each time you visit either location with beers made from ingredients such as pine boughs, green tea, chipotle and gin. The laid-back Northside location occupies an old fruit warehouse and has an open airy taproom. The flagship Southside sweeps you up in the chaos of locals eager to get their hands on Missoula’s most sought-after beers. Always on tap are Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, a dark beer with hints of coffee and toffee, and the nutty slightly sweet Fresh Bongwater Hemp Pale Ale brewed with industrial hemp pellets.
Explore the outskirts of Missoula on Sunday starting with a morning walk among the pines in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area (end of Rattlesnake Drive). Take it easy on the relatively flat Rattlesnake Main Trail following its namesake creek or gain some altitude on the Curry Gulch Trail to explore the ruins of late 1800’s pioneer Jacob Curry’s cabin.
Cease the growls coming from your stomach with brunch at The Stone of Accord (4951 N. Reserve St.). Here you’ll find traditional brunch fare with an Irish twist and unique drink specials. The Irish soda bread and gravy goes well with bottomless mimosas and the corned beef cowpie featuring Guinness gravy washes down easy with a Bloody Caesar made with aquavit.
Before departing Missoula, make Great Burn Brewing (2230 McDonald Ave.) your last beer stop. This family-owned brewery was created in honor of late brother and wilderness firefighter Chad Howard, and the beers and taproom pay homage to the life of hotshots. Raise a glass to these brave men and women with a “secret” pour dubbed the Smoky Picnic. Not found on the menu, Smoky Picnic combines Smoke Chaser Porter with a topping of Church Picnic Cream Ale. The creamy ale cuts the heavy smoked taste of the porter and brings to mind the flavor of cream in your coffee.
As a freelance writer, Susie Wall has traveled far from her Missoula home to explore her subjects and satisfy her endless curiosity, but there is no place she’d rather be than sitting in the Montana sun with a local brew in hand.