Finding a Piece of Yourself (and a Beer) in Missoula’s Breweries
In the beginning, there was a glacier. It dug a great big beautiful valley, buffalo roamed, native peoples warred, and Lewis and Clark took a road trip and created a rest stop. After that the University of Montana happened, Norman MacLean told everyone about fly fishing, and Missoula was made.
Even if her founders Andrew Hammond and C.P. Higgins couldn’t get along and confused everyone with Malfunction Junction, Missoula drew a crowd. And not just any crowd—a cornucopia of souls who live and love the city. On paper, it’s a little puzzling. What’s the draw for all these people? Well, for starters, the city and valley are beautiful, the university is top-notch, outdoor opportunities are world-class. But in reality, people get thirsty, and while the water flows plentifully through the city, Missoulians and their guests seek alternative refreshments. Missoula has always been destined to have a third river, and that river runs golden and frosty through taps.
It’s not unusual for a city to support several breweries; beer is the new wine and connoisseurs demand choices. But Missoulians are too varied for just a couple of craft beer specialists—Missoula enthusiastically supports 10 breweries. That’s a watering hole for everyone. Every smokejumper, every professor, every retired brain surgeon and every mechanic. In order to simplify what could be an encyclopedia of Missoula beer, the following is breakdown of the diverse Missoula community and the beers and breweries they love.
“Mountains, Rivers, and Beer” is co-owner Pat Offen’s mantra for Lolo Peak Brewery. The No Salmon Pale Ale derives its name from the area’s first guides during the Lewis and Clark Expedition—the Salish—who told the expedition there were “no salmon” in what is now the Clark Fork Pend Oreille River basin, a fact to this day that has not been satisfactorily explained by scientists. Much like the river basin, the No Salmon Pale Ale has no salmon, but it does provide a backbone for cascade and Citra hops. So if you are skunked on your next guided trip, stop in for a pint of No Salmon and claim at least one catch for the day.
The College Student/Teacher
Great Burn Brewing took its name from the Great Burn of 1910. The Cold Trail Pale Ale is an English-style ale, amped up a bit with the Amarillo hop. It is soft on the front end with a bitter kick on the back, and therefore an adequate description of a young college student. Jokes aside, we chose the college student/teacher to be representative of the passion for hard work and good beer. Great Burn’s Pale Ale is a great tribute to those college students and educators who work toward the ideal condition both in the forest and in the taproom to find the Cold Trail.
Kettle House owner Tim O’Leary’s mission statement is this: “Matching the quality of our beer to the quality of the Montana outdoor experience.” Indeed, Eddy Out’s deep golden hue and caramelized malt give the beer a touch of sweetness, just like the mountains and rivers we love. If given an attitude, Yeast Rancher Todd Crowell would say Eddy Out is “‘Old School,’ exhibiting a flavor profile that built the modern craft brew movement.” The love of the outdoor experience and a can of Eddy Out go hand-in-hand, or should we say, “beer-in-hand.” Slainte (pronounced “slawn-cha”) as our good neighbor, O’Leary would say!
Big Sky Brewing Company has been a Missoula staple for 30 years. Each beer has a distinguished flavor, and the Scapegoat Pale Ale is no exception. Big Sky is Montana’s largest beer distributor. Scapegoat, like the mountains and wilderness it is named for, is a refreshing beer, perfect any time of year but particularly in the autumn months. The crystal hops and citrus undertones are as crisp and refreshing as the mountains that surround us.
Resting upon what was once the Missoula Recycling center, Draught Works Brewing has turned the sound of cans rattling to the clinks of pints, laughs and cheers. Draught Works Brewery has an ambiance and atmosphere of great craftsmanship. The beer that sits within, too, is finely crafted. The Clothing Optional Pale Ale is certainly a “beer not afraid to bare it all,” boasting of English noble hops and a caramel aroma, which leaves a balanced finish that any palate would say yes to.
There’s a lot of philanthropic effort in Missoula, and who better to represent those who work for the betterment of their community than the Imagine Nation Brewery? “We are,” the owners say, “more apt to do good things if we feel good in the process.” The brewery promotes every aspect of community involvement and the power of compassion. To that end, the philanthropist can’t go wrong with the Freedom Fighter IPA. The depth of flavor of this six-malt brew appeals to the depth of character of those who work for the good of others and, as an added bonus, the 6.8 percent alcohol content can soften the prickly edges of a particularly demanding mission.
The Road Warrior
They. Drive. All. The. Time. This mom (or dad or grandparent or cousin) needs frequent flyer miles and a passport. There’s no way around traveling for kids’ activities in the state of Montana, and the best pick-me-up after a particularly eventful and long debate or soccer match is with a stop at Bayern Brewing, the only German brewery in the Rocky Mountains, for its Pilsener. The crispness can snap you right out of the driver’s haze. The finish is light and refreshing rather than heavy and filling, a perfect cap to a long day of semi-restrained cheering.
Missoula’s fields, ice rinks, and gyms are full. Maxed out, even. And when these men and women stop sweating, they like to watch professionals sweat. That sends them to the Tamarack. It’s central, it’s comfortable and it’s the only place in town with craft beer and jumbo-sized TVs set to ESPN. No better beer to refresh and nourish Zoo Town’s athletes than a Hat Trick IPA. Its bright citrus flavor quickly quenches a thirst, but the depth of flavor reassures a rugby player that his (or her) daily recommended dose of carbs is satisfied. Following a 500-calorie-burning soccer match with Tamarack’s signature IPA is its own reward (even if your team lost).
The Nature Lover
Those working in forest management are a varied bunch with a common goal: to maintain a healthy wilderness. It’s the quintessential Missoula experience: disparate communities working together. The Missoula Brewing Company recently revived the Highlander, a 105-year-old brand, which delivers variations on a classic theme in their new brewery. The American Bock is the perfect melding to connect the logger and the activist as its dark appearance and light flavor provide a common appreciation for the craft.
Missoula oozes watercolors and broken guitar strings. In fact, make a Beethoven reference at the bank; the teller is probably a baroque expert. Our arts community is self-sustaining: Those who are able support it, and those who are talented provide it. The intersection of these groups is the Flathead Brewery. Its Imperial IPA is a beer you enjoy from a growler while attending an open-mic night at your neighbor’s garage art collective. Artists and musicians want a beer to accompany a rich experience, and the Imperial is that companion.