Drink in the Scenery: Breweries, Wineries & Distilleries.
If you want to know why craft beer lovers in Kalispell have been especially giddy lately, swing by the corner of Fourth and Main streets and see for yourself. There, in a renovated, 10,000-square-foot space behind massive glass windows, professional skiers Cole Schneider and Maggie Doherty, his wife, are putting together Kalispell’s first modern craft brewery. The two-story tasting room will feature live music and other events, plus five to seven beers on tap.
Granted, the opening of a new brewery hardly counts as news anymore in many places. But Montanans still get excited whenever a new brewery appears. In fact, Montana as a whole ranks second nationally in the number of breweries per capita, according to the National Brewers Association.
Around here, fascination with local potables isn’t just confined to beer. Northwest Montana has become a veritable oasis of distilleries and wineries as well.
As a result, fans of small-batch porters and pilsners, rieslings and ryes can spend days sampling the delicious local varieties to be found in tasting rooms across the Flathead Valley. Whatever your preferred beverage, the vibrant city of Kalispell serves as an ideal jumping-off point for a tasting tour of the region.
Since 1995, Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish has been known regionally for its flagship beer, Black Star, a double-hopped golden lager. But visitors to the brewery also know it is home to an array of unusual seasonal offerings including bourbon barrel-aged porter and huckleberry wheat.
In March 2013 Desert Mountain Brewing & Draughthaus opened its doors in Columbia Falls, offering a trio of delicious small-batch beers served fresh in the brewery’s cozy taproom on Nucleus Avenue. The craft brewery’s namesake, a flat-topped mountain east of town, is familiar locally to snowmobilers and backcountry hikers.
Located on the east shore of Flathead Lake, Flathead Lake Brewing Co. is a locally beloved hangout featuring fine food and a full slate of brews. Dark-beer lovers must try the 369’ Stout, a World Beer Cup winner.
On the opposite side of Flathead Lake, in the small town of Lakeside, the Tamarack Brewing Company Alehouse & Grill is hard to miss. With its eye-catching modern design and long list of beers (including everything from traditional IPAs to an apricot ale), the Tamarack is a buzzing hub of activity year-round.
Polson’s Glacier Brewing Company may be named for its fine adult beverages, but kids know the place as home to delicious locally made pepper soda and root beer. Visitors to the taproom can sample up to seven different handcrafted brews in one sitting; don’t miss a taste of the brewery’s unique Flathead Cherry Ale.
Located almost at the doorstep of Glacier National Park, Glacier Distilling Company in Coram specializes in small-batch whiskeys that reflect the rugged beauty of the surroundings. Using local grains and pure glacial water from the Northern Rockies, the distillery produces traditional as well as specialty spirits such as a peach-infused rye whiskey.
Even if Bigfork’s Whistling Andy Distillery hadn’t won the 2011 platinum award at the Spirits International Prestige Awards, you’d probably still be tempted by its unusual specialty: a hibiscus coconut rum. That and other flavors can be savored at the downtown tasting room.
Infuse fine small-batch vodka with locally grown sweet cherries and Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla beans, and you get Flathead Cherry Vodka — one of several delicious infused spirits offered by Flathead Distillers of Eureka. While you won’t find a tasting room at the distillery, the bottled products can be found throughout the Flathead Valley.
If wine floats your boat, then tack your sail for the west side of Flathead Lake, where you can dock — literally — at the door of Mission Mountain Winery in Dayton. Montana’s first bonded winery, Mission Mountain is known widely for its award-winning riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and other varietals.
Located on the western border of Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake Winery is a family-owned craft winery that specializes in small-batch wines made entirely from Montana-grown fruit including Flathead cherries, apples, huckleberries and chokecherries.