If you’ve made it to the end of the Beacon summer guide, then perhaps you’re feeling a pang of anxiety because there are so many ways to spend your time in the Flathead, and the summer is simply too short to fit them all in. Those of us who live in Montana feel such pangs almost every day, year after year.
A similar dilemma confronts the beer drinker upon arriving in the Flathead Valley. As with other activities, the beer aficionado will find too many local, handcrafted brews, and too little time to sample them all. Stretching from Polson to Lakeside to Whitefish to Woods Bay, the region surrounding Flathead Lake has seen five microbreweries spring up since 1994, when John Campbell opened the Lang Creek Brewery in Marion in an old airport hangar. Other breweries soon followed suit, with Lakeside’s Tamarack Brewing Company opening most recently last year.
In a way, the success of these breweries reflects a movement taking place across Montana and the U.S., as consumers increasingly prefer beer that isn’t shipped thousands of miles, but that helps lift the local economy and is produced in small batches, by local folks. It doesn’t hurt that the beer is damn good, whether your tastes run to dark, chocolaty porters or light, golden hefeweizens with a fat orange slice floating on top.
The brewers here take their craft seriously and many adhere closely to strict German or English traditions. Some hold formal brewing degrees, like Tim Jacoby, head brewmaster of the Flathead Lake Brewing Company in Woods Bay, who studied at Montreal’s Siebel Brewing Institute. Others took the secrets of larger microbrewing cities and brought them here, like David Ayers, brewmaster and co-owner of Polson’s Glacier Brewing Company, or Craig Koontz, brewer for Tamarack. Joe Barberis, brewmaster for the Great Northern Brewing Company, studied under Campbell before beginning his own venture in Whitefish.
Every brewery in the area offers tasting, and it can be fascinating to consider and discuss the subtleties of flavor in each beer – which is usually being served by the person who brewed it. Montana laws governing tasting at breweries are restrictive, to prevent these newer businesses from causing too much competition to existing bars. Tasting rooms at breweries can serve 48 ounces per person, can’t serve food, and must close by 8 p.m. Tamarack is the exception, serving excellent food and spirits. But most breweries sell take-away growlers and kegs. And many bars serve locally brewed beers, with bartenders all too happy to recommend regional favorites.
At this point, I could recommend a beer from this or that brewery, but tastes differ so much depending on the drinker and the day, it probably wouldn’t be very helpful. Plus, local brewers are constantly rolling out new beers to try and their recommendations are infinitely wiser – trust them.
As for those who don’t like beer, most local breweries also craft root beers and creme sodas. And if your predilections tend toward wine, this region has you covered as well, with the Mission Mountain Winery in Dayton open for tasting daily. So, don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a locally crafted beverage at the end of a grueling day of fishing or hiking or golfing. It’s one more reason this valley can be so darn hard to leave.
Glacier Brewing Company
6 Tenth Avenue East, Polson
Flathead Lake Brewing Company
26008 East Lake Shore Drive, Bigfork
Lang Creek Brewery
655 Lang Creek Road, Marion
Tamarack Brewing Company
105 Blacktail Road, Lakeside
Great Northern Brewing Company
2 Central Avenue, Whitefish
Mission Mountain Winery
82420 U.S. Highway 93, Dayton
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