There was a time not long ago when craft breweries were funky little upstarts trying to gain a foothold in a world dominated by legacy brands and traditional styles. A time when brewing things like IPAs was way outside the box, and when a generation of old-school drinkers rolled their eyes at the sight of dozens of new labels in expanding grocery store beer aisles.
Those days, of course, feel like a distant memory now. Instead of crushing the little guy, legacy breweries are following their lead (if not acquiring them outright) and it’s practically impossible to find a restaurant or bar without an IPA on tap and a full range of beer styles available.
But the creative spirit that launched the craft beer revolution still lives, and the latest trends in the industry include styles like sours, goses and hazy IPAs that even once-conservative drinkers are willing to try. Here in the Flathead Valley, almost every brewery has its own unique style and area of expertise, but these three always have a brew or two on tap for the adventurous drinker.
401 First Ave. E., Kalispell
Perhaps no local brewery mixes up its lineup as often as Bias, which has produced a dizzying 60 different beers in barely more than a year of operation under head brewer Adam Robertson. While the dozen or so options available at any time are certain to include at least a couple beers that would qualify as unusual, the Loopback Tea Pale Ale is one of the brewery’s mainstays and made with organic loose-leaf Earl Grey tea. Other recent varietals include the Key Lime Hazy IPA and the Boss POG tropical sour.
Bonsai Brewing Project
549 Wisconsin Ave., Whitefish
Brewer and owner Graham Hart is always experimenting, and on any given day Bonsai’s menu board is brimming with eclectic offerings. One of those brews that will be around at least through the rest of this year is the Lake County Sheriff, a sour brown ale aged in wine and whiskey barrels with Flathead Lake cherries and jasmine. Bonsai has a few other sour-style beers, and for something completely different, the limited-release Banana Factory berry smoothie milkshake IPA has a taste unlike anything else in the valley.
1107 Ninth Street W., Columbia Falls
The Columbia Falls brewery and restaurant doesn’t experiment quite to the degree of Bias or Bonsai, but brewer Darin Fisher isn’t without his own creative streak. Backslope has been tinkering with barrel aging for a while, and one of the featured brews this year is Consequences be Damned, a “tres IPA” aged in tequila barrels and packing a potent 9 percent alcohol-by-volume punch. The brewery is also offering The Alchemist, a brown ale aged in red-wine barrels, and a new lemongrass saison.