Missoula, Montana is often overlooked by beer hunters, but the city is currently home to no less than 10 breweries. Sure, visiting Big Sky Country is a reward unto itself, but you’ll have no trouble finding great beer along the way, especially in a beer-mad town like Missoula.
I recently spent a couple of days exploring some of the newer destinations on the Missoula beer trail. Admittedly, I did pop in to visit one of my tried-and-true favorites, Draught Works Brewery, which once again earned distinction in the local newspaper’s Best Of awards. Congrats on that, but for now I am focusing on the five newest breweries in town.
In general, kids are allowed at brewery taprooms, but dogs are not (Montana is funny that way). I did see one dog at one taproom but figured I’d better not ask questions. Get familiar with the local liquor laws as they apply to brewery taprooms because they’re a bit different than what you might expect. Anyone who pours you a beer is happy to explain.
While you’re there, relax a little bit and get outside. Floating the river is a very Missoula thing to do, for instance. Go for a hike because there are great trails just moments away from downtown. Get out there and earn your beer. Check out Destination Missoula and Visit Montana for a wealth of information.
Highlander Beer, Missoula Brewing Company
Located in the industrial area west of town, Missoula Brewing represents the rebirth of a historic beer brand, Highlander Beer, which was first brewed in 1910. The brand disappeared in 1964 but was reborn in 2015. Same name, but not the same brewery or beer.
The modern version of the brewery offers a lovely, large taproom and a sprawling beer garden along a creek. (Is it a crick or a ditch? Better ask before you let the kids go swimming.)
The kitchen cranks out pizzas, a plate of nachos the size of your head, and a few salads. The beer list offers a diverse variety of styles and something to appeal to pretty much any palate. Highland Beer/Missoula Brewing, 200 International Dr, Missoula, MT 59808.
Imagine Nation Brewing
If you’re a fan of things like fruited sour beers and hazy IPAs, this is your place. Imagine Nation Brewing opened in 2015 and is currently amid an ownership change, but by all indications, it was a thoughtful process. Currently, the original owners are still there making sure it is a smooth transition.
The busy arterial out front might not suggest it, but the patio out back is peaceful and looks out across a nature preserve (West Broadway Island Natural Area) and the Clark Fork River. Live music is a staple here. In fact, there’s a traditional Irish band that’s been playing weekly at Imagine Nation for years. There’s a taco truck out front, so check with the brewery to find out when they’re serving. Imagine Nation Brewing, 1151 W Broadway St, Missoula, MT 59802.
In 2018, Conflux Brewing opened in a new building in a new part of town. That is, it’s an area of downtown that has seen a lot of growth and new construction in recent years. It may not feel rustic and Montana-like, but while we sipped on our pints a thunderstorm rolled through and chased the crowd in from the patio. It doesn’t get any more Montana than that. In fact, I was drinking a Mountain Thunder IPA as I dashed inside to escape the storm: the most missoula thing that Missoula ever missoula’d.
The kitchen offers a pub-like menu, focusing largely on sandwiches and burgers. The brewery cranks out a handful of year-round beers along with a rotating selection of seasonal and one-off beers. There was no shortage of IPAs on the menu when we visited, but plenty of other stuff too. Expansive inside space with a balcony, with patio seating out back and deck seating above the entrance. Conflux Brewing, 210 N Pattee St, Missoula, MT 59802.
A Seattle connection! OddPitch Brewing is owned and operated by Gabe Stinchfield (pictured at the top of the story). He spent years working at venerable Seattle beer institutions like Bottleworks and Brouwer’s Café. Gabe and his head brewer, Jake Principe, are making some seriously good beer, ranging from an award-winning hazy IPA to a breathtakingly beautiful barrel-aged saison brewed using apple juice from a local cidery.
Along with lots of barrels, you’ll find a bank of pinball machines to provide entertainment. I didn’t need any entertainment beyond the beers. No food here, but there are restaurants in the neighborhood and there’s often a food truck parked nearby, so bring food with you. Mostly indoor seating, but also a bit of outdoor seating out back. OddPitch Brewing, 1200 W Kent Ave Suite 103, Missoula, MT 59801.
Great Burn Brewing
Okay, not very new, just new to me. Opened in 2014, but I missed it on my previous trips. Another south-side brewery, Great Burn Brewing is a favorite of the locals. I mean, the very locals. As in, people who live in the neighborhood. The theme here focuses on wildfires and the brave people who fight them. The brewery’s name refers to a 1910 forest fire that burned three million acres in North Idaho and Western Montana, one of the largest fires in U.S. history.
The beers are fantastic, especially the IPAs. I mean, straight-up IPA. Nothing too crazy and hazy and fruity, just butt-kickin’ IPA. Of course, they make other styles too. In addition to the indoor seating, you’ll find some patio seating out front beneath a lovely pergola. There’s almost always a food truck parked out front. Great Burn Brewing, 2230 McDonald Ave, Missoula, MT 59801.
Don’t Skip It
Montana has a lot to offer and there is no shortage of things to do and places to go, but don’t skip Missoula. It’s about a seven-hour drive from Seattle. About eight hours from Portland. It makes for a lovely stopping spot as you head deeper into the state. Get a room and spend a couple nights. You won’t regret it.