Christmas came early for beer-loving Missoulians, and it appears the buzz will last a while. The city finds itself flooded with a bevy of new craft breweries competing for Missoulians' beer buck—as if Missoula wanted for fantastic microbrews.
Three weeks ago, the Woods Bay-based Flathead Lake Brewing Company (FLBC) opened its new location at 424 N. Higgins Avenue. Don't let the plywood concealing the work being done to the building's façade fool you. The taproom upstairs has been hopping nightly, serving up FLBC's award-winning—and strong—beers, including seasonals like the Holiday Ale, a 7.4 percent ABV two-row pale ale with caramel, chocolate and honey malts blended with "holiday spicing." For those with a full belly and a ride home, FLBC offers its hoppy, lip-smacking IPA 2, which comes in at 8.9 percent ABV.
FLBC is just the beginning, though. Tamarack Brewing Company, a Lakeside-based brewer, plans to open an alehouse in the coming weeks at 231 W. Front Street, where the short-lived Whitewater Grill used to be. "The 'Rack" won't open in time for imbibers to sample its Cross-Eyed Christmas Ale, but its famous Old 'Stache Whiskey Barrel Porter, usually unveiled in February (and in the oak barrels right now, according to brewmaster Craig Koontz), might be on tap when the doors finally open.
FLBC and The Rack don't just offer more options to local drinkers—they're changing how local breweries operate. Both FLBC and The Rack offer full menus and stay open past 8 p.m. Since the establishments don't brew beer on the premises—like Big Sky, Kettlehouse and Bayern—they're exempt from the state's restrictive brewery laws. In fact, both FLBC and The Rack serve other local beers in addition to their own creations.
That's cool, but they better make enough room for all the taps. As if two new taprooms weren't enough, Missoula's Westsiders will have a new neighborhood watering hole when Hellgate Brewing Company opens at 806 W. Spruce Street. Lifelong Missoulian Paul Marshall says he and his business partner—both graduates of Chicago's Siebel Institute of Technology, known for its brewing program—are working out the details of the lease and could be pouring pints by March.
All of this beer talk makes us thirsty, and has us wondering if Missoulians can handle the doubling of the number of local breweries from three to six. Something tells us we're up to the challenge. Plus, if the recent crowds at FLBC are any indication, selling beer is probably about as recession-proof as any industry can be. Cheers.