Craft beer, small-batch spirits and award-winning wines entice visitors to Northwest Montana

After a day on the mountain snow, hiking or skiing the trails, biking through the scenery or just strolling through quaint downtowns, one can appreciate that in recent years, Northwest Montana has become a veritable oasis of breweries, distilleries and wineries.

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 the preferred potable, the vibrant city of Kalispell serves as an ideal jumping-off point for a tasting tour of the region.

BREWERIES

Montana as a whole ranks second nationally in per-capita breweries, according to the National Brewers Association. Even so, the Flathead Valley boasts some of the state’s best-known and most creative breweries.

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 know it as home to an array of unusual seasonal offerings including bourbon barrel-aged porter and huckleberry wheat. http://www.greatnorthernbrewing.com

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. http://flatheadlakebrewing.com/

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. http://www.tamarackbrewing.com

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.  http://www.glacierbrewing.com/

As if that’s not enough, plans are under way for the first-ever brewery in Kalispell. In late spring or early summer 2013, professional skiers Cole Schneider and his wife, Maggie Doherty, will open the doors of the Kalispell Brewing Company in an old building at the corner of Fourth and Main Streets. The 10,000-square-foot, two story tasting room will feature live music and other events, plus five to seven beers on tap.

DISTILLERIES

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. http://www.glacierdistilling.com

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. https://whistlingandy.com/

WINERIES

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. http://www.missionmountainwinery.com/

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. http://www.flatheadlakewinery.com/

HOME BASE: KALISPELL

In the center of it all lies the mountain town of Kalispell, a friendly community that serves as a perfect launching point to strike out in search of adventure in every direction. Kalispell is the gateway to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Whitefish and all of the recreation, art, shopping, lodging and adventure that northwestern Montana has to offer. Getting to Kalispell has never been easier thanks to direct air service from Seattle, Las Vegas, Oakland, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Atlanta — as well as daily Amtrak service to Chicago and Seattle.

Visit www.DiscoverKalispell.com, where you will find a tasting tour map as well as links to lodging and other local amenities.


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