Seemingly isolated and left adrift in the middle of Montana, the city of Missoula has become an attraction for visitors across the world. Blessed with unparalleled access to the Great Outdoors and beautiful waterways, Missoula has also developed a robust and steadfast brewery culture over several decades. Missoula breweries are some of the best in Montana and the American Northwest at large.
While it may not be the largest city in Montana—that distinction belongs to Billings—Missoula is the state’s home for great craft beer and breweries. Missoula’s first breweries began popping up in the 1980s, before much of the rest of the nation had even sampled craft beer. Before the new millennium, several Missoula breweries had started operations, brewing beers of note in Montana.
Big Sky Brewing in Missoula makes Moose Drool Brown Ale, the highest selling Montana-made beer. Missoula’s first microbrewery Bayern Brewing has become famous statewide for its decades-long long dedication to Bavarian lagers.
Now, recent brewing trends have made their way to Missoula to quench the thirst of Missoula’s numerous annual visitors. Beer tourists with a knack for outdoor adventure will find few destinations more fulfilling than Missoula and its surrounding woods, rivers and mountains.
To help you get the most out of your trip to Missoula, we’ve put together a helpful Missoula brewery guide. This breakdown includes where to find some of Missoula’s best breweries and eateries, as well as some other fun activities to do in Missoula.
BEST BREWERIES IN MISSOULA
Missoula has more than a dozen breweries spread across the city to check out.
Where the Hop Heads Go
More than just a brewery, Imagine Nation Brewing Co. serves as a community center for Missoula that has hosted more than 3,500 community events since opening. Whenever you stop in for a pint at Imagine Nation, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll stumble upon a trivia night, live music, a nonprofit fundraiser or even an appreciation night for certain professions.
It doesn’t hurt that they put out great beer, too. In particular, Imagine Nation brews loads of fantastic IPAs bursting with hop aromas. Fans of New England-style IPAs should prioritize a stop at Imagine Nation, where the brewers aren’t afraid to really pack in the hops.
Where to Grab a German Bier
Bayern Brewery, Missoula’s first microbrewery, brought German influence and flavors over stateside when the brewery opened in 1987. The brewery adheres to the standards set by the Reinheitsgebot, meaning its beers are clean representations of European lagers without additions of adjunct ingredients.
You won’t find pastry stouts loaded with dessert adjuncts at Bayern Brewery, nor fruited wild ales. Instead, Bayern Brewery dishes out European classics like Doppelbocks, Hefeweizen and a bunch of crisp lagers.
For a pro tip, hit up Bayern Brewing’s adjacent Edelweiss Bistro. The German restaurant has a menu full of Bavarian favorites, from wurst to schnitzel to obatzda.
Where to Find New Flavors
Now over a decade old, Draught Works Brewery in Missoula operates with a brewing philosophy that produces extremely clean brews. But don’t let that fool you, this brewery frequently likes to walk on the wild side. A trip to Draught Works all but guarantees trying some new flavors you’ve never tasted in a beer before.
Try Draught Work’s Leche de Tigre Sour Ale, which is based on the combination of ingredients used to cure ceviche. Expect lime juice, salt, ginger, cilantro and a good kick of spicy peppers to come through. Draught Works will always have something like this on tap, or you can try out one of the brewery’s line of hard seltzers.
AN AFTERNOON IN MISSOULA
Missoula is immediately surrounded by approximately 60,000 acres of wilderness, making the area incredibly appealing to outdoor enthusiasts. Because of the city’s location at the junction of several rivers and mountain ranges, there are endless opportunities for kayaking, rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking and more. There are even opportunities for surfing on the Clark Fork River.
This is all to say that a trip to Missoula spent entirely within the city limits is a trip not fully explored.
However, Missoula has so much going on that visitors should plan a day to walk around and enjoy the city’s amenities. To that end, nowhere else in the city has as much to offer for food, drinks and entertainment as the Heart of Missoula.
This neighborhood encompasses downtown Missoula and runs along the Clark Fork River. Many river trails dot both banks of the Clark Fork River, allowing for scenic views of the area while walking from stop to stop.
In downtown Missoula, beer tourists will be happy to find several breweries and craft beer bars serving some of Montana’s finest suds. Found mere blocks away from each other, Cranky Sam Public House, Conflux Brewing Company and Tamarack Brewing Co. all serve their own locally-crafted brews. Conflux Brewing and Tamarack Brewing both have patios to take in the pleasant Missoula weather, as well.
Found east of Higgins Avenue, The Dram Shop offers another opportunity to take in local brews. The craft beer bar doesn’t make anything in house, but its bar showcases locally-made beers from Missoula. You’d be hard pressed to find a wider selection of Montana-made beers on a bar menu anywhere else.
Whether you elect to eat before or after visiting the pubs, there are plenty of downtown Missoula restaurants to fit a variety of palates.
Open since the 1990s, Catalyst Cafe is now a Missoula institution. The coffee house serves up breakfast platters enjoyed by University of Montana students, old timers and tourists alike. Catalyst Cafe is known for its large breakfast plates and vegan- and vegetarian-friendly menu.
Found on the north end of downtown Missoula, Golden Yolk Griddle is another fine breakfast selection for pancake and biscuit enthusiasts. Brazilian street food slinger Five On Black offers a quick, but delicious lunch option while exploring Missoula.
For something more upscale, try Plonk off Higgins Avenue. The restaurant has a menu featuring local product and wine and cocktail menus that elevate the dining experience.
If you suffer from a sweet tooth (and really, don’t we all?) then there is no place better to visit than Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. The Montana-based ice cream parlor chain crafts its ice cream using local dairy and specialty ingredients such as apricot jam, honey sponge cake, locally-grown cherries and much, much more.
After a long afternoon of ice cream, breakfast platters and craft brews, a scenic walk probably wouldn’t hurt. The Higgins Avenue bridge crosses over the Clark Fork River and connects to walking trails on the south bank. You can stop along the pedestrian path on the western side of the bridge to watch river surfers carve up the water on Brennan’s Wave.
Just on the other side of the bridge from downtown Missoula, there are two more attractive stops for craft beer enthusiasts—GILD Brewing and KettleHouse Brewing Co.’s Southside taproom.
KettleHouse has been open in Missoula’s Southside since 1995 and has grown into a local craft beer staple. The brewery specializes in nothing and everything at once, opting to brew a wide variety of beer styles for the drinking public.
GILD Brewing is newer to the scene than KettleHouse, but is no less appealing than the Missoula mainstay. The brewery keeps a decent number of in-house brews rotating on its tap wall, typically evenly split between lagers and ales. GILD may further offer the best option to close out the night, as the brewery serves a dining menu featuring local produce and meat, as well as house-made tortillas.
More importantly, though, GILD also houses a basement arcade bar where you can find classic pinball machines and arcade cabinets. Pints with pinball? We’ll drink to that.
Swing by these sites to document your trip to Missoula.
The man-made wave in the heart of downtown Missoula allows for people to surf the Clark Fork River. If you’re a proficient enough paddler or surfer, give the wave a shot yourself. Otherwise you can enjoy the sight of freshwater surfing from the Higgins Avenue bridge.
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
Driving 30-minutes north of Missoula will take you to Arlee, home of the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. The site was built as an international center for peace and arranged to represent the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
This 3.5-mile hike-in, hike-out trail takes approximately 2 hours to finish and takes you to a scenic overlook of Missoula. The Waterworks Hill trail is popular for runners, bikers and even the occasional pup.
WORTH THE DRIVE – BONNER
Due just east of Missoula and where the Blackfoot River meets the Clark Fork River sits the small town of Bonner. Train enthusiasts will enjoy an old Northern Pacific Railroad depot found on the western skirts of town, but the true gem of Bonner lies east—the KettleHouse Amphitheater.
Opened in 2017, this outdoor concert venue overlooks the banks of the Blackfoot River and showcases the wondrous landscape of the surrounding Montana wilderness. Connected to the adjacent Bonner taproom of KettleHouse Brewing Co., the amphitheater offers a truly one-of-a-kind concert experience.
KettleHouse Brewing Co. partnered with Missoula-based Logjam Presents, a live entertainment company, to build the outdoor concert venue. The KettleHouse Amphitheater regularly draws large acts to the shores of the Blackfoot River, meaning there will be a great show scheduled whenever you visit. Don’t skip on visiting the KettleHouse Brewing Co. Bonner taproom while you’re in town.
There are two overlooks directly outside of Missoula that are worth a stop, as well.
The Milltown State Park Overlook is a state park that provides a panoramic view of converging rivers and mountain ranges. Three miles of hiking trails connect riverside paths to the overlook, allowing for a relaxing—but rewarding—day of hiking.
Slightly north of East Missoula sits Mount Jumbo, a popular attraction for visiting hikers. The sloping mountain offers an easy afternoon excursion for hikers and bikers to get a gorgeous view of the Missoula Valley. The trail is also rife with local flora and fauna, where it is not uncommon to run across fields of mountain wildflowers, butterflies and elk.
Interact with the map below to navigate to every stop mentioned in this article, and have fun exploring Missoula!