Everything is wooden: the counters, benches, floors, walls and tree-ring decor. The high-beam ceiling stacks together like Lincoln Logs with rugged bark. Little family-like groups nest within the four seating areas, some high, some low.
I took everything in. The people here seemed at home. They played board games, laughed loudly without fear of disrupting those around them and greeted the bartenders by name. The men wore thick beards. Or hipster glasses. Or both. Almost everyone wore flannel and Chaco-like shoes. The room echoed with conversation that, from the looks on faces, seemed very important.
I felt lost and out of place as I made my way to the bar on the left side of the room. Two women worked fast behind it, filling mugs and charging cards. They reminded me of moms as they did everything with efficiency and grace.
“What would you like? We stop serving at 8.”
My phone read 7:58 PM.
“Um, what’s good here? I’ve never really been to a brewery before,” I said.
The bartender listed off their top brews of the day and suggested I try the Idaho Seven Single Hop, 6 ABV, 30 IBU (whatever that means). I said ok, and paid four dollars for my first craft brew.
It was…bitter. But smooth. It didn’t have much flavor, but it bubbled down my throat, leaving behind a warm, tingly sensation that made me smile. I took another sip. Then another.
It wasn’t anything life changing, nothing worth jumping and screaming about. But it was subtle and it tasted good, so I drank it.
Two days later, I was drinking again at my first ever Missoula brew fest. Underneath the Caras Park pavilion, dozens of breweries presented their most obscure and eccentric ales and ciders and IPAs. I bought my own little glass and some sticky green tokens to continue my brew-tasting adventure. I tried things like Space Dust, Dancing Trout and Cream Ale. There
were pear flavored things, grapefruit flavored things, Jasmine Green Tea flavored things.
Where the hell did these people come up with this stuff? Pear beer? Really?
I went with it. Some I liked, some I hated. But the more I drank, the more open I was to the idea of fruity beer.
Some folksy sounding band played and children ran around their drunken parents. One mother lost her daughter and the band described the little girl to the crowd three different times. One father laughed as his toddler reached for a drink, simply scolding, “Not yet, son,” as he almost reluctantly pulled the beer away.
I felt like I was missing something. It took me 21 years to get here and yet toddlers fit into the scene more than I did with their drunken gaits and drool-covered faces.
By the end of the night I’d tried 8 different brews from 6 different breweries, 5 from Montana, 1 from Seattle. I’d met 4 new people who gave me free beer tokens. I watched hundreds of Missoulians go in and out of the beer tent.
Missoula, Montana is known for its craft beer. We’ve got 8 breweries. Annual brewfests. A distinct brew culture that I am just tapping into. Craft brews are just another thing to attract hipsters and an elitist attitude, but also to bring together families and friends. I’m not sure where I fit into the mix, but from what I saw over the weekend, beer doesn’t discriminate.