Lots of cities have jumped on the bandwagon and started some kind of “beer trail,” but often that “trail” involves you getting in and out of your car, which is not a good idea. With the Billings breweries in Montana, however, you can check out the craft beer scene on foot, walking from brewery to brewpub downtown.
Billings was my last stop in the state and I did a lot of Montana craft beer research the weeks before. (More on that in a later post.) Every sizable town has a least one brewpub these days and the overall quality is quite high. Billings is the largest city in the state, however, so it makes sense that they would have the biggest walking beer trail.
I set out to explore the BIllings Brew Trail with a group of thirsty explorers on a rainy afternoon when it was not a good day for outdoor activities anyway. Our first stop on the walking tour I took was to Yellowstone Valley Brewing. This brewery has one of the largest taprooms in the area, with a big stage where they host musical performances.
There are quite a few interesting aspects of this place, including bar stools made from old kegs, glass hanging lights filled with barley, a big neon light, and my favorite sign I saw all day, pictured here to the right. Their most popular beer is a huckleberry wheat beer, but my favorites were the Church Key Summer Ale and the Ro Sham Bo amber lager. You’ll sometimes see their Black Widow Oatmeal Stout out in other bars, along with the Huckle-Weizen.
From Beer to Cider on the Billings Brew Trail
We then made our way to the Last Chance Cider Mill. They have been making quality hard cider since last 2016 and didn’t go halfway on the equipment. Their new press can squeeze out 350 gallons of apple juice per hour. Most of the apples come from Michigan, but they do have a Full Montana offering made from only locally grown apples.
We got to meet the chief cider brewer Travis, who told us they are probably going to produce 40,000 gallons of their product this year. He also said cider was the first alcoholic product sold without taxes in the independent-minded United States of America, so there’s a long heritage. It takes about four weeks for the apple juice to get to commercially sold cider.
Kind of ironically, their three best-sellers all have something else mixed in to ferment with the apples: Flathead Cherry, Pearfection, and Hiphopopotamous. That last one was my favorite of the bunch, though I did like the pear one as well and I enjoyed the Pippen apples cider. The Last Chance Cider Mill is not just a taproom either: they have a very attractive restaurant on site serving delicious food. They serve beer from sister company Red Lodge Brewing down the road to the south and a few wines if you don’t like beer or cider. See customer reviews here.
On to Famous Uberbrew
Ubërbrew Billings seems to be the city’s most popular brewery. I asked every local I met what their favorite beers were and almost everyone named at least one beer from here. “Über” means “superlative” and I have to say Uber the beer company performed much better than Uber the car service. When 500 travel bloggers overwhelmed the latter it meant long wait times and jacked-up rates during the TBEX conference.
Their White Noise wheat beer seems to be one of the home town favorites here and you’ll see it in bars, restaurants, and stores all over the city. Also popular enough to be in cans are a cream ale, a popular fruity beer called Pink Slip, and an IPA. Their Überspezial Viennese amber ale won a silver in this year’s North American Beer Awards. I liked that one a lot and also was happy with the Humulus Nebulous IPA I tried.
Get a Sour Beer at Thirsty Street
Thirsty Street Brewing Company is best known for its sour beers, which it manages to make in the same facility as its regular one thanks to a well walled-off section for the wild yeasts to go crazy on their own. The facility feels more like an artisan brewery than the other Billings breweries, run by people who are trying to be real experimental craftsmen. It’s not easy to make Belgian style beers well, especially sours, so there’s a high level of dedication going on.
That doesn’t mean they don’t embrace fun though. There’s a great game room with pool, darts, tabletop shuffleboard, and sometimes live music. They serve hot dogs and sausages made from meat supplied by local farms.
Some of their most popular sours are made with peaches or Flathead cherries, then they make a variety of non-sour Belgians, including a wit beer. These sour styles are just one part of the beer menu though. I had an excellent nut brown ale and wish I could have the German chocolate nitro stout appear as my dessert next time I’m eating out. They also make IPAs, other stouts, and a Belgian blonde.
Other Billings MT breweries on the trail we didn’t make it to are Montana Brewing Company, Angry Hank’s, and Carter’s Brewing. Montana Brewing Company just celebrated its 25th birthday and I had the custom one they make for a nearby bar–Hooligan’s Irish Red Ale–when we wanted to stay out late (see the laws section below). Angry Hank’s makes two popular ones you’ll find all over: another wheat beer (they love that stuff here) called Anger Management and another that was my personal favorite of the strong sellers: Street Fight red ale.
Strange Billings MT Breweries Laws
There are a few Montana oddities in the drinking law you have to be aware of when visiting Billings breweries. Otherwise you’ll keep finding yourself asking, “WTF?” and will immediately be pegged as an out-of-towner. First of all, thanks to either matronly laws or ones designed to favor the regular bars that were already in place, opening hours are limited at the taprooms. The result is that Montana is a day drinker kind of state if you like craft beer. Most of the Billings breweries are closing up just as the ones in other states are starting to get fun. Some of them close at 10 p.m., Uberbrew closes and 9:00, and several others close at 8.
Poor Yellowstone Valley Brewing has to really get people to show up on time for their concerts: the place is only open from 4:00 to 8:30 p.m. Your best bet for getting comfortable for a while on weekends is Thirsty Street or Montana Brewing Company: somehow the former gets to open at noon and stay open until 11 on Fridays and Saturdays, while the latter is the only one mentioned here that’s open past midnight. Apparently they get around the rule by “buying” their beer from a brewery (that they own) which has a different name. Their restaurant is clearly the main focus for their public face: they don’t even have their beers listed on their website!
The other strange thing you’ll notice right away is some kind of system to keep track of how many drinks you’ve had, usually with tickets. It’s funny to watch the perplexed looks on visitors’ faces and then hear the questions. (“Did I win something?” “Do I get a free drink if I get enough of these?” “I don’t remember playing Skee-ball…”) Due to the Montana legislature being oh so concerned about your health, you are only allowed to drink 48 ounces in one sitting—3 pints. So sip slowly if it’s Sunday afternoon and you’ve come to watch two back-to-back football games. It doesn’t matter that your hotel is two blocks away, so don’t try asking for an exception.
There’s an obvious loophole to this though: just go to another pub! (Also, many breweries sell bottles or cans for takeout.)
Billings Travel Practicalities
See more information on the Billings Brew Trail at the official tourism website and follow links from there to the other pubs not covered here. They have a nice brewery map on there that will guide you along the walk and there’s a physical one distributed around town.
If you’re not a big craft beer fan, some of these spots do serve other brewed beverages, like cider and kombucha, but some have a full bar too. Otherwise head to Asylum Distillery, which is between Uberbrew and Last Chance. They make the Straight Jacket line of spirits. The tasting room with cocktail bar features an electric chair and pictures of real inmates on the walls.
Find your ideal hotel in Billings at Booking.com or check prices at Bonwi and you can earn points back to apply to future hotel stays, a rental car, or a flight. Most of the major chains have a presence here, but the best hotel in town is also close to the Brew Trail: the Northern Hotel.
Want to join up with a local tour or excursion? There’s a lot to do in this region. You get a low price guarantee on day tours with Viator.
Editor Tim Leffel was a guest of Billings Tourism during the TBEX North America 2019 conference and was plied with a few complimentary samples at brewpubs along the route. This post contains affiliate links, which helps us keep the virtual lights on, but you will never pay more clicking from here than if you just put the regular URL in your browser.