There are several entrances to Yellowstone National Park we could choose from when we visited last year, but Cody, Wyoming has a lot of advantages if you’re looking for a base instead of just a one-night stopover. Unlike in the other gateway towns, the Cody brewery scene ensures that you’ve got some fresh-brewed beer to try where it’s made if you’d like.
We spent a month driving around Wyoming and Montana and spent the last week of it in Cody. We wanted a Yellowstone base that was a real town, not just a collection of hotels, plus we managed to work out a home exchange so we could get some work done and go on some local hikes as well. (We got a happy surprise after arrival: the homeowner was a homebrewer who had two kegs connected to taps in his kitchen and said, “Help yourself” in the house notes.)
Cody was an interesting place to spend a week since few tourists do more than visit the Buffalo Museum of the West, do a little souvenir shopping, and collapse after a long day at Yellowstone. We got to explore the region a bit and enjoy the surrounding countryside between our visits to the national park.
There are two ways to get there from Cody, both stunning. Take the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway route to get to the northern entrance by Cooke City, where you also ride a bit on the Beartooth Highway. This gets you to the Lamar Valley where you’ll see the most roaming wildlife. Or go the more direct route through the gorgeous Buffalo Bill State Park to go by Yellowstone Lake to the geysers. The second takes about an hour, the first even more, but you’ll probably make a few stops to photograph the stunning scenery.
Then when you return at night, you’ll have a few places to experiment with when it comes to brewpubs and craft beer. Here’s where to pop in for a good craft beer in Cody.
Millstone Pizza Company and Brewery
You’ll note that the pizza comes first in the name of this Cody brewery and since this was the most crowded place in town when I visited on a weeknight, I’m going to assume that those pies are pretty good. I had already eaten dinner, but they smelled good.
The pizzas all bear generic names for what’s on them though, which also applies to the beer. The business owner here is definitely not a frustrated copywriter or ad exec because what you read is what you get. The pizzas bear names like BBQ Chicken or Vegetarian. The beers are just called what they are, like Pale Ale or Amber.
I was hoping for some revelation during my flight that would make me take this for the smug confidence of a master brewer, but alas, the flavors were straight-down-the-middle as if the recipes were chosen from a catalog, with no surprises. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a town where most of the tourists aren’t all that young or adventurous. What you see is what you get and for the locals at the bar in dirty baseball hats swapping hunting stories, the Blonde Ale is probably about as far away from Bud as they’re going to get anyway.
Thankfully, everything I tasted at Millstone was far better than mass-market gas station beer, so I’m not complaining. I’d go back again and get a big generic pizza pie with my unnamed pint and be a happy vacationer. I tried the two ales mentioned earlier, plus the amber and a coffee porter. All are in the range of 5.1 to 5.6 percent alcohol but when I visited a couple Red Lodge Ales were on tap too for those who are looking for more heft. Millstone Pizza and Brewery has another location in Powell. Located at the end of the main drag near Buffalo Bill Cody’s original hotel—Irma’s. See more at the company website.
WYOld West Taproom in Cody
If you know what you like and don’t need a bartender’s recommendation, the “pour your own” set-up at WYOld West Taproom will make you quite happy. They usually have 19 of their own beers on tap, blowing away anyone else in town, and you can get a lot more experimental here than at the other breweries or taprooms.
The way it works is, you buy a card that’s tied to your credit card and fill up a glass after tapping that card on reader as you’re pouring your beer. You get charged by the ounce, so you can taste two ounces to see if you like something or go for a full-on pint if you’re sure. Or you can make your own flight with a number of glasses and then go back for what you liked best. Most of the beers are between 29 and 39 cents per ounce, so you’re looking at pretty typical craft beer brewpub prices for a full glass.
Since I could try small quantities, I made my own flight of five random beers from the row of taps to see what was good. They generally brew four or five beers in this location, but I didn’t know which ones those were, so I grabbed what sounded like it would have some personality. Looking at their site now though, three are considered their signature specialties, so I guess I picked well.
The Kilted Cowboy is their take on a Scotch Ale. It was smoky thanks to their peat-smoked malt and this one packs a punch at 7.8% ABV. I tried the Buckin’ Ryed Honey Ale that used rye malt and a generous amount of local honey. I felt like this one was pulling my tastebuds in two directions, with a tough guy intro and then a sweet girly exit on the finish. I liked the Native Red IPA a lot more since it felt like a return to focus, but with a touch of maltiness to offset the bitterness of the hops. I really enjoyed the Oatmeal Homesteader Breakfast Stout the most. I’m not sure I’d start my day with it, but it was close to perfect for this kind of beer, with a luscious feel in the mouth.
If you’re not a real craft beer lover, WYOld West Taproom still has you covered. When I visited there was a Pink Slip Summer Ale that was one step removed from lemonade, a cream ale, and a blonde ale with peaches.
This is no drinking-only affair though. There’s a full-blown restaurant on site that covers a wide range of tastes. There are bar staples like chicken wings and pretzel bites, but also a wide range of sandwiches, burgers, pastas, steak, and some seafood. This company also has another location in Powell, Wyoming, where they launched originally in 2015 and that one has a busy pizza oven too. Located at 1022 13th St. and open until 10:30 six days a week. (Far later than the brewpubs in Montana.) See the details and a menu here.
Pat O’Hara Cody Brewery
Don’t expect Irish hospitality and good conversation here if my visit was any indication. It took me six minutes in a place that was 1/4 full before someone came over to ask if I wanted anything. Of the five beers on tap made in this location, three were out of stock.
So while Pat O’Hara Brewery looks more like a real brewpub than the others, it’s really more of a restaurant with choices from other breweries than a place where the resident brewer is eager to show off a variety of creations. I’d chalk it up to a bad night, but RateBeer.com only lists four beers from Pat O’Hara. The Attitude Adjustment Amber was calling my name since I’d drifted into a grumpy state and while it didn’t blow me away, it was a solid beer. By the time I finished it I started thinking maybe that bartender just had a lot on his mind…
The Livin’ the Dream IPA was a different story though. At first I thought maybe the guy had poured the wrong beer, but when I said, “This seems more like a cream ale than an IPA,” he replied, “Yeah, we get that a lot. But it’s good, right?” I really like cream ales, so yeah, I kept drinking it. If I were a local coming here on a regular basis though, I’d probably go for some of the other regional beers they have on tap from Red Lodge, Ten Sleep, Blacktooth, Snake River, or Lewis & Clark. There are a lot of great breweries in Montana and Wyoming, so it would take a while to make the rounds.
Pat O’Hara only has two brewing tanks in the middle of the bar area, which probably explains the limited selection. It’s surrounded by a bar you can belly up to, lots of tables for ordering food, and a few seats outside in warm months. See more at the official website.
Silver Dollar Bar’s Outdoor Seating
Since I’m writing this in the midst of a pandemic, when the USA has done the worst of any country on the planet in flattening the curve, you’re probably wondering how to drink safely if reading this soon after I posted it. If I were hitting Cody on a summer road trip this year, I’d probably choose to sit outside at the historic Silver Dollar Bar. When I was there they had someone playing live music and it would be easy to keep your physical distance from strangers in their large outdoor patio area.
The Silver Dollar is not a brewery. I’d guess they mostly serve Bud Light drafts and whiskey cocktails to this crowd sporting cowboy boots and biker tats, but you can order from a good selection of 16 craft beers on tap and more in bottles. The simple food that’s reasonably priced gets high marks from travelers too, especially the burgers and onion rings.
Three brewpubs and a variety of bars is a pretty good selection in a town with a population of 10,000, so the Cody Brewery scene is not bad if you want to base yourself in a place where you can drink well while exploring Wyoming. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in the pubs, check the local Albertsons supermarket. They’ve got a wide selection of craft beer from around the region and elsewhere. Cheers!