Tamarack Brewing Co. in Lakeside, MT is doing some great things with beer. Sure, they’ve got a nice stable of always available beers, but that’s not what I like most about them. Rather, their quick rotation of small batches of creative beers means there’s almost always something new on tap, or just around the corner waiting to be explored. I was pleasantly surprised recently to find three such beers on tap, Headwall Double IPA, Great Pumpkin Brown Ale and Vanilla Bourbon Stout.
Tamarack is a bit different than most breweries in Montana. When you head into the facility to belly up to the bar, you’re not actually in the brewery, despite the fermentation tanks being a mere arms length away. Check out the picture to the left and you’ll see the great tap set up with the tanks in the background. Those tanks are only accessible through a separate entrance. Thanks to Montana’s quirky brewery laws a traditional “brewpub” isn’t possible. Tamarack has managed to create a facility that has the look and feel of a brewpub while still complying with Montana’s laws. Thus, when you order a beer or some of their very good food, you’re buying it from a separate business, not the brewery. (I’m assuming all of this, since I haven’t had a chance to confirm by asking.) That explains why the beer sales are not limited by amount or serving hours like Montana’s tap rooms. This separate business has its own alcohol sales license, in this case a full liquor license, and is not making direct sales from the brewery. Unfortunately, more breweries in Montana’s main cities are unlikely to be able to create a similar environment. The costs of obtaining an alcohol sales license isn’t economical thanks to Montana’s quota system. But enough about that (and more later in another post).
When you first enter Tamarack you’ll want to check out the chalkboard with a list of the day’s taps. The first six on the board are their year-round available beers. They are good, though none rising to the height of a top ten list for me. I’d generally rate them around three out of five hops. The Yard Sale Amber is growing on me and the Switchback Stout is a fine medium bodied stout. It is in the seasonals where Tamarack really excels. See the reviews below for the Headwall IPA, Great Pumpkin Brown Ale and Vanilla Bourbon Stout. It takes a lot to be able to keep things fresh. It takes capacity, for one, which not everyone has. It takes creativity along with the skill to implement it. And it also takes a bit courage – the courage to put out something new and sometimes challenging and hope it will be embraced by Montana’s beer drinkers. These are all things Tamarack is doing well.