The theme for Tamarack Brewing Co.’s new Missoula location must be something like “don’t mess with success.” While the exterior of the new location is relatively drab and a far cry from the Lakeside original, the interiors bear a very strong resemblance. Each features a large, squared-up-horseshoe shaped bar surrounding a line up of taps fed by tap lines dropping from the ceiling. Each has colorful chalkboards listing the day’s beer lineup. Stained concrete form the floors and each mixes in brick pillars, wood trim, and corrugated steel panels for a modern, industrial feel. Where brewing equipment is visible just beyond the bar up in Lakeside, in Missoula, clear glass provides a look into the keg room. Even the menus are the same.
Tamarack’s Lakeside location is typically lively and busy for both lunch and dinner. While it certainly benefits from being a unique brewery/restaurant in a small town that swells with tourism traffic, it also does what it does quite well. The Missoula location enters a much more crowded market. The menu – a nice blend of unique and traditional brew pub food – isn’t that much different from a number of other restaurants. Where it stands out is Tamarack’s ability to bring 10 or so taps of Tamarack beer that has not previously been available in Missoula. They’ve also added a few extra taps to offer other Montana craft beers.
We’ve checked out the new location twice, once for lunch and once for an evening pint and a snack. Because we’re familiar with the Lakeside location, having been there many times while traveling for work and fun, we naturally lean toward making comparisons. Thus far, the food has not been prepared nearly as well. We’ll assume that’s a function of working out the jitters of a new place. The downstairs part of Tamarack is loud. Really loud. Don’t get me wrong, with 19 televisions and a fun atmosphere, it’s supposed to be loud. Lively – and even loud- can be a good thing, but there’s an echo being created by the concrete floors and low ceilings that turns normally loud and fun conversations into uncomfortable noise. Hopefully there’s a fix for that.
The Lakeside location is lively, fun, and – yes – loud, but the high ceilings seem to dissipate the noise somewhat. Both locations also offer outdoor seating in warmer weather. The Lakeside location has a large, fantastic, shaded patio spot along a creek. Missoula’s location overlooks the always busy and fun Caras park area. Upstairs in Missoula there’s a few tables and a smaller bar where you can get growler fills and to-go orders while enjoying a pint.
The beer lineup includes Tamarack’s year-round offerings plus a few seasonals. One of the best things about the Lakeside location is the frequently changing small batch beers which have covered a wide variety of territory over the past few years. Hopefully that will be the case in Missoula, too. Tamarack’s one-and-done Headwall Double IPA remains one of my all time favorite imperial ipas. Tamarack’s year-round Hat Trick Hop IPA is a beer we reach for frequently. We ordered up a pint and followed it with a Sun Devil Red on nitro. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the Sun Devil Red is actually the Tamarack Hat Trick Hop IPA on nitro rather than standard carbonation. Actually, I don’t know any better. The Sun Devil Red is slightly darker, with a thick creamy head, but has the same hop and flavor profiles. The hop bitterness in the Sun Devil is somewhat muted compared to Hat Trick Hop IPA, but that’s what nitro does – it mellows out the flavors and softens the edges. Compare for yourself and let me know what you think. They’re both well worth exploring.