The buzz around town

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Jody McLeod and Britteny Jones run Big Sky Brews Cruise, which takes customers to a variety of breweries around the Flathead Valley. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

It’s no secret that the Flathead Valley has its share of quality microbreweries.

Through Big Sky Brews Cruise, Britteny Jones and Jody McLeod hope to show visitors and locals what the buzz is all about.

Jones and McLeod in June started Big Sky Brews Cruise, a brewery tour that takes customers around a variety of breweries in Whitefish, Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Bigfork.

Jones said she and McLeod have done similar tours in cities like Bend, Oregon, and Denver. Bringing it to the Flathead only seemed natural, she said.

“People go to a lot of breweries with friends, and you have to have a designated driver — especially when you’re all the way out in Lakeside or something — so we just thought it would be a good way to connect the dots, essentially,” Jones said.

Big Sky Brews Cruise operates as part of the national Brews Cruise Inc. The Flathead Valley tour includes Whitefish and Columbia Falls, Kalispell and mixed tour packages.

I had the pleasure of attending one of Brews Cruise’s recent Whitefish tours as part of a tough journalistic assignment.

Along with four visitors to Whitefish — Anton, Nancy, Dana and John — we hopped in Brews Cruise’s van and headed off to our first brewery.

Our first brewery exploration came at Great Northern Brewery, which first opened up shop in Whitefish in 1995.

Upstairs in the balcony overlooking the brewing facilities, we started drinking, sampling beers while Jones explained some of the history of the brews and what makes them unique.

For McLeod, the learning aspect of the tours is a fun way to engage their customers.

“I think what we’re really trying to do is just share a love of craft beer with anybody — locals, tourists — and then there’s the component of learning a little bit,” she said. “Everyone likes drinking and trying new types of beer, but we want them to learn how the beer is made, making it fun and educational at the same time, so you’re not just being dropped off, we want to interact with them.”

Jones agrees.

“I didn’t realize the stories behind each of the breweries, or even their facilities or beer, are so different and unique. How they got started, when they got started, why they brew the beers they brew — it’s fun to share that too,” she said.

Having lived in Whitefish for more than two years now, I was familiar with beers like the Going-to-the-Sun IPA or the Wild Huckleberry Lager. However, I’d yet to try the Big Mountain Tea Pale Ale and the Glacier Chaser.

Following the taste testing, we took a tour of the brewing facilities, learning about the brewing process and Great Northern’s history.

Then it was back in the van, this time off to Montana Tap House on Wisconsin Avenue.

While not a brewery, Montana Tap House does offer Kalispell Brewing Co.’s Two Ski Brewski Pilsner and the Timber IPA, which is brewed by students at Flathead Valley Community College.

A low-key midpoint in the trip, it was here where we chatted away and met McLeod.

McLeod said getting to know new customers through casual conversations about beer is a big highlight for her.

“I really like meeting all the new people and talking about beer. I had to learn a lot — I love beer, but I didn’t know a lot about beer. So it’s been fun to share the things I’ve learned with somebody else,” she said.

In our final stop, the Brews Cruise van brought us to Bonsai Brewing Project. Bonsai opened in 2014 and alongside its variety of beers, offers a full food menu and a dog-friendly yard.

We concluded the afternoon by sampling the Lil Blond Honey, Initiation Pale Ale, Sheriff John Brown and the Unkindness Stout, all the while making conversation.

When the tour ended and the buzz began to wear off, the van dropped us off at the Depot Park gazebo. We said our goodbyes, and I thanked McLeod and Jones for showing us around and teaching me about places I thought I already knew.

Simply put, they’re happy to share their knowledge.

“We love beer,” McLeod said.

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