Chug-a-lug: Missoula ranked America’s 9th best beer city

Craft beer-swigging Missoulians will be happy to hear that their home, well regarded among beer connoisseurs who track beer numbers, ranks 9th nationwide among Best Beer Cities.

In a new study, SmartAsset analyzed data on the number of breweries, concentration of bars and price of a domestic pint to find the best cities for beer drinkers coast to coast.

SmartAsset uses a formula based on 350 of the largest United States cities, factoring in the total number of breweries, number of breweries per 100,000 residents, average number of beers per brewery, the number of bars per 100,000 residents and, last but not least, the average price of a pint of domestic draught beer.

Paul Marshall, who co-founded Draught Works in 2011 with Jeff Grant, said Missoula should be ranked even higher.

“I tend to think of Missoula as a top 5 on a list of best craft beer cities in the U.S.,” said Marshall, 49. “I would only concede Portland, San Diego and Denver. We have more history with craft beer with Bayern and Big Sky, and therefore the palate of the Missoula beer drinker is more sophisticated than those other places. I’ve been drinking craft beer since I was a young man … and we have that history here.”

The only other Montana city to crack the top 50 was Billings, which came in at 41st in terms of best prices, best variety of beer and availability.

“Both (Montana) cities rank in the top half of the study for all five metrics in our study,” reads the SmartAsset web page. “They stand out in particular for their high concentration of breweries and bars per 100,000 residents.”

The top three cities on the Best Beer Cities list, considerably larger than Missoula in population and size, are No. 1 Cincinnati, Ohio, with an average of 24 breweries per 100,000 residents; No. 2 St. Louis, Missouri, with nearly 35 per 100,000 residents; and Portland, Oregon, with 46 breweries for every 100,000 residents.

Asheville, North Carolina, is No. 4 and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is No. 5 on the list.

Missoula craft beer drinkers, Marshall said, are more knowledgeable than their counterparts in many of the other cities on the Best Beer Cities list.

Danielle Brooker and Markie Russell, Draught Works employees, pour beer during the brewery’s Christmas Steamer, an annual Friday event in December. (Courtesy/Draught Works)

Missoula is a craft beer pioneer, as three early breweries comprised the first wave of Missoula breweries in the late 1990s and early 2000s, followed by Draught Works in 2011, during what Marshall called “the second wave.”

“We have such a great history because of Bayern, KettleHouse and Big Sky (breweries),” added Marshall. “I was in Pittsburgh years ago and no one was drinking craft beer. It’s that history thing for me; it means that the average craft beer drinker here in Missoula is more savvy.”

Missoulians, he said, remain adventurous when it comes to testing new brews.

“They’ve tried more types of beers. Some of the bigger cities just got craft beer say, in the last 10 years. When the big hop phase really got going in the late ’90s and 2000s, we were already drinking hop beers here in Missoula. Asheville is a fantastic town now, but just does not have the history we have.”

Missoula, home to nine breweries, boasts the lowest average price for a pint, at $3.50 – in the SmartAsset ranking – good enough to rank in the top 10% in the study.

“No way,” said Marshall, who estimated that the average price of a brew in Missoula is probably now $4.50 a pint. A Draught Works pint averages $5, he said.

Draught Works offers 19 different beers on tap, but Marshall generously credits the earlier Missoula craft beer visionaries.

“Craft consumers have been drinking beers here for years and years,” he added. “Montana is a great craft state and other than a few of the big craft towns, it’s hard to argue with our history and the consumers we have. They have supported the craft beers so well.”

SmartAsset drew much of its data and methodology in the study from www.ratebeer.com.