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Road Trip: Beer Where People Aren't 

Feel the need to roam? The Source's beer guy heads across U.S. Route 2 and the Great Northern Plains

Thirsty travelers cruising through Sidney, Mont., should check out this local brewery. Photo by Kevin Gifford.

Thirsty travelers cruising through Sidney, Mont., should check out this local brewery. Photo by Kevin Gifford.

With any road trip, the emphasis rightly deserves to be on the roads taken. If time is abundant and solitude is one of the main priorities, there are few better options than U.S. Route 2, which starts outside Seattle, goes on until Ontario, and is mostly a barren two-lane blacktop in between.

Spokane, covered here last week, is the largest population center U.S. Route 2 runs through. Beyond that the highway traverses the Idaho panhandle and Montana's Glacier National Park, going up through the snowy mountains before racing along the northern Great Plains where bison, and the tribes that hunted them, used to be everywhere. The road eventually runs along Michigan's Upper Peninsula before reaching Montreal.

U.S. Route 2 is home to a lot of sleepy towns—some still industrial and prosperous, some successfully remaking themselves into resort towns, and some which look and act like Nixon is still president. But like everywhere else in the United States, craft beer is growing. Some of the highlights:

MickDuff's Brewing (Sandpoint, ID)

This town on the shore of Idaho's largest lake, just a few miles away from Canada, is home to a successful brewery taproom that allows dogs and offers a wide variety. The Tipsy Toehead blonde is good after a day out on the beach, although a dunkel or bourbon-barrel stout is better during the frigid winters. Sandpoint also has an oddly wide selection of sketchy-yet-friendly dive bars, including the smoking-permitted Tam O' Shanter.

Meadowlark Brewing (Sidney, MT)

Sidney and the rest of eastern Montana, near the border to North Dakota, has grown rapidly in recent years due to the Bakken shale-oil boom. Its downtown is Old West—the old and dirty kind, not the sort one sees in Sisters—but in the midst of it is this spot, looking almost out of place with the clean hipster feel indoors. Grab a Snowflake vanilla winter ale with a sandwich and some knoephla soup, a chicken/dumpling stew that's everywhere in this region.

Rhombus Guys Brewing (Grand Forks, ND)

Located in another large old building in another nicely-aged Midwestern town, this is one that's been lovingly renovated since a flood in 1997 ravaged the downtown. It says a lot about beer's advance across the U.S. that a place like this can have a kettle sour ale on tap (rhubarb was available at the last visit) and the locals can't get enough of it. Visit the nearby JL Beers, a Dakotan beer-and-sandwich chain, if you're nostalgic for Deschutes—or maybe Bell's or Odell Brewing, our hometown giant's big-craft rivals in the Midwest.

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