beer, History

Montana : Big Sky Country

November 1889 was a big month for the growing United States, with the addition of 4 states in just 10 days. We already covered two of those states, North Dakota and South Dakota. This week, we will cover Montana. Known for its mountain ranges, and famous parks, Montana is ranked 48th in population density,  with only Wyoming and Alaska having fewer residents. But that low density ranking isn’t reflected in the brewers currently operating in the state. In fact, Montana came in 3rd on 2012 for capita per brewery, with a total of 36 breweries operating in the state at that time.

The history of Montana brewing is long, going all the way back to the Gilbert Brewery in 1863 (a full 26 years before statehood) which still stands today. Gilbert Brewery produced beer for 57 years, until the onset of Prohibition forced the company to switch to brewing sodas and non-alcoholic beverages. Like many of the other breweries of its time, this product transition did not bode well, and by the time prohibition was repealed, the brewery was no longer savable.

In fact none of the early breweries successfully made it out the other side of Prohibition, as can been seen in the chart here. Of all the currently operating breweries, Bayern Brewing is the oldest. Opened in Missoula in 1987, Bayern is “Proud to be the only German Brewery in the Rocky Mountains.”

Montana Craft Beer

Big Sky Brewery

We were not fortunate enough to get our hands on any beer from Bayern,  but we did get beer from another Missoula craft brewer — Big Sky Brewing. Inspired by what Bayern was doing in Missoula, Big Sky felt there was room in Missoula for another brewer, and since their speciality was English ales, they knew there was no conflict with their neighbor.

The first beer from Montana that we opened was an IPA called Big Sky I.P.A. This IPA, with its caramel color and sweet smell didn’t resemble a typical IPA, so we were not sure what to expect. The taste was surprising. The sweetness, that was apparent in the up front smell mixed perfect with the bitterness of the hops to help mellow out all of the flavors and make this an easy beer to drink. Overall, this was listed as a good IPA that we would all go back and have another.

After the Big Sky, we opened a brown ale called Moose Drool. Since early in the project we have developed a curiosity towards brown ales, so weird name and all, we were looking forward to trying this one out. In the glass, this beer had the smell of smoky, which quickly turned off a few of the tasters. However 2 others stuck with it, and the interesting characteristics of these elusive brown ales started to shine through. The malty taste, with the slight smoky after tones all made this a beer that was enjoyed by half of the party.

The final beer of the evening, Brush Tail,  was Big Sky’s take on a traditional farmhouse saison. In retrospect, this probably should have been the first beer opened for the evening, but, well, the order got messed up, and this is how it ended up. This beer, with its high level of carbonation, had a distinct fruity smell and a light colored head that made it look enjoyable. This beer was light and crisp, and the carbonation lent to a clean mouthfeel. Overall a great beer, enjoyed by all.

In the end, Montana did us right. We enjoyed all three brews, and would love to someday venture westward to take in some of these brews in their natural habitat.

Next up. Washington.

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beer, History

South Dakota : Great Faces. Great Places

Did you know that North Dakota and South Dakota became states on the same day? Me either. It was the only time in U.S. history that two news states joined the Union on the same day: November 2, 1889. Both of these states came from the Dakota Territory which formed in 1861.

While the brewing industry was sparse in North Dakota, its souther sister state had a much different story. The first records of breweries operating in South Dakota appear 12 years prior to statehood, in the town of Deadwood. Quickly growing to a population of 5000 people, after the discovery of gold, Deadwood also attracted entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on the needs of the prospectors.  With 23 saloons operating during the 1870s, there were multiple breweries satisfying their needs, such as Lead City, Black Hills and Central City to name just a few.

While South Dakota had a bustling pre-statehood brewing industry, one of the first laws passed in the new state was prohibition. This early attempt at prohibition lasted for 7 years, but it did little to stop the production and consumption of beer throughout the Black Hills. Because of this lack of enforcement, when the National Prohibition rolled around, the brewers expected the same level of enforcement. This was not the case however, and upon learning that they were about to get shutdown and had to dump their stock, one brewer took a proactive stance:

The manager, Schlichting, quickly alerted the area that drinks were “on the house.”  After giving away case after case of bottled beer, and allowing patrons to drink all they could, numerous kegs of beer still remained. So, they dumped the beer into Deadwood Creek. To this day, folks tell of the time the creek flowed with a foamy head. (source)

 

To commemorate the 40th state of the Union, we were able to try two different brews from Crow Peak Brewing in the city of Spearfish.

South Dakota Craft Beer

Crow Peak Brewing Co. Canyon Cream Ale and 11th Hour IPA

The first beer of the evening was a Canyon Cream Ale. This beer, which was very light in color, is listed on the brewers site as a light bodied ale, malty dominated with a slight sweet flavor. While I didn’t get the sweetness, which comes from local honey, I did enjoy the light and creamy taste of this beer. There wasn’t any one flavor that over powered this beer, making it something enjoyable and fun to drink. In fact, I just grabbed another one to keep me company as I write this post.

The second and final beer of the evening was also from Crow Peak. This beer was an IPA called the 11th Hour. This beer was quite hoppy, with a slight bitterness that remained for a bit after each sip. This beer too was well received for the evening.

In the end, we had a great time with these selections from South Dakota. And it was great learning a few things about the state along the way.

Short post this week, thanks for reading.

Next state is Montana.

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beer, History

North Dakota : Legendary

As we approach the end of the year (and the end of this project), the official statehood date for each of the remaining states drifts further away from the founding days of our country. As a result, the beer industry history for these states becomes sparse, with a more modern focus. As Prohibition approached, it became harder for each new state to make a mark in brewing history.

For the states that had a well established pre-Probition brewing industry, the ability to restart at the end of prohibition was an easier task. However, for those states that did not have an established brewing industry, there were few influences  to help reverse the laws after the passing of the 21st amendment. For these states, the effects of Prohibition often lived on much longer than the law itself.

This week, we are celebrating the beer of North Dakota, a state that joined the Union in 1889. To put that into perspective, Adolphus Bush began brewing a light Bohemian lager called Budweiser 13 years earlier.

For North Dakota, the most noted early brewery in the state was the Dakota Malting and Brewing Company which operated from 1961 through 1965. At that point, the brewing industry in the country was transforming into a few large brewers.

When the Dakota Malting and Brewing Company closed up shop in 1965, no other brewer operated in the state until 2011. Issues such as distribution fees, production maximums, and residents (lack of) taste for craft beer were all major factors in this beer drought.  However a few intrepid home brewers decided end this era and share their hobby with the public.

One of those home brewers was Mike Frohlich, the co-owner of Laughing Sun Brewery which we were very lucky to have the opportunity to experience some beer from this week. Also joining us this week were some other folks also on a quest for the 50 state experience.

North Dakota Craft Beer

Laughing Sun does not bottle their beer, so this week you are reprieved from bad photos of beer bottles.

The first beer we cracked into was called Sinister Pear. Earlier in the year, we had a Prickly Pear beer from Shiner, but a prickly pear is a cactus, not a tree fruit, so this would be the first pear beer of the project. And the first pear beer anyone of us ever tried. In the glass, this beer was light golden and cloudy. The flavor was nicely balanced, with a slight hint of fruitiness from the pear. I was expecting a more powerful fruit taste, and was pleasantly surprised with subtleness of fruit in this beer. While it wasn’t a beer that you would sit around a fire and drink a six pack of (meaning it did not pass Dawne’s  Solo cup test), it was an interesting beer that was full of character.

Moving on from the Pear, we opened a Pale Ale called the 109. This beer was a golden honey color in the glass, a bit darker than I expected for a Pale Ale. It was also hoppier than a typical Pale Ale, which wasn’t a problem, but it was different. I would describe this beer as a typical ale that has a slight bitter finish. I really enjoyed it, would have drank more if I had it.

Very strawberry forward and wheat at the end

Next we tried a Strawberry Wheat. In the glass, this beer was really pale, and it had a distinct strawberry nose. This beer had mixed reactions around the table. Everyone enjoyed it, but there were comments that it reminded some folks (including me) of a childhood cereal. In the end, we deduced it might have been from the combination of the strawberry flavor mixed with the wheat. Two common cereal ingredients.

After the Strawberry Wheat, we opened up a Sultan’s Revenge. This beer, with its nice caramel color, was loaded with a piney hops smell. It was a very enjoyable beer that while super hoppy left no bitter after-taste. It was an all around favorite among the group.

And, we finished off the evening with a Porter called Black Shox Porter. This beer was all about the malt. It was the first thing you could smell in the glass, and it was right in front for the flavor. Presenting itself as a flavor mix of chocolate and coffee, this beer was mild but full of character and enjoyable flavors. There was no after-taste at all with this beer, making it rather pleasant to drink. More please.

North Dakota Craft Beer

Laughing Sun Brewery

In the end, we really enjoyed the beer from North Dakota, and are pulling for the craft beer industry in the state. Thanks for Eliane and Lee for joining us this week, we really enjoyed your company, and hope we furthered your quest for 50 states by a few more beers. Thanks to all the readers for tagging along again this week, and special thanks to the folks at Laughing Sun Brewery for making an enjoyable beer. We really enjoyed them.

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