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many of the other breweries of its time, this product transition did not bode well, and by the time prohibition was repealed, the brewery was no longer savable.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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