Thursday, May 05, 2005

Beer Under the Big Sky

I'm sure somewhere in east Montana, where the horizon stretches for more than 180 degrees because it's so damned flat, there's more than enough reason to call it Big Sky country. Where I've been in the Livingston / Bozeman area, there are almost enough mountains to blot out the sky entirely. But that is exactly why the mountain region of West Montana has beauty beyond any flat, treeless plain in eastern Montana. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that's very nice, too. As nice as nothingness can be, which it can.

Mid-April, my wife and I made an unexpected trip to Livingston (her hometown) for the funeral of her grandfather. A great man who had a great impact on the entire community in the town of 7000 or so. He was 88 so I guess you could say it was "expected" but you probably understand how weightless that statement is in the face of such a loss. At least he went peacefully and in his own home. And by the way, the funeral was beautiful as expected for a funeral director from his funeral director son (my father-in-law).

So, during and after most of the tears had been shed, of course we had a few drinks in honor of Jack Davis's passing. And while the brewing industry seems to be relatively "new" to the area, there are certainly quite a few gems among the local brews that are worth mention, and a few that might not be but I'll rap about them anyhow.

First, my favorite of all of the Montana brews.

Moose Drool
Big Sky Brewing Company, Missoula, MT

They call it their brown ale. The only thing keeping it from being a porter is it's lack of sweetness. It's dark, and I love dark beers. It's the best selling beer in Montana for one major reason. It's fantastic. Definite flavors of caramel and chocolate malts and a powerful but far from overwhelming hops character. Apparently it's available all along the northwestern region and it's even good out of the bottle. The name sounds disgusting, but that's probably what made me try it in the first place. I figured with a name like that, if it tasted like it's name they wouldn't be selling it in the first place. I'd put it in the top 15 beers I've tasted, but it's only so low because I love those damned Belgian abbey ales so much. Of course, like the next beer, it's not available in Georgia. Of course, I can buy it on Sunday with no sales tax so it's like a double extra bonus when I'm actually up there.

Fat Tire
New Belgium Brewery, Fort Collins, CO

Okay, so it's not a Montana brew. But it's the only place I've ever had a Fat Tire. The bottle label says the name was inspired by the bike the brewer was riding when he crafted this beer as he rode on a tour of Belgian breweries. It's an amber ale and it has a malty taste like my MawMaw's biscuits. Beautifully hopped and just slightly sweet. I almost mistook it for a lager the first time I tasted it before I realized it wasn't dry enough and it definitely had just enough ale yeast character to knock that idea down. My second favorite beer in Montana, it's good enough to make you slap your grandma.

Neptune Cream Ale
Neptune's Brewery, Livingston, MT

A pretty new brewery popped up in this fine little town. It's so new it didn't exist when I was there 8 months ago. I admire the boldness of the move, but unfortunately I didn't admire the beer. I did feel like it deserved mention since it is brewed in my wife's hometown. I liked the Neptune name at first when I was thinking of the planet, but apparently they went with the guy from The Little Mermaid. Why was the beer bad? Extremely unremarkable. No malt flavor, no hops flavor. It was weird water. Bud Light has more flavor. Maybe not that bad, but the brewmaster definitely needs to reformulate at least this recipe. There was a Toad Back Ale they offered as well but I was afraid to try it with Moose Drool available on tap.

Bozone Amber Ale
Bozeman Brewing Company, Bozeman, MT

I'd love to move to Bozeman. It's awesome. It's where you fly into to get to Livingston which is a 30 minute drive away. A treacherous drive in the winter due to the mountain pass between the two cities, but not too bad if the plow has been through recently and you have a decent car.

I'm not 100% fond of the name, but it's okay. The beer is actually pretty good. Not as tasty of an amber ale as Fat Tire, but if this one's cheaper, I'm going with it. Or if I'm looking for something a little sweeter. Nice golden red color. I guess we'll call it "amber." Gives good head. Sweet, caramelly malt and lighter malt flavors, too. Hops are subtle but add to the beer's simplicity, a simplicity that makes it highly drinkable. It's easy to see why it's a local favorite.

Speaking of local favorites, it seems like Montanians cling on to local products with a fervor unfamiliar to this Atlanta suburbanite. The bar keep said that the locals love the Neptune brews for instance. Of course, it was cheaper and it probably has something to do with the relative non-abundance of other selections. In metro Atlanta, the tastes change almost as fast as you can get cut by an NFL player in Buckhead. So local brews, with the exception of Sweetwater brews which has their flagship 420 (an obvious drug reference so of course you'll get a following, don't buy their bogus first batch story), really haven't caught on. (see also: Atlanta Bier Garten, Dogwood Brewing Company, et al.)

So, to wrap up, I leave you with two morals to this story.

1. If you're hawking a decent product, you might want to produce it in Montana.

2. If you're in Montana, you must try Moose Drool. Especially if you're drinking in honor of someone special.


  • At 11:47 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    Great post!

    We'll have Fat Tire at the wedding. Lots of it.

  • At 5:42 AM, Blogger chris said…

    Then I must bring my grandmother along, for there will be no doubt be much "grandma slapping."

  • At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I didn't particularly care for Moose Drool. We had it when we were in Jackson Hole, WY. It was everywhere there. Tried it because it was new (to us). Got a couple pitchers of it over the week and out of 6 of us (5 boys & me), nobody particularly cared for it. (Note: not caring for it and drinking it anyway are two totally separate things, as you well know).

    Anyway, just not a fan. You can also buy it here (Portland, OR) in the grocery store. So next time you're in town visiting, you can drink it until your heart's content. Please, somebody get it off those shelves.

    Right now, I much prefer MacTarnahans Black Watch Porter.


  • At 8:06 PM, Blogger Brian said… I have to try Moose Drool.

    Any beer that can provoke such strong opposite opinions from people who both know beer is bound to be interesting.

  • At 4:43 AM, Blogger chris said…

    I never said it was my most favoritist beer in the world. Just that it was pretty darned awesome.

    Keep in mind the relativity of my statement as well. The beer market in Georgia is not very diverse. It has only become marginally so in the past 10 months since they abolished the retarding 6% abv max law. I still have a lot of catching up to do.

  • At 9:46 AM, Blogger Matt said…

    ^^Agreed. Great and helpful post.

    I heartily agree with the review of Fat Tire. Though I'm a Philistine when it comes to beer, I can at least say I like Fat Tire. Brian introduced it to me when I visited AZ my first time--I specifically remember drinking a bottle with Brian in the middle of a snow flurry in a Motel 6 parking lot in Flagstaff (lots of "in's" in that sentence).

  • At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just tried to email Neptune's Brewery in Livingston, MT as I just bought a six pack of their pale ale in Red Lodge, MT - home of Red Lodge Ales - great beer from a great little brewery in a great little town. Anyway - I couldn't find their website to let them know that the six pack of their pale ale tasted like a bandaid. So bad I could not drink it. It's too far from where I live to take it back to the store and I can't get to them on their web site. Based on this one time experience and what I read on your site - I will not try another beer from this brewery.

  • At 2:49 PM, Blogger Brent said…

    Moose Drool spread it's wings! Do Moose have wings like Buffalo do? I'm a native Missoulian and long time Drool Dranker. I've managed to move to San Diego and happily have been able to find Moose Drool at Bev Mo, but I appreciate you letting me in on Trader Joe's. Not yet on draft at any of the local drinking holes ( though I did find tap Drool in Oakland, CA of all places!)


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