Big Sky, Big Beer, Montana Pride
Montana is known as Big Sky Country, and for good reason. There aren’t many places where the sky seems to touch the ground, stretching from horizon to horizon with no buildings or trees to obscure the view. Montana is a beautiful place, with stunning views of far reaching fields, crystal clear lakes and streams, majestic snow-capped mountains…. and great beer!
You might be surprised to learn that Montana has the second highest number of breweries per capita in the US with 9.6 breweries per 100k residence, making it second only to Vermont which has 11.7 per 100k residence. Of course, this means nothing to a craft beer lover unless there is quality to go with that quantity. But Montana has that too.
On a recent trip to Montana, I was able to visit craft breweries in Helena, Great Falls, and Kalispell, as well as sample a fair number of brews from a number of other Montana breweries, and I have to tell you- craft beer is done right in big sky country.
Unsurprisingly Pale Ales and IPAs are by far the most popular craft beers in Montana, but at the same time you would be hard pressed to find a Montana craft brewery that didn’t have at least one Scotch Ale on tap. And while their Pale Ales were as good as you could get anywhere in the country, to get a better Scotch Ale you might have to go to Scotland. Some of my favorites were the Tartanic Scottish Ale at Blackfoot River Brewing in Helena, and the Mountain Man Scotch Ale from Jeremiah Johnson Brewing in Great Falls.
Wild fermented ales, or sour beers, are also gaining in popularity in Montana. I’d say that most of the breweries had a sour ale. While in Great Falls I attended the Montana Brew Fest, where Flathead Lake Brewing had a beer they called Bearhat Sour Brown which was aged in oak barrels for 3 years and it was amazing! In Kalispell, Bias Brewing’s Boss Pog Sour featured guava, peach and passion fruit, and had a great fruity/sour flavor.
The reason for the tremendous quality and flavor of craft beers in Montana may have something to do with the quality of the water, the clean fresh air, or it might be the fact that most of their ingredients are locally sourced- such as the barley which is not only grown in Montana but malted there by the largest malting company in the USA (Malteurop). My guess is that it is more of a combination of all the above, plus a deep abiding love for craft beer.
Montanan’s are proud of their craft beer, and who could blame them? There are lots of reasons for them to be proud.