Sunday, June 16, 2019

Reflections in a Pint Glass: Takeaways from Montana

Glacier National Park
Anytime I visit somewhere, I learn something new even if I have been there before.  I had made a prior trip to the beautiful state of Montana, but this time I had guides that really made me look deeply at what makes beer cultures different (and the same) from state to state or country to country.

Agriculture plays a huge role in Montana. Great Falls, Montana falls at the bottom tip of the golden triangle which is an area known for barley growing, as well as some other grains such a wheat. We were hosted by Malteurop, a malting company which works directly with the farmers of Montana. Although barley is a key ingredient in beer, malt often does not receive the same amount of press as hops. They are working to provide high quality malt while also researching varieties with farmers that are easier and more sustainable to grow while still giving brewers what they need.

Snow Hop Brewery, Helena, Montana
Craft beer, unlike its agricultural counterpart wine, has had to fight for a space in the market due to outdated or non-existent laws. Every state must overcome their own obstacles. In Montana, breweries and brewpubs must stop serving beer at 8:00 pm.  This law came about as a compromise to be able to have taprooms; breweries are not allowed to compete with restaurants and bars that are open much later. Now, breweries can purchase a special license which is very expensive, which essentially would make them a bar, but for most small and independent breweries, many of which are not distributing, this is not a viable option.
Jeremiah Johnson Brewing
Company proudly showcases their
local flavor on their cans.

It amazed me how many breweries exist in a state that just tops one million people. It seems that many small towns boast at least one brewery. The "larger" cities have several, and, like most of the people I have met in the beer industry, are passionate about beer, ingredients, and sharing with the public. We were lucky to try a beer from Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Company in Great Falls made with black lentils - a tasty brew which drew some color and body from the legumes. The ingenuity and creativity of brewers never ceases to amaze me, especially when it comes to trying new ingredients.

The history of beer can be fascinating. In Montana, the history of fermented beverages goes as far back as the Lewis and Clark expedition and has been growing ever since. Steven Lozar is a beer historian that I had the pleasure of meeting. He talks of beer being the center of town life with not only social aspects but the economic benefits as well. There is even a Montana Beer Museum in Polson, Montana.

Beer Wench GA and Steven Lozar in Kalispell 2019
There are so many great towns to visit. In addition to Great Falls and Missoula (side trip) we wandered around Helena and Kalispell. Helena is a great walking town with some very good breweries. Snow Hop Brewery which is not in downtown proper is definitely a must see. Head brewer Becky Peppelman has some classic styles such as a Polish smoked beer called a Grodziskie that I loved among many more. In Helena, you also have Blackfoot Brewing, Ten Mile Creek Brewing, and Lewis and Clark Brewing who are all doing fabulous things with beer. Kalispell is also a quaint town with a few breweries among them Kalispell Brewing, SunRift, Bias, and Sacred Waters. Believe me when I say that I could write an article on each of these breweries alone.

Where do you drink beer? We drink beer at breweries, pubs, restaurants, bottle shares, parties, and sitting on our decks, but if you are in a state that offers a wide range of outdoor activities, you also drink on your kayak, in your campsite, taking a break while cycling, fishing, and after skiing. In a state where there are plenty of wide-open spaces, you can drink your favorite Montana beers while watching the sun go down at your special recreation spot. So even if your local brewery stops serving at 8:00 pm, you can grab a growler and take it with you on your next big adventure, even if it is just watching elk stroll across your yard.

Montana is on my watch list to see what happens next, and you can be sure that I will be returning to re-visit my favorite places and discover some new ones.Thank you Zephyr Conferences for putting on the BeerNow19 conference in Montana and thanks to all of our local guides. I have so many places and people I want to mention, but for now I can sit on my deck in Georgia with a pint of local beer and remember the beauty of the scenery, the people and the beer of Montana. Where ever you are, eat well and drink good beer.

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