Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Six-Pack Project: Montana Beer

Six-Pack Project

TheSix-Pack Project is a new collaborative beer blog effort to highlight each state’s best examples of craft beer. Here we represent our great Big Sky state of Montana. The inherent difficulties of such a task should be self-evident, but if not we will explain: how do you boil down a state with 38 breweries, backed by a drinking culture where adults consume more than 40 gallons of beer a year, into six beers? Let’s try anyway.

Perhaps one way to spread the wealth is to have representation across several key beer styles, so we have picked some common ones that nearly every brewery in the state brews at least two of.

  • Lager
  • Pale Ale / IPA
  • Porter / Stout
  • Red / Amber Ale (American Brown)
  • Other / Miscellaneous
  • Seasonal*
And so we arrive at a Six-Pack of Montana beers, in order by style as presented above:

1. Bayern Brewing’s "Amber" (Lager)
Sometimes it’s just too hard to go against history. Bayern Brewing is the oldest brewery still in operation in Montana, and its Amber was the first beer it brewed, so no doubt one can attribute much of Bayern’s successes to this one beer. And, it’s also a fine Amber Lager. Jürgen Knöller started brewing it back in 1987 in strict accordance with the Reinheitsgebot. The Bayern Amber is made with the same type and quantity of malted barley used in German Märzenbiers (an amber, rich "festbier"), and then hopped in the manner of existing Czech-style pilseners. Could one call this “New West” meets “Old West”? 5.4% ABV.

2. Bozeman Brewing’s "Hopzone" (Pale Ale / IPA)
This beer has an interesting story. Bozeman Brewing founder, Todd Scott, held out as long as he could before brewing an IPA. It took six years of being open before he whipped up Hopzone IPA in 2007. Now, according to Scott, it outsells his other beers almost three-to-one. One must still respect Scott’s resolve. He waited until he was ready and then made a quality product. Hopzone is a bold and fruity tribute to hop-heavy British-style India Pale Ales from the 18th century but with a modern West Coast-style dose of hops. Built on five malts, Hopzone is doused with Columbus, Cascade and Centennial hops for bitterness and flavor. Then it’s dry-hopped with more Cascade and Simcoe. Coming soon to cans! 7% ABV.

3. Wildwood Brewing's "Organic Mystical Stout" (Porter / Stout)
Wildwood Brewing is a 100% organic brewery, and it cans three of its beers for year-round distribution. One of those beers is Mystical Stout, an Irish Dry Stout made from organic two-row barley and black roasted malts. Think coffee, think malt, think delicious. If someone wants to “try a dark beer because I’m not really into those,” this is the first one we would recommend. 5.4% ABV.

4. Montana Brewing Company’s "Amber" (a.k.a. “Fat Belly Amber”) (Red / Amber Ale)
Another Amber on the list, but as an ale instead of a lager, and this nod goes to Montana Brewing Company, Montana’s most decorated and award-winning brewery. Its Amber ale alone has won Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals at the North American Beer Awards (2004, 2011, 2012, respectively), as well as a Bronze at the U.S. Beer Open in 2011. This beer is medium-bodied but boasts a complex malt profile. Approachable, drinkable, and a winner – clearly a good combination for a Montana beer! 4.6% ABV.

4. Big Sky Brewing's "Moose Drool"** 
It is true that few Montana beers are as iconic as Moose Drool Brown Ale. When it debuted shortly after Big Sky Brewing launched in the late 1990s, it was an instant hit. It furthered its reputation as a "Montana beer" by being available to a wide audience. Since Big Sky Brewing distributes to 26 states, no other Montana beer is so widely distributed. Plus it is a fine brown ale. 4.1% ABV.

5. Kettlehouse Brewing Company's "Cold Smoke Scotch Ale" (Other / Miscellaneous)
Kettlehouse Brewing Company earned its stripes like Montana’s other breweries did: brew a good beer, get it in the customer’s glass, and they will come back for more. No Montana six-pack would be complete without a “pounder” can of Cold Smoke Scotch Ale. It’s simply what Montanans drink. At far as tap handles go, Cold Smoke is on more Montana taps than any other craft beer. In Missoula alone, it’s on 180 different taps, second only to Bud Light. It’s a smooth dark ale with a hint of sweet coffee on the finish. Brewed with Montana-grown two-row barley and northwest Golding hops, this one ain’t bitter. 6.5% ABV.

6. Bitter Root Brewing's "Red Dread" (Imperial Red Ale / Seasonal)
Brewed each spring by Bitter Root Brewing, this malt-bomb (uses eight different specialty malts) is balanced by hoppy flavors and aromas, thanks to the .5 lbs each of CTZ (Columbus, Tomahawk and Zeus) and Citra hops per barrel. Running about $3.50 per 22-oz. bottle also makes it an easy one to stock up on. Red Dread debuted in 2010 and has quickly become the brewery’s most anticipated annual release. 8.7% ABV.

We'd be interested to hear your thoughts: did we pick the best Montana brews? Or were we way off? What are your top six Montana beers? Let us know in the comments below or through FacebookTwitter, or even through a check-in on Untappd.

*It was suggested that this project NOT include any out-of-date seasonals. However, the one we chose is so well respected and well brewed it would be a travesty not to include it. Mainly in hopes that people will try it when they see it, and, in a selfish way, perhaps it will convince Bitter Root Brewery to brew it year-round!

**We realized we erred by including MBC's Amber due to the fact it is not bottled for public sale. Some hand bottles are assembled for judging, but this beer would not fall under the scope of this project, which is to feature bottled or canned beer. Therefore, we have included (as rightly suggested by one of our readers) Big Sky Brewing's Moose Drool as part of the six-pack project. Astute readers may now notice that half the six-pack is from Missoula. While we are not intentionally "playing favorites," we would like to point out that these three breweries also happen to be the three largest in the state of Montana by production. 


  1. Harvest Moon's Beltian White!

  2. Great list, Ryan. I'm thrilled to have had most of them (have a Red Dread in the fridge waiting for me). I was wondering if your list would change if the 6 beers you had to pick were to be representative of Montana putting styles and quality aside. Like, as an outsider, I would say that Moose Drool would be representative of Montana. Probably Cold Smoke, Hopzone, and who knows what else. Was wondering how your list might change in that respect.

  3. Love the ones picked above-great choices. I think the Bozone Amber should be in there too--we need a 12pak!

  4. bb, you see the inherent difficulty then? ;-) Yes, Moose Drool is certainly an iconic Montana beer, and a very good brown ale. If I didn't limit it to one each, I'd have also included from Big Sky their Robust Porter (seasonal), which won out against five other porters available in Montana in a blind taste test we did last year. If it didn't have to be bottled beers, Blackfoot River's Single Malt IPA (perhaps the state's "most requested" IPA) would be in the mix too.

    Anon: Bozone Amber is a good choice and a very worthy mention. I think the sales of their Hopzone gives it credit, and MBC's Amber's awards give that beer due respect too.

    I'd add a fruit beer category too, giving props to Great Northern's Huckleberry Lager.

    And I love Beltian White, for the record. Good comments everyone!

  5. Not sure these are the BEST but they are all well crafted and an excellent representation of Montana beers. Congratulations. Job well-done.

  6. Bayern....amber is very good, but doppelbock is the best....

  7. I'd put Face Plant by Bayern for at least honorable mention in the seasonal category. It always a favorite and definitely a beer I look forward to every winter. It's also a 7.8ish% dark wheat beer which is special.

  8. Good to see all the Bayern fans here! If I put in Honorable Mentions, I think we'd have a list of 50+ beers! ;-)

  9. Please check out our updated information above. Moose Drool is now part of the Montana six-pack!

  10. Great list, Ryan. I have to admit that Moose Drool is the only beer on the list that I have had. I'll have to expand my Montana beer selection starting with your list.

  11. Love moose drool! I don't think I have gotten the chance to try any others on the list :-/

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