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“I am in love with Montana…It seems to me that Montana is a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda. Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
There aren’t many land mammals in the Northwest that are more epic than moose (except maybe brown bears). It seems appropriate that Big Sky Brewing Co., located as they are in an outdoor adventurer’s playground, named their American brown ale Moose Drool.
My relationship with Moose Drool started in the early-mid 2000s. We went on a camping trip to Hart Mountain, in Oregon. Obviously, camping in a wildlife preserve known for antelope and bighorn sheep (and rattlesnakes) necessitated beer. The store in Plush (an “unincorporated rural community” in Lake County, Oregon) had Moose Drool in the fridge, alongside the usual macros. That was it. I was ruined for other American brown ales.
About Moose Drool
More hop-forward than any other American brown ale I’ve tasted, it has a clean, crisp hop profile that I tend to associate with Northwest ales (East Kent Goldings, Willamette, Liberty). No Cascade, but that’s all right. Malty enough to be almost-but-not-quite chewy, Moose Drool finishes with a hint of roast and hop bitterness, so it doesn’t build up a thick feeling on your tongue (at least, it takes a while).
Glacier National Park is 1,583 square miles of mountainous wilderness, mostly in the northwest corner of Montana. I’d wanted to visit for something like 17 years. The timing of our visit worked out well; the parks had opened back up, and they started to get snow just a couple of weeks later. Going to the Sun Road is closed to visitors during the snowy months, and for good reason. It’s a narrow, historic road that winds up steep mountainsides, achieving an elevation of 6,648 feet and crossing the Continental Divide (one of the more impressive places to cross it) at Logan Pass. The drive is incredible, terrifying, and very much worthwhile.
After moving out of Oregon in 2008, we’ve rarely had the chance to drink Moose Drool. But it stuck in my mind as the best American brown ale, the reference I use when rating other examples of the style.
Going to Big Sky Country
Big Sky Brewing Co. has been on my to-visit list for much longer than I’ve been writing about beer. Due to various factors like money, and military life, and so on, I’d never actually set foot in the state of Montana until last year. But Glacier! But Yellowstone! But! But! Yes, I know.
2020 was not what you’d call a good year for travel. A survey from last April indicated that 48% of the country canceled their travel plans, and Ben and I were no exceptions. Like much of the world, we’d hunkered down to spend the year working from home, shopping from home, everything at home.
In spite of all that, we had a sudden need to be in Oregon last August. So we boarded the dogs, loaded the Jeep, and off we went.
By the way, it takes roughly three days to drive out of Texas if you’re heading west from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. When we finally got to New Mexico, a local cop followed us as we drove through whichever tiny town we had to pass through. No one misses you, 2020.
On the way back to Texas, we took a more northerly route that allowed us to (finally!) visit the Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, and drive through Grand Tetons National Park. Awesome, overwhelming, amazing, refreshing, inspiring; it was a much-needed break for both of us.
Big Sky Brewing Co.
Back to the beers. Naturally, we needed to squeeze in a stop at Big Sky, in Missoula. Joey graciously agreed to meet with us there. We drank some good beers, chatted about the can shortage, the challenges of sales and marketing forecasting during a global pandemic (“a nightmare”), saw the big field and stage where they hold concerts in more usual times, and bought a hat.
At the time (8/25/20), they had an Irish stout and a cherry stout on tap. Both were fairly dry, as you’d expect from an Irish stout, and not necessarily expect from a cherry stout. We appreciated that the cherry stout wasn’t candy-like in either flavor or mouthfeel. While blonde ale is not a go-to style for me, I did enjoy the Huck It huckleberry blonde ale. What’s on now? They publish their tap list.
In spite of all the warning signs and pamphlets in the National Parks, and somewhat to my disappointment, we didn’t spot either moose or bears in our travels through Glacier, Yellowstone, or Grand Tetons. We did have to stop in Yellowstone for a herd of bison who were lazily crossing the road and backing up traffic, and we saw a wild horse drive in Wyoming.
Stats and such
Having finally traveled through Montana (twice, at this point), I can say it’s probably my second-favorite U.S. state, after Alaska. Sorry Oregon, you made some strange decisions, and might be headed for a Days Gone scenario. According to World Population Review data, Montana is the 4th largest U.S. state, but the 48th most populous; only Wyoming and Alaska have fewer people per square mile. 12.4 craft breweries per capita make Montana third in the country for craft breweries per 100k adults aged 21 and over.
It’s hard to know where to stop these posts, so let’s end here. If you like amazing wilderness scenery, wildlife, and craft beer, you’ll probably enjoy Montana.