Wednesday, March 12, 2014 8:31 AM
The Huckel-Weizen is a wheat ale made with huckelberries at Yellow Stone Valley Brewing Company in Billings, Mont. Photo by Erin Klema
Published on: Thursday, February 06, 2014
By Erin Klema, Sentinel Travel Editor
In Big Sky Country craft beer breweries abound.
With its acres of barley and wheat fields, craft beer production is a booming and growing Montana industry. Behind only Vermont and Oregon, Montana was the third-ranking state in breweries per capita in 2012, according to Brewers Association.
While visiting Montana in August, I noticed at least six microbreweries and three small distilleries within a 1.5-mile radius in downtown Billings.
The largest city in the Treasure State, Billings is a popular destination for national parks visitors. Known as “Montana’s Trailhead,” Billings is within 100 miles of Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument that saw “Custer’s Last Stand,” the quaint town of Red Lodge and Beartooth Highway that connects Red Lodge through the Beartooth Mountains to Yellowstone National Park. It’s also about a three-hour drive from Billings to the national park’s north entrance in Gardiner, Mont.
Whether taking a national parks road trip through Montana or flying into Billings Logan International Airport, visitors should add local breweries to their itinerary. The Billings Chamber of Commerce offers a free travel guide with a map of the downtown breweries. To view the online guide or request a free guide be mailed to your home, go to visitbillings.com.
At Uberbrew, stop by for lunch and a brew. The modern, industrial-looking brewpub’s cheddar ale soup is thick and creamy with a distinct beer flavor. Food specials — like last week’s sausage mac and cheese with spiced bacon and hot beer sausage — elevate a menu that also features bratwursts, burgers, sandwiches and salads such as a fresh spinach salad with dried cranberries and candied almonds in a strawberry vinaigrette.
All of Uberbrew’s beer is brewed on site and changes seasonally. In August, I drank the Razz Hands, a 5.7 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) kolsch infused with raspberries. It was a fruity and refreshing summer beer. Uberbrew also offers refillable growlers for each of its beers—making a memorable and tasty souvenir. Most beers are priced $4, but from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. enjoy a dollar off!
Home to award-winning beers and one of Billings’ three distilleries, The Garage at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company is a must-visit destination. Dubbed a “five-star garage,” the YVB hang-out serves up pints in the taproom — open only from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday — as patrons play darts or table tennis and musicians jam.
The knowledgeable staff explains the nuances of the sweet Huckle-Weizen, a wheat ale made with huckleberries, and offers tastings of the brewery’s Renegade Red Ale and Grizzly Wulff Wheat, which Playboy named one of “America’s Finest” in 2003.
Not a beer drinker? Try the Cliffhanger Vodka or 40 Love Gin in the Spirit of Montana’s tasting room also inside The Garage. The Spirit of Montana is the first micro-distillery in the state and distills its liquors using Montana-grown ingredients.
Located in an old gas station just down First Avenue North from The Garage is one of two Angry Hank’s breweries in Billings. Visit between 4 and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday to enjoy a pint of cream ale or the Dirty Girl Dunkel Weizen on the patio.
At the opposite end of Billings’ Brewery District is the family owned-and-operated Carter’s Brewing Company, named for the owner’s young son. The brewpub is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
End your Billings brewery crawl at Montana Brewing Company, which is open late, offers a full food menu and is connected to a casual bar called Hooligan’s. Try the unfiltered, citrus-flavored wheat ale, a winner at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, or another award-winning ale. For dinner, I recommend the grass and hay linguine pasta with artichoke hearts, mushrooms and garlic in a cream sauce.
Read more about Erin Klema’s travels at erinklematravels.wordpress.com.