Tastings: Fermented & Flavorful
Grab a Growler (or two) of these dark brews
By Stella Fong, Photography by Daniel Sullivan
In the heart of downtown Billings, six breweries spend their days concocting and fermenting flavorful brews. With Oktoberfest upon us, the Tastings Team paid a visit to savor the flavors from four different microbrews right here in the Magic City.
Starting at The Garage at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company, Tasters Sandy Anderson, Lauren Asmus and Leslie Modrow sampled a few dark beers before heading over to Überbrew and Carter’s Brewing on Montana Avenue. The Tastings trip finished its tour at the Montana Brewing Company on Broadway. Even though the team didn’t make it to Angry Hanks and Thirsty Street, located just a short distance away, these outfits produce notable beers that should not be missed.
THE TASTINGS TARGETS
George Moncure and Jay Shearer opened The Garage at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company in 1997. This venue inside a repurposed auto repair shop has established itself as a great place for music, hosting entertainment four times a week with a focus on raising money for the community. At “The Garage,” beer names take on a fly-fishing theme. Here, you’ll find brews like the Grizzly Wulff Wheat, Wild Fly Ale and Wooley Bugger (Grand Cru) Root Beer along with signature brews like the Huckle-weizen and Black Widow Oatmeal Stout.
Along Montana Avenue, Mark Hastings is the brew master at Überbrew. Hastings was the first master brewer for Montana Brewing Company along with Sam Hoffmann now of Red Lodge Ales. Now at Überbrew, Hastings is fermenting his dream after teaming up with Jason Shroyer in 2012.
Carter’s Brewing is where brew master Michael Ulrich has produced his namesake beer since 2007. Prior to opening his own shop, he was head brewer at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company. Around the time of the birth of his first son, Carter James, he opened Carter’s Brewing. His train logo honors his son’s love of trains and his location adjacent to the iron tracks. His bottles take on names such as Derailed IPA, Golden Spike Pilsner and Black Magic Porter.
Montana Brewing Company has been serving up great food and brews since 1994 and are known for their beers with Montana-themed names such as Fat Belly Amber with a slumbering bear on its label and Custer’s Last Stout.
HOW A BEER IS MEASURED
ABV - Alcohol by volume, the most common way to measure the strength of a beer.
IBU - International Bittering Units - A 0 to 100 scale for measuring the bitterness of beer.
YELLOWSTONE VALLEY BREWING COMPANY
Black Widow Oatmeal Stout: Oatmeal Stout ABV 5.9% IBU 19
This smooth, malty oatmeal stout is balanced with flavors of roasted barley and chocolate malt. Gentle bittering but generous aroma is given by the popular English hop, East Kent Golding, and will be liked by anyone who enjoys a full-flavored beer, including hard-core connoisseurs of stout.
“It has good body. It has a little bit of coffee flavor.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“I like it because it is not too sweet. This is a slow-sipping beer that you can drink at room temperature.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“This is the beer I always get. I like this beer.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Stand Down Brown (Nitro version)
Nitrogen was used in the carbonation of this beer resulting in tiny bubbles and producing a fluffy, thick white head. The nitro version is usually creamier in texture with flavors more melded and softer than the traditional carbon dioxide version.
“Bitter tang.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“Nice and light for a nitro.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“Caramelly taste to it.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Stand Down Brown (Carbon dioxide version)
“I like it. It has a good flavor. More punch. Lighter.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“Nice nutty flavors. Not what you think of if you like dark beer.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“This beer has a lot more flavor and depth.” ~ Leslie Modrow
The Heavy: Scottish Ale, ABV 5.0%, IBU: 11
A Scottish heavy. This beer is a summer weight Scottish, amber in color with a not too sweet malt aroma and flavor.
“I like the Scottish ale. Oh, that’s good. It’s smooth.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“This one is really caramelly to me. This would be super good with mac ‘n cheese. These three beers (Stand Down Brown in nitro and carbon dioxide and The Heavy) are good starter dark beers.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“Refreshing.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Tarrazu Coffee Porter, Brown Ale, ABV 5.52%, IBU: 35
Tarrazu Porter is infused with coffee beans from the Tarrazu Region of Costa Rica roasted by Rock Creek Coffee Roasters.
“It is dessert.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“I would start my day with this beer. This could be dessert or breakfast. This is one that would be good with ice cream. Super stand up coffee flavor. Actual positive bitterness.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“I like the taste of coffee. But it is not too sweet. Rich and the bitterness gives it depth in flavor.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Mason’s Special Bitter Amber, American Amber or Red Ale, ABV 5%, IBU: 35
Brewed and named in honor of our youngest son, this Northwest Copper colored ale is brimming with caramel and toffee flavors with spicy and floral hops to balance. Not a red ale, not an amber, this beer was brewed to stand out.
“This beer is quite hoppy.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“Nice. This is a beer drinker’s beer, not as pungent as an IPA. If you like German beers, will like this darker beer.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“Not too heavy, not too light. After a few tastes, not as hoppy.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Magic City Mild: Amber Ale, ABV 4%, IBU: 20
Brewed in the English tradition for the hard working man. Mild ales are dark in color but light enough on the palate with light caramel malt flavors and mild hopping.
“More grainy in flavor.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“This was one of my hands down beers I would drink. It is an easy drinking beer. Full body for an amber.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“It is really malty and grainy.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Black Magic Porter: Porter, ABV 5%, IBU: 30
This smooth porter features flavors of dark caramel and chocolate malts with an earthy hop note.
“Good coffee taste. Nice dark beer.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“I cannot see through it. Perfect foam. This beer is deceiving and I can drink two of them easily.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“Coffee taste. Deceivingly easy to drink.” ~ Leslie Modrow
MONTANA BREWING COMPANY
Wee William Wallace Scottish Ale: Scottish Ale, ABV 6.2%, IBU: 25
Dark colored brew with malty flavors and aromas with low hop character and rich smoky characteristics.
"It is sweet. It is really smooth and has more body than the other ales we have tasted.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“This is an easier beer for non beer drinkers. Great gateway to Scottish ales.” ~Lauren Asmus
“Very tasty. Very easy drinker. Very smooth. There is more complexity with burnt cask putting in some smokiness.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Fatbelly Amber: Amber Ale, ABV 5.4%, IBU: 25
The perfect balance of complex malt and hop profiles. Smooth caramel malts and dry finish.
“This beer has a little more hops. Good body for an amber.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“This tastes like a Sam Adams. Not bitter at all. Very natural flavors.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“Definite wheat flavors.” ~ Leslie Modrow
Custer’s Last Stout: Oatmeal Stout, ABV 5.2%, IBU: 32
This is a smooth and velvety Oatmeal Stout.
“Good nose. Distinct coffee flavor.” ~ Sandy Anderson
“This is really smoky but not overwhelming. This beer would be great around the campfire. I like it cold with the caramelly and sweet flavors.” ~ Lauren Asmus
“You can really taste the coffee — espresso. You can tell it is espresso, very smooth.” ~ Leslie Modrow
NOTEWORTHY BREWS HITTING MONTANA BREWING COMPANY THIS FALL
Beartooth Espresso Porter: Espresso Porter, ABV 5%, IBU: 30 A Brew Pub classic returns! This seasonally brewed porter is made with rich City Brew “Cool River” espresso coffee beans. It is a popular malty ale that is complemented with a nutty coffee flavor. “Cold-pressed” Smooth … not bitter!
Drunk’s Pumpkin Ale: Vegetable/Field Beer, ABV 5.4% IBU: 20 Roasted Cinderella pumpkins seasoned with brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves are incorporated into the mash, with a splash of pumpkin spice. A perfect blend of pumpkin and spice makes this beer a slice of harvest-time heaven!
TASTING TEAM FAVORITES
Sandy Anderson: Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company, Black Widow Oatmeal Stout
Lauren Asmus: Überbrew Tarrazu Coffee Porter
Leslie Modrow: Carter’s Brewing, Mason’s Special Bitter Amber
THE BEER LOVER’S GUIDE TO TERMS
How some of the area’s brew masters describe their micros
CRISP: lighter, cleaner in flavor, and refreshing
HOPPY: The added hops brings on a characteristic of bitterness coming in the form of herbal, earth, spice or citrus aromas and flavors
MALTY: The sweet component of beer, presenting flavors of nuts, toffee, caramel, toast, and fruit.
ROASTY/TOASTY/SMOKY: Highly roasted malt grains impart coffee and cocoa flavors as well as rich caramel. Brews that include malts smoked over various wood fires or aged in old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey oak barrels exhibit smoky notes.
FRUITY, FLORAL & SPICY: Flavors of fruit, flowers and spice bring additional tastes.
COMPLEX, BALANCED & ROBUST: Complex means many flavors and sensations on the palate and nose while balanced refers to how much malt and hops contribute sweetness and bitterness to the flavor. Richness and full-bodied sensations on the palate indicate how robust a beer is.
TAKE YOUR OWN BEER TOUR
Sip & Stroll through the area’s breweries
Download The Montana Brewers Association Trail Map with information on more than 60 brewers in Montana
Walking Brewery District Map for Billings can be downloaded HERE.