Given that we now live in Chicago, I find it ironic that I acquired my taste for beer almost exclusively at a restaurant called Old Chicago. I learned to love beer on Old Chicago's World Beer Tour, which I started and finished with some college friends in Bozeman. This involved drinking 110 different brews from around the world, but no more than four at a time. Along the journey, I earned prizes like t-shirts, sweatshirts and bottle openers. I had loads of fun with our friends in the process.
The fact that Old Chicago has such a successful operation in Montana speaks more to Montana's beer-drinking culture than to Chicago's wide selection of beers. Every time I would go to Old Chicago in Bozeman, the restaurant would proudly display a chalk-board chock full of local favorites. There is even a special section on the beer menu for regional beers. These local beers were consistently among the most satisfying drinks on the menu.
For this reason, I was delighted to read this article on the rich culture of breweries in Montana. As a side note, I was even more excited that the article featured one of my former students, Ryan Bone! You should read the article, but if you don't have time, here are a few of the things I found most interesting.
First, breweries in Montana are not bars, nor are they industrial facilities where barley soup is sloshed around in tanks to be studied by people with clipboards. Rather, breweries are social places where people can enjoy a good beer, some face-to-face conversation and good family fun.
Second, the breweries don't just make beer. Lots of them make cherry soda and root beer to help with the family-oriented feel of these places. It is rare for a brewery to have televisions. This is a stark contrast to Old Chicago, which has the feel of a sports bar.
Third, Montana is in the top five in terms of microbreweries per capita. As Ryan Bone says in the article, "Montana is a big state, and people like good beer." To meet this specialized demand in sparsely-populated Montana, microbreweries pop up all over the place.
Lastly, they're making a documentary about these Montana breweries. Given my love for Montana, my affinity toward beer and that a former student of mine is involved with this, I cannot wait for a chance to see this film. It's just one more interesting thing about Montana!