Part I of our Montana and Wyoming trip in 2015 was posted on this blog this February. It reviewed the wonderful bars in the city of Missoula – a great college town, but also one filled with bars laden with character and history among them Charlie B’s, the Oxford and the Stockman.
And don’t forget some outstanding breweries including Draught Works, Flathead Lakes and Kettle Mountain Breweries. You can review the post by clicking on the following link: https://thebeerchaser.com/2016/02/12/thebeerchaser-does-montana-and-wyoming-part-1/
From Missoula we traveled southward to Helena on the way to Wyoming and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Helena is home to our friends, Dr. Eric Hall, his wife Cassie and her mom, Candy, and their wonderful little daughter, Annabelle.
His first book, co-authored in 2014, was entitled: Groundless Gods: Post-Metaphysical Philosophy of Religion. Dr. Hall is an extremely intelligent and learned guy and is also a great bar companion. (I learned a lot about Thomas Aquinas and Rene Descartes when Eric linked the latter’s advocacy of dualism to an assertion that both Budweiser and micro-brews have redeeming social value).
Caroll has an outstanding academic program of which the football team can be proud…..It was ranked # 1 in Western Regional Colleges in the latest US News and World Report collegiate academic rankings. Cassie, the college’s Registrar, also has an impressive background, having played soccer at the University of Washington where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and then earned her Master’s Degree at Claremont Graduate University.
The Carroll Fighting Saints football team began playing in 1920 and is one of the most successful programs in the NAIA division of college football. The program has won six NAIA Football National Championships and 40 conference championships, 14 while a member of the Montana Collegiate Conference and 26 as a member of the Frontier Conference.
The team is currently coached by Mike Van Diest who in his 12 seasons at Carroll, has compiled a career record of 144–20. His winning percentage of.878 is the third highest of any head coach with at least ten seasons of experience in college football history…”
It certainly bears noting that on the way to Helena, along US Highway 12, we passed through Clinton and I was captivated by the signs advertising the Annual Testicle Festival, the World’s largest. It attracts 15,000 people each year and as you might expect, it is not considered to be a family-type outing.
Rock Creek Lodge, just outside of Clinton, is the home of the Testy Festy where a $20 general admission ticket will gain you entrance to:
“………the world’s largest testicle festival every fall attracting more than 15,000 fans annually to its five day event. Tossing around its motto, ‘I had a ball at the Testicle Festival,’ the festival feeds over 2 ½ tons of bull balls to its many hungry revelers.
Not only can you get a taste of these yummy delicious deep-fried bull’s testicles, but while you’re there, you’ll no doubt want to participate in the bull-chip throwing contest, the wet t-shirt or hairy chest competitions, and bull-shit bingo.”
And in case you thought that Rocky Mountain Oysters were shipped in from the coast after being harvested from the Pacific Ocean, this item on the menu consists of:
“USDA approved bull testicles(used) in preparing the delicacy……also known as Rocky Mountain Oysters. The membrane is peeled, marinated in beer, breaded four times, and deep fried to result in what appears to be a fat breaded pork tenderloin.”
While attendance at this “seminal” event will have to wait for another Beerchaser road trip, we pushed on to Helena where we toured the city and visited two breweries/pubs with Eric and Cassie:
Blackfoot River Brewing Company
Lewis and Clark Brewing Company
Blackfoot River Brewing Company and Tap Room is right in the heart of Helena and its two levels with a nice second-floor patio add to the enjoyment. The idiosyncratic Montana alcohol laws again were apparent by the sign stating: “Montana law does however, limit consumption to 48 ounces per person, per day and only until 8pm,”
That means 8:00 PM even on weekends and meant we had to buy a ticket first and then obediently hand it to the bartender to get a twelve-ounce glass – you can’t even get a pint! It makes one wonder why a state known for its rugged individualism and independence (which undoubtedly saw a lot of bar fights and cowboys throwing down shots at 3 AM in the past) allows a paternal regulation which doesn’t make a lot of sense. (I neglected to ask Eric what John Locke, the Father of Liberalism would think about this situation.)
Black River was founded in 1998 by three home brewers (a story Thebeerchaser has founded repeatedly in his five-year journey). It is another case of successful planning and growth as evidenced by this exerpt from their website:
“In May of 1998 the dreams of a brewery were coming to fruition in a recently vacated garage building located next door to Miller’s Crossing.
Given the bank loan, lots of creativity, loads of hard work, and help and encouragement from many friends, Blackfoot River Brewing Company became a functional brewery. In October of 2008, after eight years of thriving in the cozy environment of the original building, the brewery moved into a wonderful new facility built on what used to be a parking lot next to the old brewery.”
The Lewis and Clark Brewery
It is housed in a very cool, historic and expansive structure with great ambiance (considerably better than Black River if you only have time to visit one in Helena). Part of the structure dates back 125 years. And at least it’s open until 10 PM Sunday – Tuesday and 11:00 the remainder of the week.
“The oldest building is the Stone ‘Smokehouse’ which was built by T.C. Power in 1885 to smoke meats. Shortly thereafter the ‘Packing & Provisions’ building was built and was used as a 3 story ‘Ice-House’ with ice removed from the lakes in the winter then transported up the pass by rail and stored in caves until brought back down in the summer and hoisted up to the third floor to cool the entire building
Montana Packing & Provisions Company closed the property (and it) could have been used as a jail (although no historical records support this so maybe the bars were installed for security), then a seed warehouse. Later it became the birthplace of Columbia Paint.”
From Helena we traveled southward to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. As a side note, since we are retired, we usually visit our wonderful National Parks while school is in session, but other travel plans precluded it and we wondered what the crowds would be like in the middle of July.
We were pleased, however, that although there were a lot more people, it never seemed overwhelming – even at destinations such as Old Faithful. It did require, however, making reservations well in advance and we stayed in West Yellowstone at a somewhat dilapidated old motel that cost a lot more than it should have for two nights, because we could not get lodging in the Park.
And the first National Park in the US (dedicated by President Grant in 1872) was spectacular. I had not visited since my family camped there during the earthquake in 1959. (I still remember the shaking and the animals howling in the middle of the night from this 7.5 magnitude quake which killed twenty-eight people not too far from our campground.)
The scenery is dynamic – from bubbling muddy pools to Old Faithful to Yellowstone Falls to the wild animals – including the bison which roam freely and don’t seem to care about the highways and vehicles which invade their domain as the picture below shows.
And oh yes, while it was not a highlight, since this is a blog about bars and taverns, our beer at the Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon in West Yellowstone, is worth at least a mention.
It had a bunch of Harleys out front and one young guy in the saloon said to the bartender:
“I want to thank you for kicking me out of here last night which kept me from getting the crap beat out of me a few minutes later.”
Their pepperoni and sausage pizza was also recently named the best in Northwest (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Colorado) in the International Pizza Competition in Las Vegas. Had we known, we would have definitely had a pizza there!
While Grand Teton is less expansive than its neighboring park only twelve miles to the north, the spectacular view of this forty-mile long mountain range (without foothills because of the geological origination) rising abruptly from the prairie, has to rival Grand Canyon for its breathtaking beauty.
And better planning allowed a two-night stay in the Park at the marvelous Jackson Lake Lodge. Staring at the peaks while drinking a cold micro-brew and devouring a great burger in the Lodge bar, while listening to a performer’s impressive version of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” now makes me wonder why candidate Trump harps on the slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Not that we don’t have significant challenges which need strong direction and discipline to overcome, but failure to recognize the nation’s blessings as evidenced by such visionary accomplishments as the National Park System and focusing on the negative is not the kind of leadership we need.
A raft trip down the Snake River in which we saw eagles, moose and elk, and a four-mile hike to Taggart Lake were highlights of our second day in the Park and then a stay in nearby Jackson (formerly known as Jackson Hole) was our final night before starting the journey back to Oregon. (Solitude Float Trips and our guide, Justine Evans were A+)
And Jackson was hopping and home to many restaurants and bars we unfortunately did not get to visit because of time constraints. That said we did enjoy our time at a few venues in this tourist town.
Although we stopped in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar because we had heard a lot about it, we didn’t have a beer. First, there was a cover charge (although it is not advertised on their website) and secondly, it reminded us of the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau that we visited in 2012.
Kind of garish and with little character – just a lot of bucks spent on touristy décor and an emphasis on their retail sales although it does have live music and dancing and they brag about authentic western memorabilia and features such as real saddles for bar stools…..
We then hit a neat little brewery, however – Melvin Brewery. It actually shares space with a Thai restaurant (Thai Me Up). The bartender was friendly, offered a lot of samples and they had good beer – an impressive nineteen on tap.
Their Indian Pale Ale won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup earlier this year.
And dinner at Gather, a superb restaurant where, as is our custom, we ate at the bar and met some people from Boston who were in Jackson for one of the many business conventions that come to town.
Fortunately, we got there late for their “reverse happy hour” (from 9 PM till close) and I had the best gin martini on the trip.
We left Jackson heading east for the two-day drip home to Portland.
Shortly after we left town, we passed Grand Teton Brewing Company. Although closed, it was nice to see the home of outstanding beer we had enjoyed throughout the trip.
This brewery which claims to be, “…….the original brewery of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. We have been brewing our handcrafted beers at the base of the Tetons since 1988,” is actually located in Teton Valley, Idaho which is on the west side of the mountain range.
And the narrative from their website, although fairly bold and which might be challenged by some Oregon brewers, seemed to be validated by the excellence of their beer – even though only bottled where we could get it – especially two of their signature brews – 208 and the Sweetgrass American Pale Ale.
“Our water is glacial run-off, filtered over 300-500 years by Teton Mountain granite and limestone before it surfaces at a spring a half mile from the brewery. Teton Valley grows the world’s best malting barley, and Southern Idaho includes some of the finest hop farms in the world.”
We spent the last night in Boise, where after forty-five years, I reunited with Gary “Golden Boy” Barton, who also was an SAE at Oregon State and is an investment consultant in Boise. We had a great dinner with Gary and his wife, Kathy.
Our ten-day trip covered a lot of miles, but the clarion call from Montana and Wyoming to return for the majestic scenery and great bars and breweries will lure Thebeerchaser back for another road trip.