Beers from across the border

Over the winter break I decided it was time to venture across borders in search of new beers. The excess of time provided by the absence of school left me wanting and thirsty for new tastes and new sights. So I packed up a bag, found a dog sitter, and my wife and I ventured off into the great beyond. We set off on an adventure that would take us to lands I had never traveled. A land where on one side of a mountain, sensible living and good honest people reside; and on the other, wealth and cowboy hats meet in a town where the stunning natural beauty is obscured by  odd “technicolor” western dreams. Despite the wildly different take on lifestyles these two towns had, both offered brews among the best I have ever tasted. The places unknown were Victor Idaho and Jackson, Wyo. The towns are close to home, but for some reason the borders in the way create a mental barrier as high as the Tetons themselves.

These two towns are home to two breweries, Grand Teton Brewery in Victor ID, and a restaurant that serves as a front for a world class brewery called Thai Me Up in Jackson. As distinctly different as the towns of Victor and Jackson are, so are their breweries.

A drive from Bozeman to Victor takes you through a winding canyon past a bucolic winter apocalypse town (West Yellowstone) by farmland, then just as the Tetons come into view, a tiny town appears. Victor, Idaho. Victor immediately spoke to me, an honest and tough pedigree of people make up this town, where everybody knows everybody. As we drove up to the famed Grand Teton brewery, I was both surprised and not surprised to roll up to a super modest building with enough parking for about 7 cars. The tasting room was no more than 400 square feet and we were greeted warmly by the man behind the bar. As we drank our beers, we noticed everyone there called each other by first name and asked how their families were doing. This brewery produces award winning beers (multiple GABF golds, silvers and bronze’s’) routinely, but like the town it is in, you wouldn’t know it. Victor is nestled up to one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, but they don’t feel the need to show off and impress you with fluff. Grand Teton Brewery is constantly cranking out fantastic beers we can get here in Bozeman. If you visit the brewery, drink the 208 session lager. It was a beautiful example of elegance, you have to find for yourself, as they are not going to lure you into it.

As you leave Victor and drive over the pass to dive into one of the most blessed pieces of earth you will ever see, Jackson makes its personality clear. Jackson is a lovely spot on the map, but the town I saw was a marketing machine designed to evoke every possible image of “the west” you can imagine. The town is pristine, and designed to impress. Thai Me Up is no exception. This swanky Thai food restaurant sports neon club-like lighting, with dark walls and modern sexy architecture. The average plate of food is around $17, and you are taken care of well. But, I did not go for the food. Although what I ate was quite good, this is a beer column. This brewery is getting a lot of attention, and for good reason. There are several hop maniac styled beers to choose from, including double IPA’s and double reds. I ordered a flight of beer and was impressed with everything I had. I finally settled on a second glass, and chose a winter warmer seasonal. It was nitrogenated, and packed full of flavor. This beer was not subtle … like the town it came from. It was pristine and evoked images of a high alpine winter by jamming a sharp knife of flavor onto my taste buds.

This trip was fantastic, I was happy to have tried new and interesting beers from two distinctly different towns. Each beer and brewery seemed to represent its hometown to a T. Do yourself a favor and see for yourself.