God bless local booze. Every time I see a new, local brewery I feel lucky to live in a time when such a wide, amazing variety of local beers is available to me. It seems every year Bozeman sees new small, local businesses committed to providing high quality products on a scale perfectly suited for a town like ours. They say food tastes better when you cook it yourself, and that logic applies to local products too. Bozeman beer is just better in Bozeman. I had this in my mind when I visited the new White Dog Brewery on Main Street.
White Dog is housed in a small building just adjacent to the Baxter Hotel downtown. But, unbeknownst to me at the time, they actually share the space with another local business — the Bozeman Spirits distillery. Amazingly this small building not only houses the storefronts for both buildings, but also the production facilities for each respective alcohol. Despite sharing the space the two companies are entirely separate, although the owner of the distillery is a part-owner of the Brewery.
When first entering the building you are presented with two doors: one on the left for the distillery and one on the right for the brewery. I’ll head left first. The distillery celebrated its one year anniversary recently, having been first opened by Jim Harris on Halloween of last year. Bozeman Spirit’s storefront is a warm, wood-paneled affair with a bar running down one side and chairs and tables lining the other. The locally-brewed spirits are displayed with pride along the bar. However the most eye-catching feature is a twenty-foot high window in the back that shows the stills with the distiller at work, attending to mammoth steel and copper tanks with two dogs at his heel. I talked to the distiller Thomas McGuane about the distillery in more detail.
He walked me around the impressively small space, pointing to 2,000 pound sacks of grain in one corner and a wall of wooden barrels in another. The most fascinating and prominent features are the enormous stills; some twenty feet tall, connected by a spider web of tubes and valves. He walked me through a hypothetical batch of whiskey.
“That’s where the mash is cooked,” he pointed to a large, brass container, “not too long, or we’ll end up with something like porridge.” Next he pointed to a series of large steel tanks with small, circular windows on the front of them. “Here I add steam, and depending on how high the liquid goes I know when to add more.” Some clear, pre-whiskey was bubbling behind one of the small windows. Once distilled the whiskey will go into charred barrels for aging. Currently the most aged whiskey that Bozeman Spirits offers is nine months, but McGuane plans to extend that time by larger increments for as long as the distillery is open.
Aside from whiskey, Bozeman Spirits also produces and bottles rum, vodka, gin and bitters. Depending on your thirst you can go and just have a cocktail at the distillery’s bar, or you can buy it by the bottle. After seeing the thought and effort that goes into their product I highly recommend it.
Next let’s head next door. White Dog Brewing Company is the younger brother of the two businesses, having opened a mere four months ago. The brewery is co-owned by two brothers — Joe and Troy Harris. I met up with Joe to talk about the business. Much like the distillery, White Dog has a warm storefront with a bar along one side and seating along the other. The bar is especially interesting since it is made of bricks from the historical Lehrkind brewery that was recently demolished. It also sports something entirely unique to any bar in Bozeman: a cooled “frost rail” where you can place your beer to keep it cold from start to finish. Much like the distillery, there is also a huge window in the back that looks into the brewery itself. Rows of enormous steel tanks line each wall.
“These are the ones we use to ferment or age the beers,” Joe Moore told me, pointing to one side of the brewery, “and these are where we put them when they are ready,” he said, pointing to the other side of the room. The beer is pumped directly from the large tanks to the taps at the bar. Each of the large tanks has a name, printed in black letters on the front — Moore told me they are “the names of old dogs, just a way we can remember them.”
After the tour I sat down at White Dog’s bar and ordered a red lager. I’m a huge fan of any kind of red, so I was more than eager to try a local brew. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s malty, but not overpowering — a very pleasant beer to drink. The flavor is subtle, and over time it allows less prominent notes to come through, rather than letting a single flavor overtake the whole experience. That seems to be an overall theme at White Dog: you won’t find exotic, triple-hop black IPA’s there. What you will find are traditional, well-made brews. The bartender was kind enough to let me try a sampler later on, and tasting all the beers solidified this idea to me. Each is a good beer in its own respect, and there isn’t anything that’s trying to be “different.” It’s just a solid, traditional line-up that is well crafted. Honestly, I prefer that. You can try them for yourself at the storefront’s bar, or get a six-pack of their IPA that can be found in the Co-Op on West Main Street.
So what’s the moral? Drink local. I got a first-hand look into the effort and passion with which these local alcohols were made, and it has only strengthened my desire to take in all that Bozeman offers me. Take advantage of it as much as possible.
Find out more about Bozeman Spirits by visiting the store at 121 West Main Street, or by going to bozemanspirits.com. Find out more about White Dog by visiting the same address or by going to whitedogbrewing.com.