I met brewer Todd Crowell outside Grand Teton Brewing Company (GTBC) in Victor, Idaho. Perched on the border of Wyoming and Idaho in the shadows of the Tetons, the brewery is the last business you see before crossing into Wyoming or the first as you enter the Gem State.
GTBC is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Brothers Charlie and Ernie Otto opened the brewery on the other side of Teton Pass in Wilson, Wyoming in 1988. The then named Otto Brothers Brewery became the first modern microbrewery in Wyoming when they secured the first malt beverage manufacturers permit in thirty-five years. Their original beerTeton Aleis still one of their most popular.
While the Otto brothers were brewing their inaugural batch of beer, Wyoming state law still prohibited breweries to act as retailers. Charlie spent three years lobbying congress and grass root organizing to get the law changed, and in 1992 the Otto Brothers Brewery became the first brewpub in Wyoming.
Eventually, the quarters in Wilson grew too small for the expanding business. In order to start bottling their own beer on site, the brewery needed a new home. In the spring of 1998, they packed up their fermenters and moved to the west side of the Tetons; a couple years later changed the brewerys name to reflect a more regional feel.
As we toured the 11,000-foot building, Todd explained the brewing process from a little balcony above where all the action takes place. 70-80% of the grain that goes into GTBC beer is malted barley, and most of that barley comes from nearby Pocatello. Thats mixed with a specialty malt, milled and pumped into a grain bin.
The grain is then mixed with 156-degree water to encourage the enzymes in the barley to break starches into sugars. Todd explained that hotter water lends more body to the beer while cooler water ups the alcohol content. We do it on the high end, Todd noted, because we are more interested in a full bodied beer.
Water plays a crucial role in the taste of the beer and GTBC beers start as a stream just uphill of the brewery. Originating from a spring in the mountains and flowing past glacier lilies and sage on its way to the brewery, this water adds a taste of the Tetons to every brew.
When the mixture is brilliant (thats beer talk for clear), it is moved to another container and sprayed with hot water to rinse out the sugar. The extract, called sweet wort, is collect and used for the brewerys special Reserve Beers. In honor of their 20th anniversary, GTBC is making four Cellar Reserve Beers this yearDouble Sweetgrass IPA, Double Mountainberry Wheat Ale, Double Au Naturale Organic Red Ale and Double Bitch Creek ESB.
As soon as thirty barrels of sweet wort is ready, it is steam-boiled for ninety minutes while hops are added. For a bitter beer, hops are added near the start of the boiling; for a more aromatic brew, the hops go in toward the end of the process. The boiled wort is spun and twirled in the whirlpool to coagulate proteins, which, along with the hops, collects in the center of the vessel and is drawn off.
Finally getting toward the end of the brewing process, the sweet wort is transferred to the cellar where it hangs out in a fermenter with yeast. Todd humbly tells me, Brewers dont make beer, we make wort. Yeast makes beer. That may be so, but from my vantage point it seems like the brewers have plenty of work on their hands turning water, grain and hops into a tasty beverage. The ultimate step is carbonating the brew and transferring it to kegs or bottles, just steps from where it was made.
We ended the tour with a tasting in the taproom. The first beer, Black Cauldron Imperial Stoutnamed for a geothermal feature in Yellowstone National Parktasted thick and chocolaty to me. I asked Todd how hed describe the flavor. Roasty with coffee notes, smoky, he said, but then added, Never be afraid to associate the taste with what you know.
We moved on to Mountainberry Wheat and then to a yummy root beer crafted on the premises (they also make ginger ale). Todd points to a growler and tells me that the Otto Brothers were one of the first brewers to rediscover and re-popularize the long forgotten container. Originally a lidded tin pale used in Europe to transport beer, the Otto brothers modernized it by creating a 64-ounce glass jug version that can be found at almost any brewery today.
I left Grand Teton Brewing Company and gazed uphill to where the beer started. Ive been hiking on the west side of the Tetons many times and imagined marmots shrieking from atop rocks, wildflowers filling meadows and alpine lakes reflecting slow moving clouds. Todd doesnt know exactly where the beer initiating spring is, but he (along with the other brewers) knows how to make a great beer.
Some of the many microbreweries with tasting rooms or brew pubs:
Coeur DAlene Brewing, Coeur DAlene
Beers include Huckleberry Ale, Centennial Pale Ale, Lakeside British Ale, Pullman Porter, Rockford Bay IPA and Polar Bear Stout.
209 Lakeside Ave.
Grand Teton Brewing Company, Victor
Beers include Old Faithful Ale, Grand Teton Ale, Bitch Creek and Au Naturale.
430 Old Jackson Hwy
Laughing Dog Brewing, Ponderay
Beers include Huckleberry Cream Ale, Cold Nose Winter Ale and Hot Chihuahua Chili Pepper Ale.
55 Emerald Industrial Park Rd.
Mickduff’s Brewing Company, Sandpoint
Beers include Knot Tree Porter, Irishmen Amber, Lake Paddler and Tipsy Toe Head Blonde.
312 N. First Ave.
MJ Barleyhoppers, Lewiston
Beers include Steamboat Stout, Rattlesnake Red, Huckleweizen, Chocolate Dunkleweizen and Jumpin Steelhead Stout.
621 21st Street
Portneuf Valley Brewing, Pocatello
Beers include Twisted Stick Amber Ale, Midnight Satin Stout and Rust Bucket Red.
615 S. 1st Ave
Sun Valley Brewing, Hailey
Beers include White Cloud Ale, Gretchens Gold Lager and Lost Planet Porter.
202 Main St.
Trail Creek Brewing Company, Twin Falls
Beers include Spin Drift IPA, Alchemy Amber, Unkle Dunkel and Lace Wing Lager.
516 Hansen St. South
208. 763.0330, www.trailcreekbrewing.com
Bayern Brewing, Missoula
Beers include Bayern Amber, Schwarzbier, Dragons Breath Dark Hefeweizen and Dancing Trout.
1507 Montana St.
Big Sky Brewing Company, Missoula
Beers include Moose Drool, Scape Goat, Montana Trout Slayer Ale and Powderhound.
5417 Trumpeter Way
Bitter Root Brewing Company, Hamilton
Beers include Sawtooth Ale, Amber Ale, Nut Brown Ale and India Pale Ale.
101 Marcus St.
Blackfoot River Brewing Company, Helena
Beers include Double Black Diamond Extreme Stout, Missouri River Steamboat Lager, Woollybugger Wheat and North Fork Organic Porter.
54 S Park Ave.
Bozeman Brewing Company, Bozeman
Beers include Bozone Select Amber Ale, Bozone Hefe Wiezen and Bozone Plum St. Porter.
504 North Broadway Ave.
Flathead Lake Brewing Company, Bigfork
Beers include Wild Horse Winterfest, Wild Mile Wheat, Peg Leg Porter and Whitecap Pale Ale.
26008 East Lakeshore Dr
Glacier Brewing, Polson
Slurry Bomber Stout, Golden Grizzly Ale, Port Polson Pilsner and North Fork Amber Ale.
6 Tenth Ave. East
Great Northern Brewing Company, Whitefish
Beers include Bare Naked Amber, Snow Ghost Winter Lager, Going to the Sun Pale Ale and Hellroaring Amber Lager.
2 Central Ave.
Harvest Moon Brewing Company, Belt
Beers include Pigs Ass Porter, Beltian White, Charlie Russell Red and Electric City Pale Ale.
7 Fifth St. South
Kettlehouse Brewing Company, Missoula
Beers include Eddy Out Pale Ale, Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, Olde Bongwater Hemp Porter
and Double Haul IPA.
602 Myrtle St.
Lang Creek Brewing, Marion
Beers include Zeppelin Imperial Ale, Skydiver Blond, Windsock Pale Ale, Wingwalker IPA and Sopwith Camel London Ale.
655 Lang Creek Rd.
Neptunes Brewery, Livingston
Beers include Smooth Sailing Cream Ale, Toad Back Bock and Clipper Nut Brown Ale.
119 North L Street
Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company, Red Lodge
Beers include Glacier Ale, Bent Nail IPA, Beartooth Pale Ale and Reserve Ale.
417 N Broadway
Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company, Billings
Beers include Black Widow Stout, Grizzly Wulff Wheat, Renegade Red ESB and Wild Fly Ale.
2123 1st Avenue
Altitude Chophuose and Brewery, Laramie
Beers include High Plains Pale Ale, 7200 Stout, Bearpaw Brown Ale and Expedition Porter.
320 S. 2nd St.
Bitter Creek Brewing, Rock Springs
Beers include A Beer Named Bob, Coal Porter, Boars Tusk and Wee Bastard Scottish Ale.
604 Broadway St.
Bottoms Up Brewery and Grill, Pinedale
Beers include Adventure Amber Ale, Buckin Bitter Ale, Korruption Kolsch Ale and Out of Order Porter.
402 Pine St.
Library Restaurant and Brewing Company, Laramie
Beers include Dubliners Stout, Over Due Brew and Red Eye Ale.
1622 East Grand Ave.
Snake River Brewing, Jackson
Beers include Snake River Pale Ale, Zonker Stout, Rock Chuck Rye and On Belay IPA.
265 S. Millward
Big Sky Journal