Thursday, August 23, 2012

Of Bison and Beer

I recently returned from two-weeks in Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks. It was absolutely incredible - between the wide open spaces, the wildlife, the hydrothermal features, and the spectacular mountain views we had a great time. The kids were the perfect ages (8 and 11) and all in all it was a wonderful family vacation. (For those interested, you can check out some photos from the trip here.)

Of course, no vacation would be complete without good beer, right? Luckily, I am happy to say, there is plenty of really good beer in and around the parks. We flew into Salt Lake City and hit the local Whole Foods to stock up before driving out to the parks. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a well-stocked section of local craft beer sold by the bottle, more so since it was a Sunday and I didn't think Utah allowed alcohol sales on Sundays.
Fortunately, I was wrong. I picked up an assorted 6-pack - five from Uinta Brewing Co. and one from the Wasatch Brewery (as a biologist I couldn't resist their "Evolution Amber Ale"). From Uinta I grabbed one bottle each of their Hoodoo Kolsch, Wyld Extra Pale Ale, Cutthroat Pale Ale, Trader Session IPA, and Sum'r Blonde Ale. I don't have any detailed tasting notes from these beers, but they were all good. If anything, some of the Uinta beers may have been too malty and perhaps not quite dry enough. However, I would certainly not hesitate to have them all again. My one regret is not picking up a bottle of Wasatch's Polygamy Porter, which has a tagline of "Why have just one?". Brilliant.

I was also very impressed with the selection of beers available within the park. I had the opportunity to try a few beers that I had heard great things about but can't get at home. I was ecstatic to find Big Sky's Moose Drool and Deschutes' Black Butte Porter. Both were world-class and I wish I could find them around here. Red Lodge Brewery's Bent Nail IPA and Hefeweizen were also quite tasty.

The real stars of the vacation however were a couple of places outside the Grand Tetons, in Jackson, WY - Snake River Brewing and The Bird. We ate dinner at each place twice during our stay and everything we had - food and beer - were excellent. Of particular note was Snake River's Zonker's stout. Full of flavor - rich chocolate and coffee, without any harshness. Perfectly balanced. I've already sent them an email asking for info about brewing this beer. Not sure if I'll get a response, but if I do, this beer will jump to the top of my fall brewing. The Bird served incredible hamburgers and fries and their menu alone is worth reading (it was hysterical to hear my 11-year old daughter order the "Ghetto on a Good Day"). On top of the great food, this place served German beers on tap. I couldn't pass up the Reissdorf Kölsch, served in authentic 0.2L Kölsch glasses. Perfect way to wash down a juicy hamburger on a hot summer evening. If you're ever in Jackson, you have to check this place out (it's a locals joint, so you'll have to drive a bit out of downtown Jackson to find it).

Although this wasn't intended to be a "craft beer vacation", it just worked out so nicely that excellent craft beers were readily available. Fittingly, I even found some amazing hop plants growing in the back yard of the place we stayed while in the Grand Tetons! Moulton Ranch is an old Mormon homestead, so I was surprised to find hops on the property. I spoke with the current owners and they weren't sure when or why the hops started growing there - they've "always been there" and they just let them grow up every year and don't do anything with them. The hops looked amazing and smelled wonderful. I thought about harvesting some (with permission, of course), but I wasn't sure if they were quite ready or if I really wanted to deal with it. Looking back, I now wish I many people can say they've brewed beer with Mormon hops that were probably planted a generation or two ago? Guess I'm just going to have to go back someday!

<-- check out these hops!

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