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The Great Northern Brewing Company, Whitefish, Montana

by Markian Gooley

Huckleberries have something of a cult following in Montana and nearby. I write as usual from Billings, that banausic city in southeast Montana, home to three refineries, two for oil and one for sugar. Sugar beets not huckleberries grow here, the sandstone cliffs of the Rimrocks overwhelm the distant mountains, and the Yellowstone River provides irrigation water for the beetfields, not scenery. Yet any well-stocked souvenir counter or candy shop here has huckleberry bonbons, jams, jellies, syrups, and so on, most sporting a standard "MADE IN MONTANA" sticker.

Whitefish is in the northwest of Montana, more in huckleberry country. I've tried another product of Great Northern, Black Star Lager, and all I can remember of it are the words "triple-hopped" on the label and a conviction that it is a beer one should not allow to get too warm, because vile flavors (as of adjuncts) become obvious as it approaches room temperature. If my memory is correct, that would place Black Star between mass-market beers that one must drink near freezing in order to choke down, and various so-so microbrews that are still palatable served fairly warm.

Wild Huckleberry Seasonal is, according to its label, "wheat lager with natural huckleberry juice...brewed with [not "from": does this imply money-saving adjuncts? various reasonable ingredients]...then blended with wild Montana huckleberry juice." Presumably this would bring on a brief second fermentation unless the yeast has been filtered out or killed by that point. Anyhow, this beer does smell of huckleberries, and there seems to be a faint purplish tinge to its foam. The wheat flavor is strong, and there's a ghost of tartness. There's also that faint, slightly nasty bitterness I usually taste only in beers made with fruit extracts rather than whole fruit or juices, a flavor I can't attribute to hops (it's distinctly different) or to wheat (it may appear even in all-barley brews). I think that I detect adjuncts as the beer gets near room temperature: by that point there's something reminiscent of the major brands of American beer, rice or maize or worse.

All in all, Wild Huckleberry Seasonal is pleasant enough near refrigerator temperature, with a good flavor of wheat and the smell of huckleberry jam, and the faint tartness balancing a faint maltiness. As a souvenir of Montana it's better than a keychain or a bottle of Montana wine, but inferior to a box of good huckleberry bonbons or a well-cut sapphire. Worth trying once as a novelty.

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