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Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company, Billings, MN

by Markian Gooley

A beer festival last year here in Billings included representatives and beer from perhaps eight Montanan breweries. I've seen Kessler beers from Helena distributed widely and the mediocre Spanish Peaks Black Dog beers (contract-brewed in Minnesota) in various parts of the United States, but the other Montanans at the show seemed to have no plans for nation-wide sales. Now I've just returned after a month away (the Ybor City brews from Tampa, and the McCoy from Stuart, Florida are good, by the way) to find several products of the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company on grocery shelves in Billings, labeled for nationwide sale.

Renegade Red Ale, like the other beers from Yellowstone Valley, is named after a trout fly; pictures of the fly and a stretch of the valley (a plausible view from a sandstone cliff north of the river, looking across to willows and another cliff, with the Beartooth Mountains in the background) take up most of the label. "A copper-red Extra Special Bitter with a hint of English spice" and "Brewed with the finest five malts & fresh English hops" leave room for that hokey "Made in Montana" badge, the government warning, and so on.

This ale is warm brown, and has little head. It smells of malt and some ale-yeast esters, but not of hops. A slightly scorched malt taste is well balanced by bittering hops; the aftertaste is hop bitterness with a touch of something acrid (tannins?) but pleasant. In the middle of a sip, flavor hops jump up and blend well with the other tastes before a mild alcohol burn and the aftertaste take over. I don't know what "English spice" refers to -- the flavor hops? the ale esters? -- nor what significance "five malts" has. Perhaps it's the brewer's equivalent of the Chinese "five spice" mixture, and I'm ignorant.

Renegade Red Ale is a little heavier and maltier than the Extra Special Bitters I remember having had in London-I think more of Newcastle Brown Ale-but perhaps that's because the Yellowstone provides even harder water to Billings than the Tyne does to Newcastle. Definitely worth a try; Billings does produce things other than gasoline, beet sugar, and amateur beer reviewers.

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