Bison and Beer: a unique approach
October 14, 2010
By Nate Schweber
Sometimes after a long sip of a particularly good craft beer, I time travel in my mind. As a lover of both beer and wildlife, I imagine what it would it have been like to visit America in the early 1800s.
Imagine standing at the gates of the Missouri, as Lewis and Clark did, and see those plains stretching forever east turned black with bison. What must it have been like to travel up river valleys to towns populated by German, French, Irish, English, Danish, Scottish, and Swiss settlers, all of them crafting beer with a mix of old world knowledge and new world grains? What a sight that America must have been.
Of course, those little breweries of yore met the same fate as the poor bison. Where once some 60 million bison roamed North America, by the turn of the 20th century there were just 23 solitary wild buffalo left, all in Yellowstone Park’s Pelican Valley. Similarly, all the family breweries across America were shuttered by prohibition, and the ones that resurrected after the 21st Amendment were quickly lost with corporations like Anheuser-Busch and Coors still thriving. The combination of railroads and greed were at the root of much of the eradication of both bison and family breweries.
What’s interesting is that today there are more bison in America and more family owned breweries than at any time since the 1800s. And, the two are often intertwined, with many brewpubs offering bison burgers, steaks, chili and more, often made from bison raised on a local ranches.
As wild buffalo begin to rut in August, and grillers across America sizzle bison as the summer wanes, August provides incredible opportunities to pair bison with craft beers.
Across America bison and beer are staples at brewpubs. In Hamilton, Montana, Bitterroot Brewing Company owner Tony Wickham pours pints of his nut brown ale, a smoky porter, and IPAs with bison burgers, made with meat raised in the Flathead Valley, home of the National Bison Range, just to the north.
“The darker, the hoppier, the more roasty and toasty flavors seem to go real well with the bison meat,” he said. “We serve bison because it’s something new, something different, something unique; like our beer selection.”