When you think of great beer states, Wyoming isn’t the first that comes to mind — California, Vermont and Oregon have that reputation. In fact, Wyoming might not make any list of the best beer states. But the scene there is growing. What used to be something of a craft beer desert now has 25 burgeoning microbreweries and brewpubs. While most of these breweries are still young, there are a handful of gems brewing truly world-class beer. (And in the crazy, hype-train-driven, barrel-aging, limited-release world of craft beer, it takes a lot to stand out.) While Snake River Brewing is likely the most recognizable, newcomers like Melvin Brewing and Black Tooth are receiving much-deserved attention. We drank plenty of brews during our trip to the Cowboy State, and this is a look at the best of the lot from those three standouts.
Black Tooth Brewing
Hot Streak IPA
Based in Sheridan, Black Tooth Brewing is currently producing 2,500 barrels per year but is ramping up production to 10,000 barrels and will soon be distributing in four neighboring states. Hot Streak (previously known as Indian Paintbrush IPA, which was named for the Wyoming state flower) is Black Tooth’s take on the American-style IPA. A beer that strays from the bright, citrusy and herbal hops, it’s surprisingly similar to a hoppy amber ale.
Tasting Notes: Fresh and subtle hop aromas waft upward from the glass. Underneath the hops are notes of freshly ground grain and a slight breadiness. The taste follows much of the same progression with a balanced and easy drinking finish. One taster picked out notes of rye on the finish. Hot Streak has a high drinkability with a slightly under-carbonated mouthfeel.
Saddle Bronc Brown
Many people see a brown ale and think of a thick, heavy beer like a Russian imperial stout. What surprises most people is the remarkably light mouthfeel that brown ales offer and the Saddle Bronc Brown is a great example. The notes of toffee and caramel play perfectly with the mellow hop character for a beer that anyone can enjoy.
Tasting Notes: For a beer with only 4.8% ABV, the nose hints curiously at the alcohol within. The ABV is apparent under roasted malts and a slight caramel sweetness. The nose is bigger than the taste and leaves behind some of those roasted malt characteristics. If a session brown ale were a style category, this would be the flagship. Saddle Bronc is easy drinking and can be consumed enjoyably even on the hottest days of summer.
Snake River Brewing Co.
Snake River Brewing is the stalwart of the Wyoming beer culture. Opened in 1994, it is often referred to as simply “The Brew Pub” or “Jackson’s living room” — it has long been a social gathering space for adventurers and locals alike to relax, imbibe and recap the day’s exploits. Pako’s IPA is their flagship beer and deserves to hold that title. Named for their unofficial mascot, this 6.8% ABV American IPA is a hop-head’s paradise, with 60+ IBU’s (international bittering units). The delicate malt backbone works perfectly to showcase the Simcoe and Columbus hop blend.
Tasting Notes: Onion and garlic are prominent notes on the nose and hint at a more classically styled IPA. The nose does not deceive your palate and hits notes of garlic, onion and as one taster puts it, “something that is two steps left of sesame.”
Jenny Lake Lager
The second beer from Snake River Brewing on this list, Jenny Lake Lager is the bread and butter of their lineup. Formerly known as Snake River Lager, the beer was rebranded in March of 2015. Far from your typical boring macro lager, Jenny Lake Lager is brewed in the Vienna style using a traditional German lager yeast. Bready and delicious, this lager is the perfect compliment to pizza and summer adventures.
Tasting Notes: A clean easy drinking Vienna-style lager. Noble hop varieties hint only slightly and bitter and play second fiddle to the dry and bready malt characteristics. The yeast imparts a hint of bready yet phenolic character but finishes very clean and keeps you coming back for more. One taster picked out a slight note of ginger in the finish.
A relative newcomer in the Wyoming beer scene, Melvin Brewing started out life as the in-house brewery at Thai Me Up restaurant in Jackson. While they still operate the brewpub, they have graduated from a 3bbl system to a 30bbl brewhouse after winning two medals at the World Beer Cup, one of which was a Gold in the Imperial India Pale Ale category awarded to their 2×4. Brewed with copious amount of Columbus, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe and “some other secret hops,” this 10% ABV beer is big enough to venture into triple IPA territory.
Tasting Notes: After a few swirls and slight warming, the nose produces notes of mango with underlying tones of hay and onion. The taste is that of a strong pale ale if you doubled the recipe. Lots of juicy tropical hop notes throughout the palate with a small amount of piny bitterness at the finish. At 10% ABV you taste and feel the alcohol and a sticky, boozy sweetness stays on your palate long after your last sip.
Coffee stouts are all the rage in the craft beer industry and Melvin’s Coffee Ruckus stands up to the best of them. As big as the state it’s brewed in, this 13% ABV imperial stout is best enjoyed on a cold winter eve in front of your fire. Pour a full glass, light up a stogie and enjoy the comfort of a good book.
Tasting Notes: After letting the bottle warm to cellar temp (~56 degrees), the nose hinted at slight coffee notes but not quite as pungent as Perennial’s Sump or Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout. Dark fruits are apparent on the nose as well and the roasted malts sneak in there right at the end. The taste provides much more coffee than the nose but not an overwhelming amount. The taste is extremely balanced and for being a 13% ABV beer, it is very easy drinking. The mouthfeel is an excellent example of the style and does not offer any of the soy and cloying sweetness that some imperial stouts deliver. The finish is fairly clean and keeps you coming back for sip after sip.