Welcome back to Sip Northwest’s Beer Hall of Fame: a twice-monthly induction into a list of essential Northwest beers that have made their mark on the field and region.
In Missoula, Montana, the Scotch ale reigns supreme — at least it does if you ask KettleHouse Brewing Co.’s co-founder Tim O’Leary, who started the company with his wife back in 1995. Together, the couple has sold thousands and thousands of barrels of the ale since then.
Of course, in many craft beer-loving locales, the IPA is the most prominent pint sought after by patrons, but in KettleHouse’s hometown in the Big Sky State, it’s the deep, dark and rich Cold Smoke Scotch ale that gets most of the quaffing attention. “Cold Smoke, I’d wager to say, is the number one craft individual beer in Montana,” O’Leary says.
The brew falls on the darker side of the Scotch ale spectrum, aided by its, well, subtle smoky flavor. Clocking in at 11 IBUs and proudly the first canned craft beer in Montana, Cold Smoke drives over 70 percent of KettleHouse’s sales, and isn’t nearly as sharp as many other popular craft ales. Nevertheless, the stuff resonates with Montana’s drinkers — of which there are many. “There’s 1 million people in the state here,” says O’Leary. “The craft beer market produces 1 million barrels a year. It’s pretty easy math.”
And because Cold Smoke isn’t so bitter or biting, it makes for the perfect pint for folks looking to transition from their mild, light lagers. The beer is also a great drink to have after experiencing the many outdoor activities in Montana, says O’Leary. “We’re outdoors people,” he adds. “We love Montana and hopefully that shows. We strive for the person who skied a huge powder day to drink our beer at the end of their night.”
KettleHouse, which recently expanded to a third facility with an adjoining amphitheater, has come a long way from its early beginnings. And it is thanks in large part to their popular Scotch ale. According to O’Leary, “it is the beer that turns light beer drinkers into dark beer lovers.”