I wandered into Katabatic Brewing in Livingston, Montana, as it just so happened to be an opportune time for me to take a lunch break and drink a beer. It was also the half-way point on my drive across the state, and if you look at a map, Montana is pretty good sized (read: a long, boring drive). I’d been wanting to visit Katabatic since I heard about them opening just over two years ago. They’re a fairly small operation, and as such their distribution region is pretty limited.
The atmosphere was everything you would expect from a well put together brewery taproom. Clean, rustic, dimly lit, plenty of seating, a long old school bar, and a large overhead garage door creating an open feeling indoor/outdoor space. The beer lineup wasn’t extravagant, but there was a nice well rounded selection of beers brewed on site. I had a quick flight of their Imperial Red, Double IPA, Scotch Ale, and Hefe. All were solid – and I could tell immediately that the Red was the standout among their draught beers.
In talking with the bartender, he mentioned that the Red was a re-release of their first anniversary beer. He also mentioned that their 2nd Anniversary beer, a bourbon barrel aged Scotch Ale, was available in bottles, and had been very popular (which I review below).
Although Montana seems like a pretty remote beer drinking destination, if you find yourself driving from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest USA, you’ll be driving right past Katabatic Brewing in Livingston, Montana. Its well worth making the stop!
Katabatic Brewing is owned by Brice and LaNette Jones. I was able to talk with LaNette about the short but productive history of Katabatic Brewing. As an aside, a “katabatic” is a strong wind current which blows along a downward gradient, and Livingston, Montana is known for their unusually strong katabatic winds. In my travels, I’ve literally seen overturned pickup trucks and trailers right on the interstate – literally, still on the pavement. Livingston boasts that they are the 3rd windiest city in the continental USA. (You’ll find that in Montana we often brag about unusual statistics… most beer drank per capita in a single weekend is one that my hometown has often claimed for our “world famous” Bucking Horse Sale weekend). Anyway, moving on.
LaNette is a former social worker, and Brice a former wildland firefighter and smoke jumper. Shortly after the two were married, they decided that they wanted to go into business together. Brice was a home brewer, and LaNette a beer enthusiast, so the brewery business seemed like a logical choice. The two lived in Missoula, Montana (which most would agree is the state’s beer capital), and after a bit of market research, the two found that Livingston was a prime underserved beer location in Montana.
Following major renovations to the current brewery and taproom location, Katabatic Brewing opened in September of 2014 with a 7 barrel brewing setup, including 4 fermenters and 4 bright tanks. The following year, a 20bbl fermenter and bright tank were added. Current production is approximately 850bbl/year, most of which is consumed on site at the taproom.
Brice and LaNette are both self identified “hop heads” and tend to focus on big bold hoppy beers. The owners recruited head brewer Lynden Preuss, formerly of Echo Brewing in Colorado, who is well accomplished and very much in tune with obtaining the specifically desired flavor profiles from a beer. A Russian Imperial Stout was just brewed up, which had a 900lb malt bill, about double what is used in their typical beer batch.
While the draught distribution for this small brewery is fairly limited, Katabatic has had luck sending smaller quantities of their bottled beers around the state, from Missoula, to Great Falls, to Butte, to my little place in Miles City. Plans for expansion are in the works, and an upgrade from the original 7bbl to a 15bbl system could be just around the corner.
Katabatic typically sends representatives to two beer festivals per month during the festival season, and the entire crew makes an annual pilgrimage to one of the many beer meccas in the USA to ensure that they are keeping up with new and interesting beer trends.
Review of Katabatic’s 2016 Anniversary Ale II – Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale
Bottle: 22oz brown glass bottle. Nice professional label. Capped and wax dipped. Nice package and appearance, and bottled to ensure that this beer can safely age for several years if you so choose.
Opening/Pouring: Mildly carbonated – some hiss when opening the cap, but not a lot. Pours fairly clean with a thin layer of creamy head. Color is dark with ruby red overtones when held up against light.
Nose: (Cold – approx. 38f) Vanilla, Coffee, Chocolate.
Palate: (Cold) Toffee, Caramel, Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate.
This beer presents a well balanced combination of toffee, caramel, chocolate and marshmallow on the palate when cold. The flavors are bold and strong but well balanced. The beer is clearly a strong Scottish with very subtle whisky and oak influence. I suggest tasting this beer cold, but letting it warm up some for the majority of your tasting.
Nose: (Cellar temp. – approx. 50f) Much more aromatic as temperature rises to cellar temp. Increased vanilla and oak notes, greater bourbon influence.
Palate: (Cellar temp.) Barrel influence more prevalent, but very well balanced. Warmth from the whisky notes complement the overall profile of the beer.
I ultimately prefer this beer at cellar temperature as it presents the best balance of flavors in this overall robust and strongly flavored beer.
Nose: (Room temp.) Whisky and oak notes very prevalent. Begins to overpower the other interesting aroma profiles.
Palate: (Room temp.) Whiskey notes also begin to overpower the flavor profile of the beer.
This extremely well balanced barrel aged Scotch Ale is perhaps the best overall barrel beer I’ve had the opportunity to drink. The brewer did blend back this beer to approximately 80% barrel aged and 20% non, which creates a balance often lacking in barrel aged beers.
I rate this beer as a 9.5/10 in its class, and only so that I can leave room for the potential superior beer of this type, although I have yet to encounter one.
Photography by Kyra Ames