River brews for the dog days.
When floating the river in Montana, you need two things: watercraft and beer. (On occasion, a bathing suit as well.) Once you know where you’re going and how you’ll get there, shift your focus to beverages. Here are some tips to think about the next time you find yourself scratching your head in the booze aisle.
First, think of your company. Who will be joining on this water excursion? If you’re hitting the water with a convoy of college crusaders, PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) is hard to beat. It’s a staple river beer, and for good reason – the Milwaukee classic comes in 24-packs at a cheap price and is only 144 calories with a low 4.74% ABV. If you need numbers, look no further.
However, if you’re going on a fishing trip with dad, you’re probably not planning on tipping 'em back as fast as you can. Try Montucky Cold Snacks if you dig light beer; it's similar to PBR in body, but with a smoother aftertaste. Their tall-boy six-packs have a couple advantages. If you’re looking to sip only a few, split one with a friend. Or, if it’s a larger BYOB gathering, grab one for yourself and it will suffice for miles.
If macrobrews – Bud Light, Coors, PBR, etc. – aren’t your thing, or you're a beer snob, test out the local scene. Note, however, this route requires true strategizing. Once you get into microbrews, attention to detail is crucial. Know how long the float is and how much heat you're packing – microbrews tend to have higher alcohol content. If you plan to be on the water for seven hours and all you bring is Bozeman Brewing’s Hopzone, you could be in trouble. For one, the fruity hop monster has an IBU (International Bitterness Unit) of 80 – not many people enjoy more than a few of them in a row. And if you do have the stomach for them, the 7% alcohol content could have you veering your raft toward the wrong set of rapids. For something more mellow, check out Huckleberry Honey from Bitter Root Brewery in Hamilton. This seasonal ale is sweet, fruity, and light. You can travel extensive stretches without filling up or exceeding your tolerance, and on hot days, it’ll go down like water. Not satisfied? Head over to 406 Brewing and grab a six-pack of Hop Punch IPA. This beer breathes tangy bitterness; its name couldn’t be more fitting.
Personally, I’m a fan of the mix-and-match. I start the day with a couple of cheap lighter brews and once the buzz has kicked in, slow down and switch to a darker drink. And on the river, nothing complements piss-water more than a Bozone Amber. Its malted barley and medium body are both refreshing and filling.
For that prolonged, satisfying float experience, analyze the situation and make sure all your bases are covered. Keep in mind length of float, company, and taste and tolerance of the group. If it’s the annual company float, showing up with the enthusiasm to drain the entire 30-rack you brought might not be the move. Same goes for the other side. If you’re out with 21-year-olds and you offer them some fancy microbrew seasoned with sunflower seeds, thyme, and spruce bark, you may be shunned as they reach for another Keystone.
Remember, there’s no one way when it comes to beer and floating, kind of like powder and skiing. The true prize is the combination itself. Some tactics may prove worthier than others, but if you’re on the river with a beer in your hand, things could be worse.