New Heathens

A Mooser at the Gooser

Very gratified by the nice press my Yellowstone trout book has garnered. On these days when the mercury acts like a slug, I can't help but daydream about summer. This story just wouldn't fit anywhere else.

For the first month I was in Yellowstone in 2011, I didn't drink a drop of beer. I just couldn't afford to spend a dime in any bar or restaurant (my book advance was, ahem, modest). But there came a day when I just craved a Moose Drool.

Moose Drool, for the uninitiated, is the name of a chocolatey, brown ale brewed by Big Sky Brewing Company in my hometown of Missoula, Montana. It tastes of trout adventures, good company and home.

On that day in Yellowstone, I hiked to a spot in the Gallatin Mountains called Fawn Lake, a secluded little reservoir filled with brook trout dressed in bodacious colors underneath the majestic hulk of 11,000-foot Electric Peak.

The hike wasn't the steepest I'd done, or the longest. But it was one of the edgiest because the area was lousy with grizzly bears. Twice already I'd tried to go to Fawn Lake, but rangers closed the trail because of a snapping mama griz with two cubs. Two gentleman I interviewed for my chapter about the lake told a tense story about wading into the water and then having a griz come toward them. A book co-written by veteran Yellowstone guide Craig Mathews says of Fawn Lake, "This trail is infamous for grizzly bears; it's not uncommon to see two or three bears on the way to the lake. Undertake this hike only in groups of four or more."

I was by myself.

Thankfully, the only megafauna I saw on the hike was a cow moose and her calf. When I got back to my pickup truck at the trailhead, I was sweaty and tired. Most of all, I was relieved. Man, I thought, I'd love a cold pint of Moose Drool.

Understand that in New York City, I pay a lot for beer, and I've gone to great lengths for Moose Drool. Some Manhattan rock clubs charge $8 for a Bud bottle, and Brooklyn pubs with far-flung craft beers on tap can charge $15 or more for a pint. You can't buy Moose Drool anywhere in New York, so I used to get two sixpacks on my annual pilgrimage to Montana, and then smuggle them back in my checked luggage, carefully wrapping each bottle in socks and t-shirts. I would ceremonially drink one every month. When all twelve were gone -- yes! -- time to go back to Montana and get more.

I thought about this as I wheeled my pickup toward the gateway town of Gardiner, Montana. I really couldn't spare any money, but man, I'd been frugal and sober for a month. And the Fawn Lake grizzlies didn't get me! And oh what I pay for NYC brews and oh what I do for Moose Drool! I decided that whatever the cost, I'd order that pint of Moose Drool and I'd love every sip.

I walked into the Blue Goose Saloon, a den of taxidermy and hair-rock, literally across the street from Yellowstone National Park. Gruff locals go there for after-work pops, followed by yahoo seasonal employees that drink until they stumble out onto the street.

I saddled up on a barstool and ordered my pint of The Drool. I had one raggedy $20 bill that I'd carried around for weeks and I happily laid it on the countertop. A minute later, the bar lady brought me 16 ounces of the delicious, coffee-colored ale with foamy white suds in a slow slide down the outside of the glass.

Then she brought me something else: SEVENTEEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY-CENTS CHANGE!

(I may have had another.)

POSTSCRIPT 3/27/13: I'm pained to post this but it should be noted that Big Sky Brewing is taking some well-deserved flak from Montana beer enthusiasts for throwing their support behind craft-brewery-crippling legislation written for the draconian Montana Tavern Association. May I throw in a plug for Kettlehouse's Cold Smoke Scotch Ale instead?

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  1. As always, a great story, Nate. I think I would have had another pint, too!

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