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Yellowstone Valley Brewing

Is This A Big Racket Or What?

From, 6-18-08 of published article, Microbrew Montana: Yellowstone Valley Brewing: Is This A Big Racket Or What?, Bill Schneider. This article is presented in agreement with All rights reserved, Copyright (© 2008)

George Moncure, owner of Yellowstone Valley Brewing

Wild George with his big racket and shiny new still.

Photo by Bill Schneider.

I'm sure if you work at Yellowstone Valley Brewing, you're always wondering if there'll ever be a dull moment. It's probably not part of the business plan, but owner and head brewer George Moncure seems to prefer that never-a-dull-moment style. For him, it comes naturally, you could say.

Moncure, aka Brewin' Geo, aka Brew Dude, who has a master's degree in geochemistry and lists two of his favorite pastimes as "yucking it up and love planning" owns the place--and brews the beer, books the bands, and appears to live the life of a taproom loyal. For this guitar-strumming, tennis-playing, dinosaur-digging brewer, it's always Hoppy Hour.

If you ask, for example, he'll show you his big racket, which is a real, oversized tennis racket he claimed when the Yellowstone Racquet Club gave in to condos and closed. As he swings it around in his packed taproom, he uses one of his favorite lines, possibly overused for the regulars: "Is this a big racket or what?"

You have the distinct impression he isn't talking about tennis.

Yellowstone Valley Brewing is part of a de facto "Brewery District" in downtown Billings, where four microbreweries (Angry Hanks, Carter's, Montana and Yellowstone Valley) thrive within four blocks of each other, making it convenient to stay at a downtown hotel and do a microbrew tasting tour on foot. Nobody knows why all the breweries located in such close proximity, but it certainly is serendipitous for craft brew fans.

Moncure says business has been great from the day he opened the doors back in 1996. Even before the taproom law passed three years later, "we had hundreds of people in here every night for samples."

Now, he has distributes his brew to eight states as far away as Oklahoma and Wisconsin and is in the process of adding another location for more production in conjunction with recently opened Bones Pub and Eatery on Billings' west side. Unlike his fellow brewers in Billings, who sell almost all of the beer they produce on site, Moncure only sells 20 percent of his taproom. Most of the rest goes out-of-state.

But I happened to visit Yellowstone Valley on a Saturday night, the live music night, and decided not to worry about that 20 percent figure. Clearly, he still sells a lot of beer on site. His 20 percent might equal some of his competitor's 90 percent if you count the number of pints.

What's different about Yellowstone Valley Brewing? "We thrive on music," Moncure answers, "and on Wednesdays, we have the best open mike in Billings."

Another difference is food. He offers peanuts, chips and Domino's pizza in the taproom, which doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot more than most microbreweries, which only have the serve-yourself popcorn machine.

Yellowstone Valley's taproom is also larger than most, tucked away in the back end of a large garage behind Enterprise Rent-a-Car--enough for a big crowd of happy beer drinkers, performance stage and ping-pong table. "I can fit 350 people in here," he boosts, calling it the "Garage Pub."

Another big difference will soon be the offerings, which will include Frostbite Vodka. Moncure soon will be the only brewer in the state to branch out and produce distilled spirits like vodka, rum and whiskey. If make it down to the Garage Pub for a pint of tasty craft beer in a "Bite Me" glass, take a gander at his shiny new still sitting in the taproom ready to be cranked up. Montana law allows small distillers, like small brewers, to sell small quantities (2 ounces per day) direct to customers on site.

The real difference, though, might be the owner's zeal for doing things differently, like staying open to 8:30 pm instead of 8 pm like other Montana microbreweries. "If somebody buys a beer at 7:55 pm, I want them to be able to enjoy it." Unlike most, Moncure also brews a special root beer to help families enjoy his taproom.

Moncure, like most brewers, likes all his beers but considers Wild Fly Ale his signature beer with Sharptooth Porter, named after a T-Rex skull he used to have on display at the Garage Pub but now moved over to the Bones location. Also, like several other breweries, he promotes local causes, often giving a large share of his beer profits to nonprofit organizations.

So, if you're in Billings for a microbrewery tour, don't miss Yellowstone Valley's Garage Pub, and if you want some great music, make it a Saturday night.

-Bill Schneider

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