Last night I was having a beer in downtown Olympia when I noticed they were selling cans of something called Montucky Cold Snack. I asked the bartender about it and he said it was "the official unofficial beer of Montana." I thought he was just making that up on the spot, told him to not go too far on his sales pitch, and ordered one out of curiosity, thinking it was likely the product of one of the bigger MT breweries like Big Sky.
It wasn't good, but what really almost made me spit out the beer was when I saw that the bartender wasn't free-styling with his sales pitch; he was just repeating what the can says--"The official unofficial beer of Montana"--and that it is brewed in La Crosse, WI. Granted, I probably overreacted, but when I got home I pored over everything I could learn about the beer and put feelers out on Facebook. Here's what I've figured out:
--The brand was started by a couple of really nice-seeming guys from Montana.
--These guys wanted a "local-branded" light lager for Montana, so people could drink local while avoiding heavy IPAs etc. common to local micro breweries.
--However, to compete with other cheap light beers, the beer is not brewed in Montana but is contract brewed by an outfit called City Brewing in La Crosse, WI, which is one of the biggest such contract brewing facilities. It's the same facility that produces other cheap tall-can brands like Old German and Milwaukee Light.
--To preserve a modicum of local cred, the guys commendably donate 8 percent of profits to Montana charities. They've given money to groups as divergent as the local Audubon Society and the Montana Stockgrowers Association, a group that's rather outspoken when it comes to wolves and bison.
--It boasts an almost too good to be true distribution map, which is why I found it in a bar in Olympia, Washington just two years after they started brewing. That's blink of an eye when it comes to breweries, though this is comparing the beer to microbrews, which this is not and does not claim to be.
Reading about these guys, part of me feels bad about having a negative word to say about a product they've obviously staked a lot on. However, the other part of me can't get over their decision to market what is likely the exact same beer as Old German as "the official unofficial beer of Montana." While the statement is complete nonsense--i.e., it doesn't mean anything, or at least could mean so many things that it's impossible to know what it truly does mean--were Bayern, Kettle House, Big Sky or Blackfeet breweries to try to market any of their beers with that tag line there would have been a huge uproar. Too many people have worked too hard to make good beer a thing in Montana for anyone to even approach the mantle of "official unofficial" beers in the state, especially some upstarts contract brewing in Wisconsin.
However, it's totally natural that Montucky Cold Snacks would pitch an outrageous tag line to win over drinkers, since the beer is 100 percent marketing. As this Billings Gazette profile puts it, a contract brewer is "someone who would brew the beer while they did everything else." Well, when your business is beer, and you're not making beer, everything else amounts to figuring out how to package and sell a product. It's not unlike a local diner getting the same Sysco food products the guy down the street and then hoping its sign, prices and service are enough to distinguish it. Legitimate business, but you can't market yourself as the end-all-be-all of food if you do it.
All in all, I hope these guys the best, and if every dollar to them takes a dollar away from Coors, God bless them. But seriously, change the tag line.