One of the more challenge aspects of operating a small brewery in any part of America is crafting a product that is not only original but also satisfying to the local populace’s palates. More often than not the quest for originality can result in beers with unique character that sadly deviate from the usual standards of a given style. And playing to the perceived tastes of a population can leave one with muddled suds that lack recognition from one’s peers in the industry.
So to produce beers that overcome these obstacles and achieve loftier goals is in my opinion quiet the accomplishment. Yet this is exactly what Black Tooth Brewing Company has done.
Based in the small northern Wyoming town of Sheridan and named after the towering/captivating mountain peaks in Big Horn National Forest, Black Tooth has reinvigorate Sheridan’s once proud pre-prohibition beer culture.
The brewery was conceived by local businessman Tim Barnes in 2009 while he stood on the 4th Tee of the Sheridan Country Club and looked back at the Black Tooth Mountain. Barnes deemed that the striking and iconic natural feature of the area needed an establishment that would be representational of the mountain’s greatness. And while Black Tooth Dentistry didn’t have the right ring, Black Tooth Brewery did.
Barnes set about putting all the pieces together for the brewery; finding investors, bringing in brewer Travis Zeilstra from Montana Brewing Company as co-founder, and of course finding the right location which happened to be an old car dealership in downtown Sheridan…because as Barnes explained “An old gas station wasn’t good enough.”
Black Tooth opened it’s doors in late 2010, establishing itself as a preferred watering hole in an area that needed a refreshing alternative to the status quo brews from the big name breweries. As Barnes explained to me “There is a local intrinsic quality in craft beer and there is a local attachment to the same beer.” In fact locals have become so attached to Black Tooth’s brews that the brewery is often referred to as “our” brewery by patrons.
And if I was a resident of Sheridan I would feel exactly that same way.
The brewery strikes the right balance of offering beers that score exceedingly high on drinkability, that stay true to styles, while offering enough complexity to keep your palate entertained. This along with the hospitality and open garage setting of bar, make Black Tooth somewhere that you want to be.
At any given time the brewery has at least 6 beers on tap with their Wheat, IPA, Brown, and Amber available year around. Rotating small batches of experimental beers from head brewer Zeilstra round out the beer selection (click here to read about their beers). Particular favorites during our visits to Black Tooth have been the Stout, Rye, Pale Ale, and Amber. Again, while the majority of the beers don’t have “mind altering” levels of complexity, they all are satisfying and bring to you closer to what Happy Gilmore would call: “A Happy Place.”
The diversity of the patrons only adds to the brewery’s ambiance for at any given time there is a mixture of cowboys, farmers, beer/sports enthusiasts, and geologists who come to the area to study the rock formations in the Big Horn National Forest. Additionally, Black Tooth is the only brewery I’ve ever patronized that one can literally ride up to the bar on their horse and place an order. Seriously (see images below).
Another unique aspect of the brewery is Barnes’ decision to forgo the “obligatory” food service that many craft brew establishments in a similar settings offer. Rightly so, the focus is on the beer and the food is left to other businesses to concern themselves with. Never fear though, free pretzels and fresh popcorn are readily available to help alleviate any snack needs (I highly recommend the popcorn doused in hot sauce). Additionally the “Field Kitchen” food truck appears outside the establishment on Thursday and Friday evenings, serving satisfactory and scrumptious foods prepared with only the best meats from the local organic purveyor Sackett’s Market. The deep-fried cheese curds are particularly good.
Tragically, Black Tooth only currently distributes their beers in five counties in Wyoming (apologies to our national and international readers). However, even with their limited distribution, the young brewery is already receiving national recognition with their Wagon Box Wheat winning Gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup and Black Tooth being named the 5th best brewery in the country at the 2012 U.S. Open Beer Championship.
The attention that the brewery is receiving, including my own, is certainly well deserved. Barnes and Zeistra’s vision and hard work has not only brought beer back to life in northern Wyoming. Black Tooth’s beers and the Gemuetlichkeit (atmosphere) of the bar provides a welcome oasis where locals and out-of-towners can imbibe in tasty suds and be reminded of the importance of local craft beer and what real beer tastes like.
I invite you to find out for yourself by visiting the brewery and by exploring their website.
- Tim’s answer to my always intriguing question of “What beer is current in you fridge?”: Odell’s 5 Barrel Pale Ale, Snake River’s Vienna Style Lager, and a few beers from Lost Abbey.
- Though Black Tooth’s brews are currently only available on draft in Wyoming, there are plans to eventually expand distribution and begin canning their beers for retail sale.
- Going to be in the Sheridan area in early September? Don’t miss the Sheridan Beer Fest on September 8th, which will be featuring the beers of Black Tooth, Snake River, and many more Wyoming/Montana/Colorado breweries. This glutton will be in attendance.
*A special thanks for Tim Barnes and the entire Black Tooth staff for their hospitality and time during our most recent visit.
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