Big Sky Brewing’s ‘Terrible’ Beer a Terrible Misnomer


Big Sky Brewing Co. released its 2010 Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout in mid-January, and if you want to sample it for yourself you better hurry, as production is limited to only 3,800 750 ml bottles (269 cases) that are being sold in all 24 states where Big Sky sells beer. When I picked one up at the Good Food Store, it was one of two left on the shelf. And I’ve heard of them selling out fast at Orange Street Food Farm and Pattee Creek Market, too.

Ivan the Terrible is an Imperial Stout aged in American Oak bourbon barrels and it registers at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). In contrast, figure that most micro beers fall between 5-7% ABV. Sampling this beer was a treat. The presence of fruity aromas and flavors (black cherry, date, raisins) come through right after the beer hits your mouth, and hints of its bourbon-barrel aging and notes of chocolate linger in the aftertaste. And everything that happens in between is joyful. This limited edition beer is more than a special-occasion drink; it’s something to look forward to every January.

Perhaps the only two things this Imperial Stout has in common with the real Ivan the Terrible, the 16th century “Grand Prince of Moscow,” are that both are complex and both are Russian. Russian Imperial Stout beers have been steadily gaining in popularity in American markets, and no less than 15 micro-breweries across the country take a stab at producing this dark, rich beer every year.

The popularity of the Big Sky’s Imperial Stout, however, may be tied directly or indirectly to the general upswing in Missoula’s local beer sales. Big Sky Brewing, Bayern and Kettlehouse all reported an unexpected jump in sales in 2010. Big Sky Brewing, Montana’s largest beer maker, saw a 7.3% increase in sales in the last six months, and both Kettlehouse and Bayern each saw roughly a 30% boost in 2010.

Whether the increase is due to more Missoulians supporting their local economy, or that local beer tastes better, or Missoula benefits from a constant flux of new patrons, or the American palate is always looking for a sophisticated challenge, or some combination of all these, one can only hope that our micro-breweries will be able to create and market more beers as unique as Ivan the Terrible.  Back to “Drink It” home page.

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Ryan Newhouse has lived in Missoula since 2002 and has tipped his glass in most of the town’s establishments. He is a full-time writer, husband and parent (in no particular order) and a part-time zymurgist. He makes a mean hard cider and pairs his cocktails with dishes from his blog, Cooked Animals: Recipes for Wild Game.