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10 Things Montanans Are Weirdly Passionate About

by Shar Riley Dec 18, 2016

1. Naming beer after bears.

With brews with names like Golden Grizzly Ale, Bear Bottom Blond, and Bear Dance Black IPA, it’s pretty clear where Montana’s 40-some breweries get a lot of their inspiration. Montana has the second highest brewery-per-capita ratio in the country for a reason.

2. Huckleberries

Obviously, huckleberries make delicious pies. But in Montana, no one stops at pie. Life itself can revolve around these little purple nuggets of deliciousness. If you’re serious about starting a huckle-obsession, the Two Sisters Café in St. Mary will get you hooked on huckleberry pie. The huckleberry bear claws at the Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery (‘the Merc,’ to locals) make anyone drool, and the huckleberry BBQ sauce at Montana City Grill & Saloon in Montana City can make a reasonable person think they should lather BBQ sauce on salad. Whitefish has a Huckleberry Days Arts Festival and a huckleberry dessert bake-off, and the local brewery, the Great Northern Draught House, makes Wild Huckleberry wheat beer. Every gas station, café, and grocery store, is bound to have at least some combination of huckleberry jams, syrups, jellies, hard candies, ice cream, and whatever else the locals have thought up. Basically, this place is huckle-nuts.

3. Happy hour specials

The most off-the-beaten-track bars can have the best happy hour specials, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Free beer with an order of ribs, free drinks if you’re wearing cowboy boots, double shots if you’re single — the list goes on. I’ve seen discounts for veterans, discounts for anyone wearing a bikini top — basically any reason you can dream up to get the party started.

4. Getting backcountry permits at Glacier National Park.

Yes, it’s totally normal to obsessively plan ten different options for your dream backcountry trip, set your alarm for 8am on the big day when reservations open (before the snow has even begun to melt), frantically hit refresh on the National Parks Service website, check your email every hour while you wait weeks for a response, and cross all your fingers and toes that you’ll get your first choice. Because the campsites are mind-blowing, and any camper worth their salt would do it all ten times over again, just for one more night.

5. Ghost towns

Montana in the late 1800s was in the midst of a Gold Rush heyday. Tales of lawlessness are aplenty, and as you walk the deserted streets of ghost towns like Garnet or Bannack, it doesn’t take much to imagine the swashbuckling exploits of days gone by, when holdups and gunfights were the norm.

6. Old school saloons

Montanans know how to do local, hole-in-the-wall bars. The kind of places with Keno machines, dollar bills plastering the walls, and borderline-offensive stickers covering the coolers. It’s not unheard of to walk into a place like this, order a beer, and have the bartender ask if you brought your own koozie. Locals might have theirs stored behind the bar for safekeeping. So ditch any pretence, grab a pool cue, and have a night on the town, Montana-style.

7. Antlers

Because why go to Bed, Bath and Beyond when there’s decorations leftover after every hunting season? Montanans know that nothing makes a living room sparkle like a big rack hanging over the fireplace (and the kitchen table, and the bathtub, and the sink…).

8. Really old pickup trucks

You know the kind. They speed down gravel roads in movies while the camera pans out to a wide angle shot of the plains and the dust and the girl waving from the front stoop. They’re a little rusty, but why waste a perfectly good truck? When you see enough old pickup trucks parked in front of the aforementioned saloons, you start to wonder if you didn’t just wander on to the set of A River Runs Through it.

9. Coffee

It doesn’t matter if it’s cowboy-coffee made over a fire, diner-coffee served with pancakes and gossip, or an Americano paired with a fresh-baked vegan raspberry bar from Break Espresso in Missoula, just get a coffee in the hands of a Montanan on any frosty morning, and you’ll be better off for it.

10. Talking about Grizzly encounters.

‘… And then I came ‘round the corner and was face to face with a mama bear and two cubs,” and “… well, I came outside after breakfast and there was a grizzly staring at me from our apple tree!”

Montanans love to one-up each other with stories of grizzly bear encounters. Can’t tell if it’s a grizzly you saw on the trail? Doesn’t matter — as long as no one else saw it, either. If no one else was around, it was the biggest bear to ever wander this side of the Rockies and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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