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When I lived in Montana (and before I had children) there were many nights spent on decks and patios with a tapas spread, craft beer, a few bottles of wine, and incredible friends. I cherish those fond memories, and dearly miss those friends.

I love Wisconsin summer, but in the wise words the Yoopers, “It’s not so much the heat as the gosh darn humidity”. Billings is the largest city in Montana, and is situated on the banks of the Yellowstone River. It marks the transition of a semi-arid steppe climate region (almost desert) to the mountainous portion of the state. In the middle of North Dakota the air starts to retain humidity, and where there is humidity there are insects. When driving between Montana and Wisconsin I could easily mark my location by the density of bugs accruing on my windshield. Apart from reminiscing via keyboard, my point is the air in Billings was much drier than Madison. No matter how hot the days were in the summer, the evening was always perfect for sitting outside. What is even more excellent is that the drier climate meant a LOT less mosquitoes, so twilight did not mean a choice between rage or a DEET bath.

My time in Montana provided some of highest highs and lowest lows of my life. My first year in grad school saw the death of my best friend’s father…a man I called “Dad” and who treated me like a son. His name is Dr. Tim Mjos. He fixed my shoulder and knee, my brother’s shoulder, and my sister’s ankle. He was very much a lead-by-example person, and many examples hit home with me and shaped my character. I can still hear his laugh. I am very fortunate to have had two excellent men to look up to and help guide me (my father is one of my heroes and is also part-owner of K4).

I met some of the most extraordinary individuals in Montana, and some have allowed me the privilege of claiming their friendship. Although I think of all of them often and love them dearly, the person who changed my life the most is Dr. Zach Meyers (aka Dr. Zach, Z, DZ, Z-house, etc). I am not sure that I have ever met a more genuine, generous, or kind human being in my life…well, maybe my Mom. Zach will likely never understand the depths he pulled me from by simply being exactly who he is. I can’t say enough about him…I just hope that I make him proud and never let him down. It was usually his deck on which we would gather to feast, drink, and generally enjoy life. It was there that I realized the most important function beer can ever perform is to be a catalyst for gathering with loved ones.

Of all the people I met during my tenure in Montana, my wife is the most important- and she’s from Michigan! She moved to Billings to be a live-in nanny for an excellent family. She also had offers to do the same thing in Hawaii and Prague. Her plan was to stay with them for a relatively short time and move on to somewhere else in the world. She was in Billings for about two weeks when we met. It was the first time a pick-up line worked: “So, what are we doing later?”. I’m an idiot, but it made her laugh enough to give me a chance. We have been together ever since. We got married in Billings and now have 3 beautiful children. She grounded me and gave me purpose. I was not headed down a great path, and if not for her I might have floated off into oblivion.

As I have stated many times before, Billings is where I learned about craft beer, and where I fell in love with the craft of craft beer. Of all the jobs I have had in my life, working in a craft brewery was the first time I felt 100% at home…at peace.

To bring the thought full circle, I can’t see a bottle of white wine without being flooded with memories of Montana, the people I met there, and the memories made. I often think of that wonderful slice of America where I did a lot of growing up. If Lady Luck is our homage to Bordeaux wine, then Belly Bongos is our homage to white zinfandel…hence the Vine Pale Ale. We made the beer very light, dry, crisp. Then we used Hallertau Blanc and Hull Melon hops to create all those bright fruity tones of a white zinfandel. The summer heat is here and I can’t help craving one of those nights in Billings. Belly Bongos is simply a personal trigger for memory recall. I hope you have an opportunity to discover its wine-like experience and make some memories of your own.

Ryan Koga


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