A Beer Tour of Fun: Old Chicago

This month’s beer article is about a place right here within the city limits of Bozeman that you’ve probably been to, but not have realized how beer friendly the place is. This month I went to Old Chicago Pizza on North 19th and learned all about the beer served there. Of course nothing goes better with pizza than beer, so if you’re going to serve great pizza, you probably should also serve great beer to go along with that pizza. To my surprise, a lot of time and thought has gone into the creation of their beer experience. There’s more than just Miller and Bud Light.

Old Chicago is a chain restaurant which started in Colorado. There are roughly 100 restaurants mostly in Colorado and Minnesota. There are two in Montana, one in Billings, and the one in Bozeman which has been here for 8 years now. About half of the chain is corporate owned, and the other half are franchises. The two Montana locations are franchises owned by Don and Shavon Cape of Bozeman.

I talked with Lisa Flikkema, one of the managers at Old Chicago. She’s been there six years and really loves working at Old Chicago. There is a casino room in the back, a large dining area, and also a great bar area with quite a few large screen TVs to watch your favorite sports teams while enjoying what seems like an insurmountable menu of beers. And the bar is a fine quality sports bar with lots of room and very passionate NFL playoffs fans there during my several visits in January.

Each Old Chicago has 110 beers available at all times. About 80 of those labels can be found at all of the restaurants and are the corporate requirement, but the other 30 are chosen at the discretion of the local management. And so while Old Chicago Pizza may be a chain restaurant, there are lots of good Montana microbrews available, many on tap.

Lisa suggested I sample the Bayern ‘Faceplant Ale’ from Missoula. It is a really nice full-bodied beer, not too hoppy, but with lots of taste, a good choice. There is an entire menu of just the different beers. They’re organized by country.   One of the featured breweries is the Boulder Brewing Company of Colorado and currently their ‘Hazed and Infused’ beer. Other fine beers include the ‘Steep-n-Deep’ from Big Sky brewery, the Madison River Copper John Scotch Ale’, and of course Moose Drool.

The interesting part about Old Chicago beer drinking is that you can join the Old Chicago Beer Club. It’s easy to sign up. I did in 3 minutes, and you get a plastic membership card that keeps track of the beers you’ve tried. This is handy when you try to complete ‘the Tour’. The Tour is completing one pint of all 110 beers on the menu. There are some rules, like a maximum of 4 pints per day.

On the north wall of the bar, there is the Old Chicago ‘Hall of Foam’ board. On it there is a gold nameplate for each member of the Beer Club that has completed a tour of 110 beers. If you complete 5 tours, then you get a blue nameplate, and after 10 tours (1,100 pints of beer) you get a beer mug which is on display behind the bar. There are currently six members of that elite club at the Bozeman Old Chicago. So each time you have a pint, if it’s a new one for you, that information is stored on your Beer Club card.

The 30 local beers are on rotation as well, and many are seasonal beers. These are often organized into ‘mini-tours’ which last several weeks. For instance, the “I love beer” Valentines Day tour started around January 20th and lasts until after Valentines day. Then there’s a St Pats tour, a Cinco de Mayo, an Octoberfest, Winterfest, and others.

There are lots of other fun perks too such as free pizza on your birthday, occasional cash infusions on your beer club card, prizes, give-aways, special events, etc. One of the days I visited, there was a guy from Red Lodge Brewery there handing out t-shirts, prizes, and bottles of Bent Nail IPA.

So if you’re looking for a fun club to join which is all about exploring many wonderful beers and keeping track of your exploits, then the Old Chicago Beer Club may be just the ticket you’re looking for. Next up is the Superbowl, so come on down and meet Lisa and the rest of the staff at Old Chicago and tip back a pint or two.

Mike Comstock is an MSU graduate; software engineer by day, math tutor in the evenings, musician on the weekends, and freelance writer in his spare time.