Sunday, November 2, 2014

More Sweet Than Bitter--Bitter Esters Brewery

            Yesterday, on a beautiful Black Hills fall afternoon, my family and I entered Bitter Esters Brewhouse in Custer, South Dakota and found a bustling crowd filling the quaint and comfy brewpub.  I realized that like myself, many in the area had been hearing about the quality beer and food Landon Swanson was producing at Bitter Esters and stopped to find out firsthand.  None of us were disappointed.

            Bitter Esters opened on Main Street Custer almost four years ago.  Swanson, who has a master’s degree in biology and was a wildlife biologist in his life before beer, started on his quest to be a brewer by working at the Wild Sage Grille, a restaurant in Sioux Falls, SD.  The owner of Wild Sage also ran the Sage Creek Grille in Custer, and Landon traveled to Custer to operate the restaurant for several seasons.  Over three years ago, the team from Wild Sage and Sage Creek opened Bitter Esters.  The brewery was only opened seasonally in the beginning as its popularity grew.  It is now opened all year, with limited hours and days in the off-season. 

            Landon Swanson is almost a one man show—with background help in the kitchen.  He greeted us, took our orders, delivered our drinks, and brought our food.  Thankfully, he has wonderful chefs in the kitchen making the unique pub fare, or Landon would really have been busy!  The food menu is unique pub-style food.  The usual suspects, like grilled burgers and pulled pork sandwiches, are available to order, but there are also some distinctive options that aren’t found in your average bar.  The baked potato nachos with kettle cooked potato chips, sour cream, bacon bits, and chives were delightful.  Even better—and more original in a pub—were the Drunken Mussels made with the house ale, served with bread for dipping.  So, so good!
Good food in a great environment.
          Swanson considers Bitter Esters an ale house, as he produces more English style ales than anything else.  However, the number of beers available spans from stouts to ales to India pale ales.  At any time, there is up to seven original Bitter Esters brews on tap.  Landon likes to always have one guest tap option and up to 38 beers from other brewers for purchase.  In the summer, when the tourist population really keeps Bitter Esters busy, there may only be three original brews available.  However, in the winter months, when tourist traffic is much slower, there are more Bitter Esters beers from which to choose.  This is because Bitter Esters is just a two barrel brew house, and for now, Landon likes this size and thinks it will stay this way.   
The seven Bitter Esters brews on tap.


Build your own beer flight...have one of each.
            The Red Medicine Brown Ale (“malty brown ale with hints of cocoa”) and the Grace Anne Stout (“dark and delicious”) are always on the menu.  The other taps rotate between a larger number of beer recipes Swanson produces.  Since it is a beautiful fall, the Autumn Spice Saison is a natural fit as a seasonal option on the menu.  Other beers included the Padfoot Hula Farmhouse Ale (the “sendoff to summer…a Hawaiian dance in a glass”), the It’s All Mine!!! All Day Every Day Ale (“roasty British themed Amerbish Ale"), and the Ne’er Do Well Coffee Ale (“surprisingly light”).  My hubby got his favorite style, the Testy Tourist Imperial IPA (with four times the hops of the pale ale).  Landon also has plans for some distinctive beers this spring.  He has several brews aging in whiskey and wine barrels that will be ready after this long Black Hills winter. 
Many original qualities in this brew house, from the food to the growers... the sense of humor of Swanson and staff!  Myspace...haha!
            Bitter Esters was definitely a sweet stop to make on an absolutely fabulous fall day.  The number of people in the brew house on a late afternoon in the off-season is proof of the quality food, drink, and reputation Landon Swanson has built in the nearly four years Bitter Esters has been opened.  Stop in for a bite and a sip as soon as you can, no matter what the weather!