If you enjoy watching wildlife in Wyoming — and who doesn’t — then here’s something you’re probably going to love. Wyld Amber Ale at Altitude Chop House & Brewery in Laramie.
The beer is a co-branded product with Wyldlife For Tomorrow, an initiative of the nonprofit Wyldlife Fund that’s raising money to support habitat and ensure that Wyoming always has wonderful wildlife to watch. And, apparently, also great Wyoming beers to drink.
Wildlife tourism in the Cowboy State is a multimillion-dollar industry, according to a 2017 economic analysis, which found it regularly injects $500 million annually into the state’s economy and supports at least 5,000 jobs.
A more recent study by the National Park System suggests that figure is only headed up, up and up. That study pegs the industry at $1 billion and more than 11,000 jobs.
What supports wildlife habitat in Wyoming now is mainly hunting and fishing licenses, as well as some federal money. Businesses that rely on wildlife tourism don’t have many easy options to have some financial skin in the game.
Changing that is the idea behind Wyldlife For Tomorrow, a signature program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Wyldlife Fund. The hope is to create a channel for businesses that rely on wildlife tourism to more directly help strengthen wildlife habitat in Wyoming.
Wyld Amber Ale is their latest idea for accomplishing that.
A dollar from the sale of each beer will be donated back to the the nonprofit to support habitat building and conservation projects across the Cowboy State.
A Fitting Toast
The idea for the co-branded beer was a brainstorm from University of Wyoming student Emma Vandenberg, an environmental science major.
She interned with Wyldlife For Tomorrow last summer while also working as a server at Altitude.
“Laramie is a great place for outdoor recreation,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “And you know, in the summer, a lot of people come here for that. But they aren’t necessarily, you know, donating or things like that to help keep those areas clean.”
A beer that supports the cause is a fun and easy opportunity for those tourists to give back to all the resources they’ve been enjoying.
“It just seems fitting, you know, that we do something like that here,” she said. “I know a lot of people come in to Altitude after long hikes or after snowmobiling or on their way up to Yellowstone.”
Vandenberg sees this model working for many communities across lots of different kinds of products. So, too, does Wyldlife For Tomorrow. For now, Wyld Amber Ale is only available at the Altitude Chop House. But the group is looking at more co-branded products in the future, which could be more spread out across the state.
“This business model is, in my opinion, a futuristic way to look at conservation and how to get people to care,” Vandenberg told Cowboy State Daily. “I think this model is cool, because it could really work in other places, too, like Utah, Idaho and other places with really high levels of outdoor recreation.”
A New Beer Is Born
Once Vandenberg had the idea, she had to sell it to her boss, Karen Robillard, co-owner of Altitude. That didn’t turn out to be as difficult as she thought.
“You know, it’s fun,” Robillard told Cowboy State Daily. “We’ve done collaborations with different businesses, organizations and individuals quote often. So, when we’re approached with an idea, we have fun putting it together with the organization and coming up with something that works for them and for us.”
Once Robillard approved the project, it was handed off to Altitude’s head brewer, Sean Minichiello, who has made a name for himself in Laramie with unusual flavors that somehow work in spite of themselves, like coffee and donuts, key lime pie or apple pie. (For real. Not even making that up.)
Making Wyldife’s beer started with conversation — fun conversation — that included tasting a few flights of Altitude’s many beers.
When these conversations were all done, Minichiello had to give a little sober consideration to all the logistical details, like production timelines for brews already underway as well as Wyldlife’s desired timeline.
Out of all that popped the words “Wyld Amber Ale,” an easy-drinking, light beer with hints of floral, citrus and melon notes.
“So, I just threw in a bunch of hops that I had that seemed right for the recipe and just went with it,” he said. “And it came out just the way they wanted it to be. It’s excellent, in my opinion.”
From The Lab To The Brewery
Minichiello was never planning to become a brewing genius, by the way. He had worked at Altitude while studying to be a petroleum engineer with a minor in chemistry. One summer, as he was passing through Laramie on his way to Yellowstone adventures, the head brewer talked him into a job as assistant head brewer instead.
Then, when the fast-talking head brewer wandered off to a new job in Kansas, Minichiello was tapped to move into his spot.
Now and then, Minichiello still regrets the big Yellowstone trip he never took that summer.
On the other hand, the assistant brewer job at Altitude came with a nice little bonus. The chance to be head brewer for Snowbird Ski Resort in Centennial during Altitude’s seasonal down times. Thanks to that, he scored unlimited snowboarding passes.
“So, I’ve had some adventures no matter what,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
Here’s to that, and to the next great adventure as well.
Contact Renée Jean at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com