Friday, April 30, 2010

A Great Weekend for Beer in Missoula

Perhaps you might have heard by now about the 18th Annual Garden City Brewfest taking place this Saturday, May 1 at Caras Park in Missoula beginning at noon?  What, three posts in this blog not enough for you?  If not, this week's Missoula Independent is devoted to the beer scene in Missoula and has your official Brewfest guide with descriptions of all the beers in the lineup.  The issue is a great read.

Indy writer Alex Sakariassen brings us a featured article tracing the history of Highlander Beer and Missoula's microbrewing revival in interviews with Bob Lukes, the man behind the new Highlander, Tim France, owner of Worden's Market, the go-to spot for beer finds, and Kevin Head, part owner of the Rhino, the unquestioned Montana king of microbrew taps.  He follows that up with a look at Jim Lueders, the Beer Doctor, a microbrewery-consultant-extraordinaire right here in our own backyard.

There's more, too, with all the info you need on Kettlehouse' new gluten-reduced concoction, a Flathead ceramic artist who creates custom growlers, classic beer moments from the big screen, and the artists behind local beer labels.  George Ochenski puts down his enviro-political crusade long enough to give a short history on the Montana legislative battles that opened the door for taproom sales.  Even local favorite musician Bob Wire gets into the act with a list of his favorite drinking songs.

But wait a minute.  Not a single mention of Growler Fills, the Number 2 (out of 2) beer blog in Missoula? Growler Fills is hurt, shocked, stunned . . . . well, perhaps mildly perturbed, but will cheerfully carry on. In all fairness, Alex, did mention Growler Fills in an Indy blog post back in February, increasing the daily blog hits by 10 on an otherwise sleepy Wednesday.

See you at the Brewfest! I'll be the one sampling beer.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Event Reminder: Garden City Brewfest is This Saturday

Though the weather forecast is less than stellar (Mostly cloudy, 51 degrees, 20% chance of showers), the 18th Annual Garden City Brewfest at Caras Park in Missoula will carry on rain or shine.  Think of it this way. The lines will likely be shorter than last year when the sun was bright enough to burn and the temps hit 80 degrees.

You can check out the list of beers at the Missoula Downtown Association's website. I see some of my favorites from Montana's breweries like Blackfoot River Brewing's Tartanic Scotch Ale and Single Malt IPA and Flathead Lake Brewing's Espresso Porter. There's also some new ones to scope out like Big Sky's 406 Saison Wit, Bayern's new Dump Truck Summer Bock (which is also out now in six packs) and Quarry Brewing's Mica Mai Bock.  I'll be making a bee-line to Lone Peak Brewing's Hippy Highway Oatmeal Stout as I've not yet had a chance to try anything from Lone Peak. You'll also find me in the line for Blacksmith Brewing's Double IPA. All in all it looks like a great lineup. The fun gets started at Noon.

On an unrelated side note, Worden's Market in Missoula got a great deal on Jubel 2010 Once a Decade Ale and are offering up 22 oz. wax-dipped bottles for $5.99.  You won't find a better deal anywhere on this excellent brew.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Coffee Porters Abound in Western Montana

Pairing coffee and a porter or stout is as natural a pairing as cookies and cream or peanut butter and chocolate.  The roasted malts in the beer provide similar flavor profiles to the roasted coffee beans. Roasted malts are barely or other grains, some malted, some not, typically roasted at high temperatures in a drum roaster until charred to various levels.  In small quantities, they may only add colors from red to black while in larger quantities they add a sharp, bitter flavor resembling dark roasted coffee.

I got excited a month or so ago when I saw Big Sky Brewing Co. planned to introduce a coffee porter. (Hey, in the beer world, it doesn't take much for me to get excited.) Big Sky put it on tap out at the brewery about a week ago.  Before we'd had a chance to stop in, we took a trip up to Flathead Lake last weekend and found an espresso porter on tap at Flathead Lake Brewing Company.  Then, by pure coincidence we found ourselves at Kettlehouse Brewing Co. where they had a batch of their Joe Bong Coffee Porter on tap at the Myrtle Street location.  (No, it wasn't some crazy beer filled whirlwind tour that this is starting to sound like.) What are the chances of three coffee porters being on tap at three different breweries in western Montana at the same time?  Quite good, apparently.

Flathead Lake Brewing Co.'s Espresso Porter is a robust porter (same recipe as their standard, excellent porter) with the addition of espresso beans.  The coffee aroma is strong as is the coffee flavor. It pours black with a light tan head and has good dark chocolate hints throughout as you expect to find in a porter. It is fairly full bodied, though surprisingly easy drinking.

Big Sky's Cowboy Coffee Porter is also a robust porter and pours a very dark brown to black with an off-white head. The coffee aroma and flavor is present, but subdued - quite a bit less than Flathead Lake Brewing's espresso porter and not as full bodied.  This one features much stronger dark chocolate flavors. It, too is fairly smooth and easy drinking.

Kettlehouse Brewing's Joe Bong Coffee Porter is served on nitro, lending a significant creaminess to the beer. It pours a dark brown with an off-white head.  I'd tried it - and enjoyed it - back in December and was surprised to see it back on tap. (Maybe it never left?)  This batch seemed to have a bit less coffee flavor and aroma than the first I'd tried, but who knows if that's my taste buds or a change in recipe or the inevitable variabilities when working with something like coffee beans.  I think the nitro creaminess is a great pairing with the coffee porter, though it does take away from the robust bite present in the other two.

If you're a fan of coffee porters or want to give them a try, there's no better time here in western Montana.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Where to Find Beer: Flathead Lake Brewing Company

Last Saturday we had an opportunity to stop in at the newly reopened Flathead Lake Brewing Company in Woods Bay on the way back from a short trip to Flathead Lake and Kalispell. Things were a bit quiet during mid afternoon, but the wind was whipping up whitecaps on the Lake and the occasional rain and snow showers were keeping most people away. Inside we found everything to be nicely spruced up and the beer as good as ever. Head Brewer Tim Jacoby wasn't around, so we'll have to get back for some inside scoop on the facility.

On tap were several of the brewery's original beers, an imperial IPA, porter, pale ale, amber and espresso porter. The porter is one of my favorites and I'd heard great things about the IPA.  I'd also long heard rumors about their espresso porter, but I'd never seen it on tap on my occasional stops. We sampled the imperial IPA  (9.0% abv) and found it to have a strong floral hop aroma, full hop flavor and sharp hop bitterness which followed an initial malt backbone.  After sampling the espresso porter, we quickly ordered a full pint.

Flathead Lake Brewing's espresso porter takes their excellent robust porter and adds espresso beans from Colter Coffee Roasters in Kalispell for a wonderful coffee aroma and flavor. Colter Coffee on Main Street in Kalispell creates some of the best espresso drinks I've found anywhere, so pairing one of my favorite porters with their coffee was a nice surprise (Wild Joe's Coffee in Bozeman is another excellent espresso stop, in case you were wondering). We didn't have time to check out the food, but the menu had a nice selection of snacks, sandwiches and pizza. Next time you're headed up the east side of Flathead Lake, stop in and find out for yourself.

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Fritz and Ken's Ale

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is celebrating its 30th Anniversary in style. And that is great news for the rest of us. They've brewed four unique beers as a collaboration between the founders of the American craft brewing industry. You can read about the project here. I encourage you to spend a little time checking it out. You'll get a feel for a few of the legends who are responsible for bringing beer out of the drab "American pilsner" like era and into the explosion of flavors we have available today.

The first of the series to be released is Fritz and Ken's Ale, a wonderfully thick and chewy imperial stout.  Fritz Maytag took over (and saved) the Anchor Brewing company in 1965 and "changed the face of American beer forever" with his Anchor Steam. Ken Grossman started up Sierra Nevada brewing company in 1980 and I certainly don't need to convince you of their consistent quality and innovation.

I picked up a bottle of Fritz and Ken's Ale at Worden's Market a week or so ago, but, as has happened several times recently, didn't have to pop it open to give it a try.  It is on tap at the Rhino in Missoula and if you're a fan of stouts I recommend running down there at your next chance.  This stout pours jet black with a thick light tan head. It has a roasted malt aroma and a full, creamy mouth feel. Thick, chewy, rich and deep, there's lots of roasted malt flavor and a coffee bite.  It starts creamy and smooth and finishes with a strong, robust coffee/roasted malt bite.  Stouts have always been one of my favorite styles and Fritz and Ken's Ale is a most worthy celebration of these brewing giants.

Name:  Fritz and Ken's Ale
Brewery: Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA.
Style: Imperial Stout.
Color:  Black, with light tan head.
Packaging: draft and 22 oz. bottle.
Stats: 9.2% abv, ? IBU.
Bought: draft at The Rhino, bottle at Worden's Market.
Ruling: Four and a half out of Five Hops. Outstanding imperial stout.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Full Sail Round Up: Hop Pursuit Extra Pale Ale

As the first beer in our Full Sail Brewmaster Reserve Round Up we popped open Hop Pursuit, described as an extra pale ale with a medium malt body with a ton of hop flavor and a zing of bitterness. It has Cascade, Willamette and Mt. Hood hops - "old school craft brewing hops" in Full Sail's words - with two weeks of dry hopping.

Hop Pursuit pours an orange gold color with a bit of a thin white head. The aroma is citrus hops and a bit of hop resin. In the initial taste, I got a light hop flavor and strong bitterness transitioning to a citrus (orange?) and piney hop flavor. There is a bitter crisp finish with a medium mouthfeel and a medium malt backbone present throughout.  It checks in at 6% abv and 55 IBUs. I found that it mellows into a pleasant, crisp beer with a nicely bitter finish as it warms.

Name: Hop Pursuit Extra Pale Ale
Brewery: Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR.
Style: Extra Pale Ale.
Color: Orange gold with a white head.
Packaging: draft and 22oz bottles.
Stats: 6% abv, 55 IBU.
Bought: Worden's Market, Missoula.
Ruling: Three and a half out of Five Hops. Nice, crisp, hop featured brew.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hop Czar Delights, Confounds

Posted prominently at all time along the edge of this blog is my philosophy about enjoying beer. It's all relative. That's really how I feel about beer, though I'll admit to hoping it staves off the occasional angry email when I haven't enjoyed a favored beer as much as someone else.

I mention this because I got a chuckle this week when Tim at Grizzly Growler posted his review of BridgePort Brewing Co.'s Hop Czar.  Coincidentally, I'd picked up a six pack of this beer to try about a month ago and have been having trouble figuring out what to say about it. Hop Czar is a "triple hopped bottle-conditioned,  imperial-style IPA that carries a deep malt backbone with enthusiastic citrus and floral notes paired with high hop bitterness" according to BridgePort.

At 7.5% abv, I have no trouble believing there is a deep malt backbone in there somewhere. But I couldn't find it.  I finally decided that I am not capable of adequately reviewing it.  It indeed does have "copious amounts of Nugget, Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops" as BridgePort explains it. In my recent exploration of IPAs, particularly the double/imperial IPAs I typically found a strong malt presence transitioning to sharp hop bitterness which eventually moderated into an interesting balance of flavors.  Not with Hop Czar. It is sharply bitter at the start, middle and end.  I suppose that's exactly what one expects with a fun and descriptive name like  Hop Czar.

The bitterness is far too pronounced for me to enjoy this beer, but the beautiful thing about beer is its great variety to fit all tastes.  Tim enjoyed it immensely, discovered the malt and found it much less bitter than me. So I invite you to see the contrast by checking out his review. It's all relative. And great fun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Full Sail Brewmaster Reserve Round Up

After fortuitously stumbling across Full Sail's new Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter last Friday I was having lunch at Worden's and decided to check out their very fine selection of beers. Well "decided to" is a bit of a misnomer. Compelled might be another word, but that carries the suggestion of force. No, its just what you do when you're a beer geek and there's a large, frequently rotating selection of great beers mere steps away from fantastic food.

Fresh off my Top Sail experience, I noticed right away that 22 oz bottles of it had also appeared on the shelf. Lined up next to it were several of its Brewmaster Reserve Series brethren which gave me the idea to do a Full Sail Brewmaster Reserve Round Up, similar to the IPA Round Up I did back in February. Worden's had five or six of the lineup to pick from and I've seen several others over the past year.  For this Round Up I picked Hop Pursuit, Imperial Stout, and Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter.  I chose the Porter simply to have a chance to try it in a more neutral setting and see if my impressions change. All right, part of it was because the stuff is dang good and it was an opportunity to have some more. I picked the Stout because it is one of my favorite styles of beer and I'm curious to try Full Sail's treatment of it.  Finally, I picked the Hop Pursuit to continue my foray into the hoppier beer world.

It all sounds fun to me and I'll let you know how they turn out.  Feel free to tell me the same.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Full Sail Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter

Full Sail Brewing Co. has a series of brews called Brewmaster Reserve that continues to impress me. Last year's Keelhauler Scottish Ale had me running back to the store for a few extra bottles.  Last fall, The Rhino had a keg of the Lupulin Fresh Hop Ale that was a fantastic showcase of hop aroma and bitterness.  Last Friday, also at the Rhino, we ran across Full Sail's latest Brewmaster Reserve, Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter.

Truth be told, I didn't realize it was a bourbon porter until reading about it the next day, not that this is a bad thing.  I've enjoyed the explosion of beer aged in bourbon and other oak barrels over the past year, but some have been a bit over the top on bourbon.  Top Sail was aged for 10 months in bourbon casks from Kentucky, but this added character without stealing the show. Then again, I'll admit to having had a very nice dinner and a beer or two before trying this one, so that might explain a thing or two as well.

What I did notice about this beer were the great dark chocolate undertones. It pours a dark brown to black with a tan head.  The taste makes a great first impression with prevalent roasted malt mixing with the dark chocolate flavors. It has a bitter coffee-like finish and in the aftertaste.  The alcohol sits at nearly 10% abv, though i did not notice a recognizable alcohol taste or warmth.  Full Sail described it as "immensely drinkable and smooth" and that's very nearly the same description we gave it after enjoying a pint.  I scored a bottle of it at Worden's Market in Missoula and am looking forward to tasting it again to see if my impressions change about the bourbon and alcohol warmth.

[Note: this is a corrected version which amends the % abv thanks to a kind note from Stephanie, one of the "ever-so lucky Full Sail employee owners."]

Name: Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter
Brewery: Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR.
Style: Imperial Porter aged in oak.
Color: Dark brown to black; off white head.
Packaging: draft and 22oz bottles.
Stats: 9.85% abv, 65 IBU.
Bought: The Rhino, Missoula.
Ruling: Four out of Five Hops. Delicious imperial porter.

Upcoming Event: 2010 Garden City Brewfest, May 1, 2010

Judging by the crowds each year at the annual Garden City Brewfest, this event is anticipated almost as much as spring itself.  The 2010 Garden City Brewfest will be on Saturday, May 1, 2010 from noon to 8:00 p.m. at Caras Park in downtown Missoula. It typically brings in around 60 beers along with plenty of good food, music and awards. Last year's Best of Montana beer award went to Highlander Scottish Ale.  Deschutes Brewing's Inversion IPA took home best in show.

Check out the Missoula Downtown Association's web page for more information and plan to join thousands of your fellow beer fans at this great event.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blacksmith Brewing's Black Out Oatmeal Stout

I had a chance to stop by Blacksmith Brewing recently and you've probably figured out by now that I tend to take advantage of those chances.  I'd read in Blacksmith's March newsletter that they planned to release a new oatmeal stout by the end of March, so I was ready to give it a try. Then as luck would have it, it was on tap at Missoula's Red Bird Wine Bar last Friday and I was able to try a sample.  But nothing quite compares to tasting a pint of new brews straight from the source.

No surprise, Black Out Oatmeal Stout is black like a stout should be with a light tan head. It has the aroma of roasted malts and the taste to go with it.  The mouth feel is quite full, but smooth and easy to drink with an aftertaste of bitter coffee and warm alcohol.  It isn't as robust as their Pulaski Porter and that's to be expected with the addition of oatmeal which add smoothness and even a slight sweetness. At 8% abv, you might even consider this one to be an imperial oatmeal stout. Another winner from the folks at Blacksmith Brewing.

Name: Black Out Oatmeal Stout
Brewery: Blacksmith Brewing Co., Stevensville, MT.
Style: Oatmeal Stout.
Color: Black, light tan head.
Packaging: draft only.
Stats: 8.0% abv, ? IBU.
Bought: at the brewery, Stevensville.
Ruling: Four out of Five Hops. Very nice smooth, oatmeal stout

Monday, April 5, 2010

Redhook Releases 8-4-1 Expedition Ale

Today in my inbox I received a press release from the folks at Redhook announcing their new Limited Release 8-4-1 Expedition Ale. It is an American-style Strong Brown Ale "developed by eight Redhook brewers working in four teams of two to create one beer. The ale reflects a compilation of each team's individual recipes that were then carefully blended into one distinct beer."  I have to admit, that's pretty impressive.  I don't know too many homebrewers who can agree enough about styles and techniques to be able to collaborate.  Just kidding, folks. Well . . . . I've still got a bottle of Redhook's last limited release, Treblehook Barleywine, waiting to be opened. From the sounds of it, I'd better make room for this one as well. 

According to Greg Deuhs, Redhook's brewmaster, 8-4-1 Expedition Ale has a "combination of brown sugar and honey, paired with a variety of rich specialty and smoked malts" and is  "aged for months with oak chips." It reportedly checks in at 9.5% abv, 55 IBUs with a malty sweetness, medium bitterness and hints of smoke. Now that's more than enough to pique my curiosity.

It is available for a limited time in 22 oz bottles and on draught.  Perhaps we'll find a keg at the Rhino in Missoula, or arriving at Worden's or the Good Food Store in short order. (Graphic courtesy of Redhook Ale Brewery.)