Tuesday, May 25, 2010

(1/2) Marathon Training and Blogging Beer

I am not new to craft beer.  I've spent the last 15 years or so trying far more styles, varieties, interpretations, classics, experiments and breweries than I can remember.  Though I have my favorite styles, I've never let that confine my exploration. I've brewed homebrew following the advice of legend Charlie Papazian and his reassuring words, "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew!" I've read numerous books, blogs, and magazines on the subject of barley, hops, yeast and water.

But I am brand new to running.

About a year-plus ago, I finally got off my rear end and started exercising. I was active, but certainly not fit in the exercise sense of the word. More importantly, I was at a point where I needed some serious stress relief.  I'd also made a friend who was a regular exerciser.  That combination was the final bit of motivation I needed to turn talk into action.  But the elliptical machine stays interesting for only short periods of time.  To keep things fresh, I started mixing in some running on the treadmill.  Why? Ironically, because I've always hated running.  I mean REALLY hated it.

Thanks to my hatred of running, it naturally presented my biggest challenge. Which is why I decided to try and tackle it. Throughout December, the great fun I'd had during the holiday season had my weight trending the wrong way despite the 2 to 3 times exercising per week.  It was time to get serious.  When January hit, I dug in for some real work.  Somewhere around the middle of February, something about running started to click. I no longer dreaded it. In fact, I started to look forward to it. I was winning the challenge.  I wasn't fast, or even good at it, but I was improving. My distance was increasing and I'd gotten some pointers from a helpful trainer at the gym.  Yet, I needed a goal.

Back in December, Runner's World magazine came to Missoula to deliver the news that the Missoula Marathon, after only three years' existence, was rated the best overall marathon in America. Now there's a goal. Well, not the 26.2 miles of the full marathon. That would be a GOAL. But could I somehow work my way up to the half marathon - all 13.1 miles of it?  With more than a little fear (okay, lots of fear) and an equal amount of excitement, I signed up for Run Wild Missoula's marathon training class. To say that it has been a source of fun, encouragement, information, support and camaraderie is to barely capture the benefits I've received.

When I dug in to get serious about running back in January, I could do 3 to 4 miles at a 10:30 minute/mile pace on a good day. This past Sunday I reeled off 14.2 miles at an 8:55 minute/mile pace.  I can now go places while running. I've been on streets and trails around Missoula I never knew existed in eleven years. Since the marathon training class started March 7, I've piled up 297 training miles (449 total on the year).  Yes, I'm an info geek and keep a training log and run with a GPS watch that tells me my pace and distance and draws a map for me when I get home.  For a guy who regularly keeps notes on beer, I'm guessing that doesn't surprise you. I no longer wonder IF I can run the 13.1 miles of the Missoula 1/2 Marathon. Now, I'm focused on making sure I can run it while having fun. At this rate, it is going to be a blast.

What does this have to do with beer? At first, not much (except when you realize you can enjoy beer with much less guilt when you burn 2,000 calories on a training run). Like most things new and interesting to me, I crave knowledge about it. While surfing around the running blogosphere I noticed an interesting subset of running culture.  There's quite a few runners out there who are serious about running AND good craft beer. Awesome.

Check out the Beer Runner ("Beer Run•ner (noun): 1. Someone equally devoted to fine beer appreciation and an active, healthy lifestyle"), MCM Mama and Will Run for Beer, to name a few fun examples.  There are races centered around beer themes. Even the Missoula Marathon has beer waiting at the finish line (Missoula's Big Sky Brewing Co.' Moose Drool Brown Ale - thanks Big Sky!). I'm curious what it will taste like when I cross the finish line somewhere around 8:00 a.m. Hmm . . . .

On Sunday, July 11, 2010, at 6:00 a.m I will line up at the starting line for my first ever race. (Nothing like starting big, eh?)  If you're in or near Missoula, I encourage you to take part in this great community event.  Last year saw nearly 2,500 runners take part.  With the new No. 1 overall ranking, the number is expected to double or triple.  Not up for running it? Many, many volunteers are needed to help pull it off.  Fans are needed to help cheer, especially for those running the full 26.2 mile marathon. (More Cowbell!!) You'll find me in my green Run Wild Missoula shirt comfortably in the middle of the pack.  If you happen to be near me when I cross the finish line, please hand me a beer.

After the race, I plan to take the rest of the day off and celebrate with either a Sierra Nevada Fritz and Ken's Ale or perhaps a bottle of Deschutes' Black Butte XXI.  I might even be talked into opening up a 2008 Ivan the Terrible Bourbon Imperial Stout.

On July 12, 2010, I'm starting a new goal: 26.2.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pairing Beer and Food: Ribs, Dump Truck and 1554

Paring beer and food may sound a bit snooty, but it really is quite the taste experience when the flavors of a fine craft beer blend perfectly with great food. And by great food, I'm not just talking about "fine dining." I've enjoyed a few great wine and beer pairing dinners with multiple courses and excellent pairings.  But let's face it. Most of us don't eat and drink that way on a regular basis. Fortunately, that doesn't mean a good pairing is out of the question. Quite the opposite.

With that in mind, I decided to try a bit of a pairing experiment with one of my favorite foods. Ribs. Pork ribs. Babybacks. Dry rubbed, charcoal-grilled goodness.  It get me charged up to create a good dry rub, prepare the ribs, get the charcoal ready and spend four hours or so tending to the ribs while smelling the spices mix with the hickory smoke.  As a captive audience for several hours, is there any better time to sit back and enjoy a brew or two?

Last weekend was the first truly warm sunny weekend in Missoula this year. The urge to fire up the grill couldn't be denied and lent itself well to the first ribs of the season. But what beer to have with them?  I use a dry rub with a variety of ingredients that always ends up a bit different given the relative carelessness needed when measuring. In the end, there's always a bit of heat from some chili powder bumping up against sweet paprika and brown sugar.  I tend to favor sweet, tangy barbeque sauces to pour on or dip with after the grilling is done.  I figured a sweeter, rather that hoppier beer would complement the flavors nicely. Off to the fridge I went.

From among the various brews hanging out in the fridge, I picked two: Bayern Brewing's new Dump Truck Extra Pale Summer Bock and New Belgium Brewing Inc.'s 1554 Enlightened Black Ale.  Bayern's Dump Truck has only been out for a month or so and I'm already really digging it.  It has the smooth crisp flavor of a great lager, the malty sweetness of a good bock and a nice medium mouthfeel with 6% abv. It is a great beer to find this time of year when so many summer seasonals move into the hop world and abandon the malt side of the family.  The color is a bit of a cloudy, off-yellow.  As for the paring, it was perfect.  The sweetness of the malt did indeed pair nicely with the sweet tangy barbeque sauce and the heat/sweet tango of the dry rub. It complemented the flavor profiles, by adding to them without trying to compete or overpower them.

Next up, I poured a pint of New Belgium Brewing Inc.'s 1554 Enlightened Black Ale.  I've really enjoyed this beer for years and even crave it as a session beer from time to time. 1554 is a medium bodied ale with a fair amount of chocolate malts that I can describe with one word: earthy.  That's always what comes to mind with I drink this malty, easy to drink beer.  There is a hint of roasted malt flavor to go with the chocolate malts, but pinning a particular style on this beer is difficult (and unnecessary). It is just dang good.  How did it pair up with the ribs?  Equally as well, though in a somewhat different way.  The earthiness of 1554 picked up more of the smoke flavors, yet still complimented the sweet and tangy barbeque sauce and the spices in the dry rub. Like Dump Truck, it complimented the flavors without competing with them, added without overpowering.  Just what a good paring should do, whether fine dining or fine grilling. 

For quality control, I also tried a bit of Stone Brewing Co.'s Levitation Ale, a pale/amber ale with a moderately strong floral/pine hop aroma and bitterness to see how a hop featured beer would pair.  As expected (no real shocker here, but someone has to be in charge of quality control) the hop flavors and bitterness clashed rather than complimented the flavors creating a competition that did not sit well with me.  That said, far be it from me to tell you what to drink. Drink what you like, but don't be afraid to try an experiment of your own. It works just as well with backyard grilling.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

AP: Woman Stabs Boyfriend Over Beer

Okay people, this story from the AP (as posted in the Missoulian) shows that some people can take a love of beer a little too far.  I'll admit to being pretty protective of my stash of Ivan the Terrible Russian Imperial Stout, Abyss and a few others, but I draw the line at "severe vascular damage" and threatening to kill my mother.

Become a Beer Activist!

The Brewers Association, the great folks behind the American Craft Beer Week and many other efforts in support of craft brewing, also bring us a great resource for proactively supporting state and federal legislation related to homebrewing and the craft brewing industry.

"Support Your Local Brewery is a national, grassroots partnership of beer enthusiasts, professional trade associations and brewers dedicated to supporting and protecting the legislative and regulatory interests of small, traditional and independent craft breweries." The website is an incredible resource on national and state issues, providing national and state by state descriptions, links to bills and a wealth of information on how you can get involved.  Sign up for e-action alerts and get notified of national or state legislative or regulatory initiatives that affect small, independent and traditional breweries in your state.  It is an impressive and important effort by the Brewers Association which already counts over 834,000 beer activists in its goal to reach 1,000,000.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Celebrate American Craft Beer Week

Few celebratory event weeks could be easier to celebrate than American Craft Beer Week (May 17-23, 2010). Begun in 2006 by the Brewers Association, American Craft Beer Week is a celebration of small and independent craft breweries and highlights what Americans love about craft beer.  Even Congress got into the act with the House of Representatives passing a Resolution supporting the goals and ideals of the American Craft Beer Week.  Kudos to Montana's lone representative, Denny Rehberg for being a co-sponsor of the Resolution. 

According to the Brewers Association, and as reflected in the Resolution, there are more than 1,500 craft breweries in the United States with 110 new ones opening in 2009.  All together, they produced more than 9,000,000 barrels of beer, employ more than 100,000 full and part-time workers, and provide significant support to American agriculture by purchasing barley, malt and hops grown in the United States. Those of us in Montana already know that our craft breweries are actively engaged in supporting our communities by sponsoring pint nights to support local non-profits and a host of other civic activities.

So I invite you to celebrate American Craft Beer Week (real arm-twister, I know).  Head to a local brewery and thank a brewer. Try something you've never tasted before. Reunite with an old favorite. And be thankful that craft brewing is an industry on the rise, continually bringing us damn good beer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Full Sail Round Up: Imperial Stout

Next up in my Full Sail Brewmaster Reserve Round Up is Full Sail's Imperial Stout. Right out of the 22 oz. bottle this an attractive beer.  Jet black with a thick tan head. It has a strong, sweet aroma with a slight hint of alcohol.  The mouthfeel is full with a bit of creaminess. Classic stout roasted malt flavors predominate with a fair amount of bitterness throughout the taste profile.  I also get a nice taste of roasted dark chocolate, if that make sense.  There is a quiet, underlying taste of alcohol as well.  That's not surprising at 8% abv.

This brew is a straight imperial stout without trying to be too complex. That's not a knock at all.  If fact, I think this brew is excellent.  After tasting, and enjoying, quite a few bourbon barrel aged stouts over the winter, it is great to get back to a stout being just a great stout.  I had the same experience recently with Fritz and Ken's Ale.  That said, Full Sale is racking half the batch into bourbon casks where it will be aged for a year and released as "Black Gold Bourbon Barrel Stout" in February 2011.  I've already got that date marked on the calender!   

Name: Full Sail Imperial Stout
Brewery: Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR.
Style: Imperial Stout.
Color: Black; tan head.
Packaging: draft and 22oz bottles.
Stats: 8% abv, 65 IBU.
Bought: Worden's Market, Missoula.
Ruling: Four out of Five Hops. Wonderfully good imperial stout.

Two New Summer Brews from Two Craft Big Boys

My Growler Fills inbox had a sudden flurry of activity in the past week with the arrival of two press releases for a couple of new summer brews.  (Hey, when you run an upstart beer blog, two emails in one week is definitely considered a "flurry of activity.")  Redhook Ale Brewery and Widmer Brothers Brewing, two of craft brewing's big boys, are bringing us a couple of brews that look well worth giving a try.

First up is Redhook's Blonde, which isn't quite "new" but is being brought back from a one year hiatus, apparently due to customer demand.  I've never tried it so I can't vouch for the customer demand, but after enjoying the heck out of one of Redhook's latest, Mudslinger Spring Ale, I'm more than willing to check it out.  According to Redhook, Redhook Blonde is a golden ale with a soft malt character and medium hop profile, creating a good session beer. There's some lightly roasted malt in there as well as a touch of wheat and it checks in at 5.3% abv and 24 IBU.

Next up, Widmer introduced a new summer seasonal called Sunburn Summer Brew.  Hmm . . . I thought sunlight wasn't good for beer. . . . .  In any event, Sunburn is a blonde ale "with a light caramel body and subtle, refreshing hop aroma."   It uses Citra hops, a new hop variety "that only a few breweries have access to."  Being a fan of the open source movement (sorry for mixing platforms here), I'm not sure exclusive access to hop varieties is something to brag about, but we'll let that slide for the moment.  I do like Widmer's description, claiming "this unique hop helps create a balanced and flavorful beer with little bitterness."  A crisp, refreshing, brew with little bitterness has a good chance of finding its way into my repeat purchases for the summer season.  At 4.3% abv and 15 IBUs, it may very well be an easy drinking, refreshing session beer as well.  We'll have to find out.

Both of these brews are available on draft as well as in six packs.  If you've had them, let me know what you think. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Homegrown Ceramic Growlers

Today's online edition of the Flathead Beacon has a story on Tim Carlburg and his Carlburg Pottery's venture into handcrafted ceramic growlers.  Aside from being fully customizable and great looking, the insulating value of the clay apparently can keep the beer cold for many hours, even in the sun. That's a pretty good trick.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Think Montana's Beer Laws are Restrictive?

If that's what you think, you're right, but we're definitely not the only ones.  Microbreweries in South Carolina can't do direct sales or provide samples to their patrons.

But that might change according to the South Carolina Brewers Association who is helping to support a bill in the South Carolina General Assembly that would (gasp!) bring South Carolina closer to Montana's current state of affairs.  House Bill 3693 would allow microbreweries to allow patrons to sample up to four beers and purchase for off-site consumption up to 288 ounces in one 24 hour period.   Check out the text of the Bill and you'll find a host of restrictions like this one: " a sample may be no more than two ounces per brand of beer with over eight percent alcohol by weight and no more than four ounces of beer with under eight percent alcohol by weight brewed at the licensed premises."  And there are still no provisions for selling pints at the breweries. Nevertheless, the ability to do direct sales of growlers (and other containers) is a huge step forward in support of the microbrewing industry. 

Another Bill making its way through the SC General Assembly, House Bill 4572, would allow certain stores that are licensed to sell beer for off-site consumption to offer samples of beer in the store, something Montana doesn't allow.

So the next time you grumble about the state of Montana's beer laws (and trust me, I'm right there with you) remember we're not alone in the effort to support opportunities for the microbrewing industry.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Blacksmith Brewing Co: Now on Facebook; Vanilla Porter on Tap Tomorrow

In the more-good-news category, Blacksmith Brewing Co. is now on Facebook.  If you "Like" them (what was wrong with the "become a fan" button?) you can get updates of events and new brews on tap and a host of other news.  Vanilla Porter is reportedly going back on tap tomorrow (May 7).  I also hear tell that Black Iron IPA, their most requested rotating brew, is a couple of brew cycles away from coming back.  That's great news. Blacksmith's Black IPA is one of the more interesting, flavorful and just dang good brews I've tried in quite a while

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Brewery in Billings, MT?

On a recent layover at one of Missoula's coffee shops, I was perusing the May issue of Lively Times when an advertisement for a Young Dubliners' show caught my eye.  The venue was a place called Bones Brewing Pub and Eatery in Billings.  Curious, I checked out the website and found a place I've not yet heard about advertising "fine hand-crafted micro brews, brewed right here in the bones brewery." Clicking on "The Beer" link takes you to a page with a note that "new brewing menu coming soon", but also saying that the brewhouse is now brewing and new beers are now on tap. Ratebeer.com lists 10 brews from Bones Brewery, so perhaps they've been around for a bit.  Unfortunately, I haven't had an opportunity to venture much out of western Montana recently.

This place seems to be following in the mold of Tamarack Brewing and Montana Brewing Co. where the brewery and the restaurant are two separate entities which share space.  The restaurant has a full liquor license allowing it to serve alcohol later than a brewery tap room and without the volume limitations. 

Anyone been there? Incidentally, the Young Dubliners are headlining the 1st Missoula Celtic Festival on July 31, 2010 at Caras Park. Definitely an event not to be missed. 

[UPDATE:  Discovered that Bone's Brewing is a second Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. location, which you might have guessed from the beer logos which appeared after this post was written.]

Monday, May 3, 2010

18th Annual Garden City Brewfest

Right on cue (noon, actually) Mother Nature decided to open up the clouds with a strong showing of rain mixed with snow to usher in the 18th Annual Garden City Brewfest.  But this is Missoula. We love our festivals and a little cold weather, rain and snow isn't going to deter us from a time honored rite of spring.

Despite the weather, the crowd was strong, though it didn't approach the thousands who enjoyed the brewfest last year when we enjoyed a perfect storm of sun and 80 degrees. But the music played and the beer poured and despite the shivering hands, we managed to find a few new brews that stood out from the rest.

My "best in show"?  Quarry Brewing Co.'s Mica Maibock, shown here in the tasting glass.  Smooth, malty, slightly sweet and easy drinking - exactly what  Maibock should be.  It is the only brew I chose to have two samples of.  I'll admit I was tempted to pick Flathead Lake Brewing Co.'s Espresso Porter, but the fact that I'd had a pint at the Brewery a couple weeks before made me feel like that would be cheating.  I typically avoid anything I've had before at these brewfests in favor of finding something new.  That theory doesn't always hold, especially when Blackfoot River Brewing Co. offers up their Tartanic Scotch Ale.

Bayern Brewing brought along their new Dump Truck Extra Pale Summer Bock and I was very impressed.  Similar in malty sweetness to Quarry Brewing's Maibock, it is a crisp, unfiltered golden/yellow bock that goes down very smoothly and tends to hide its strong alcohol, a typical component of all bocks.   Dump Truck is already available on taps around Missoula (Rhino and Sean Kelly's, for starters) and in six packs.

Big Sky Brewing's Cowboy Coffee Porter took home best of show honors as judged by the fine members of Zoo City Zymurgists (sitting here on the picnic tables). I agree the Cowboy Coffee is a very good brew with subtle coffee notes and nice dark chocolate flavors, though I favor the robustness and stronger coffee aroma and flavor of Flathead Brewing's Rising Sun Espresso Porter.  As noted, I'd have bestowed that honor on Quarry Brewing's Mica Maibock, but like everything, judging is subjective and is more about attention to style.  More about that in a later post.

Who knew the weather would be better on February 27th for Bigfork's 1st Brewfest? Yes, it was cold and wet, but that's the way it goes in Montana in spring.  I'd call the 18th Annual Garden City Brewfest a success and another good time in downtown Missoula.