Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oktoberfest with Bayern Brewing at The Raven Tomorrow

Need some great Oktoberfest beer, free German food and a great party on the shores of Flathead Lake?  Head to The Raven in Woods Bay a few miles south of Bigfork and you'll get all of that and more.  The party starts at 6:00 pm, Friday, October 1, 2010 and Bayern brewing will be on hand to tap a wooden keg of their excellent Oktoberfest Lager.

For more information, check out The Raven's Facebook page here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Run Wild Missoula Beer Run Rocks Kettlehouse

Run Wild Missoula's new monthly beer run is proving to be quite popular.  More than 35 runners turned out on an unusually hot September evening for a four mile run and the great rewards that awaited. Chancellor of Libations Pat Cross led us on a circuitous route along the riverfront trail, through the university and around the adjacent residential neighborhood before arriving back at the Kettlehouse Brewing Co.'s old school Myrtle Street location.  Whether they knew or not, Kettlehouse played host to Run Wild Missoula's third monthly beer run, a celebration of running and great beer.

As the subtitle to this blog says, beer runners are more than welcome here. In my short running adventure, now going on nine months, I've been amazed at the number of runners who have an appreciation for an active lifestyle along with an appreciation for great craft beer. Obviously, the two can co-exist quite nicely.

So what was on tap?  For me, a Cold Smoke, Kettlehouse's award winning and always popular scotch ale, and a Myrtle Street IPA on nitro (shown here in the rather impressionistic-style picture).  Myrtle Street IPA is a wonderfully balanced IPA that tends toward mild citrus flavors.  The nitro add a thick, creamy head and mellows out the beer quite a bit.  I'd call it a near perfect recovery drink after a hot run.

Next up is an unusually great opportunity to take part in a beer run with one of the "celebrities" of the running world on Wednesday, October 27, 2010.  Caballa Blanco, of "Born to Run" fame, will lead the group on a beer run prior to his "interactive discussion with beer" at the Wilma Theater.  Caballo Blanco travels the country raising money for the Tarahumara (Raramuri in their language) Indians in Mexico that were prominently featured in the best-selling book about Caballo and the 47 mile epic trail race in Mexico's Copper Canyon.  You can read more about the run and the presentation to follow here at Run Wild Missoula's website. The suggested donation for the presentation is $7 which goes to purchase food for the local runners in the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon.

A Lost Voice in the Craft Brew World

Like many of you, I follow a number of beer blogs to find out what is happening in the craft beer world. It has nothing to do with  my job, just a pure fascination and interest in great beer.  Some blogs are like mine, a hodgepodge of beer reviews, beer news and whatever strikes my fancy from a regular joe kind of perspective. Other blogs I follow provide great industry news and insider information from those with connections and a particular beer expertise.  One such blog in the latter category is was Grizzly Growler, created and authored by Tim Akimoff who started his beer journalism in the megalopolis of beer, Portland, OR, before moving over to Missoula, MT.

Tim knows beer and, better yet, made friends with the local brewing industry who invited him into their breweries and fed him news and other tidbits which he shared with the rest of us. His blog became very popular, one of the most popular hosted by the Missoulian, the local daily newspaper for whom Tim worked.  Craft beer is very important to Missoulians and much of the rest of Montana and there's no doubt that Grizzly Growler helped new beer lovers find their wings while encouraging seasoned aficionados to continue their exploration.

I thought it was odd, then, when a good month went by with no updates on the Grizzly Growler blog.  Tim had introduced a new contributor to the blog on August 26, but his new contributor posted exactly twice. Once on the Blacksmith Brewing Co. and once to announce the end of Tim's involvement with the Grizzly Growler - a post which has since been deleted from the blog.  (You can view a cached version of that post here.)  The post linked to Tim's other blog, announcing the end of Grizzly Growler, thanks to a "downsizing" at the Missoulian which left Tim scrambling for answers.  According to this story at the Missoula Independent, the Missoulian reportedly allowed Tim to take Grizzly Growler with him, but I imagine the sting of a sudden job loss would make that very difficult.

Grizzly Growler might be dead, but I'm guessing Tim isn't done writing about beer.  Yet, the loss of a popular blog and its craft beer voice seems a questionable move for a traditional daily trying to survive in a digital world. It needs all the "hip" it can get.

[Update:  It appears the Missoulian plans to keep Grizzly Growler active. A post about the new Flathead Lake Brewing Co. location in Missoula went up today, October 1.  The post was added by Sherry Devlin, Editor of the Missoulian, who also has her own editor's blog.  My guess is that Sherry has more than enough on her plate than to take over Grizzly Growler, but is keeping it alive while figuring out what to do.]

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jack and Ken's Ale: More Celebration from Sierra Nevada

If you're a regular reader of Growler Fills (and hey, why wouldn't you be?) you know I'm a big fan of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of the pioneers of American craft brewing. For their 30th Anniversary, Sierra brought together a collection of other craft brewing pioneers to brew a series of four special release brews.  First up was Ken and Fritz's Ale, an excellent straight forward robust stout.  I've got another bottle of it stashed in the fridge for a happy occasion. Next up was Charlie, Fred and Ken's Bock an impressive and interesting imperial helles lager. Now we're on to the third in the series, Jack and Ken's Ale, a big, bold barleywine.

By now you know that Ken of Jack and Ken's Ale is Ken Grossman, the founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. who started his brewery after visiting with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and Jack McAuliffe the founder of New Albion Brewing.  Jack is credited with starting the first "micro" brewery and inspired countless others to take their love of homebrewing and expand into craft brewing - leading to the explosion of craft breweries we're fortunate to have today.

I found Jack and Ken's Ale on tap at the Rhino in Missoula and had a pint on two different occasions. I noticed this past weekend that the keg had been emptied and I don't know if there was another in reserve.  Like all barleywines this one is big and bold with huge flavors and a big, full mouthfeel.  It is a dark mahogany to black color with a big tan head.  I couldn't place the aroma, though I picked up hints of roasted toffee. Yeah, I'm not sure what that means, either, but that's what came to mind.

There's more carbonation and hop bitterness that I expected, but that's not surprising for an American version of barleywine and I'm sure it is an intentional surprise brought to us by these brewers.  The taste is very rich, deep and complex with flavors of roasted malt, caramel, coffee and pine hops. It will also set you back on your keister at 10.2% abv.  If you find a bottle, I highly recommend picking one up.  That goes for all three in the series thus far.  Three up, three big successes.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen

Would I let Oktoberfest go by without a nod to a great German classic? Of course not. And no, I'm not jumping the gun, either, given that the traditional Oktoberfest begins in September and runs through the first Sunday in October. There are quite a number of excellent Oktoberfest/Marzen beers brewed both locally in Montana and around the U.S.  Bayern Brewing, Bitterroot Brewing and Kettlehouse each annually brew some great ones.  Sam Adams' Octoberfest is one of my favorite beers.

But when I think of the classic German Oktoberfest beer, Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen is one of several that come to mind.  This one is a very clear, medium-gold color with a fairly thick white head.  It has a medium body with a touch of caramel and toasted malts common to the style, but cereal grain flavors are the main show.  It never gets too sweet.  It is smooth and crisp and sports 5.8% abv.  What's even better is you can try it yourself on tap at the Rhino in Missoula.

If you're interested in trying another true classic from Ayinger, pick up a bottle of Celebrator Dopplebock, considered a beer of world class distinction by the folks over at Beer Advocate.  Available year-round, it is nearly always in stock at Worden's Market in Missoula and I first tried a bottle I picked up years ago at Topper's Cellar in Helena.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall Seasonals: A Favorite Time of the Beer Year

Fall in Montana has rewarded us with a week of beautiful blue skies, very warm temperatures and those cool, crisp mornings that jump start your day. It is my favorite time of year. College football is back. The weather is grand. Nature's colors dazzle.  And . . . . the fall seasonals hit the stores and the taps.

From day one in my craft beer exploration I've preferred malt flavors to hop bitterness. True, my interests and appreciation are broadening in leaps and bounds, but I'm not quite following the natural progression of the beer palate. I always return to the malt.  Which is why I love fall and the myriad fall seasonals that bring sweet malty grain and caramel flavors in great abundance. Brown ales, oktoberfests, bocks, and even some ambers tend to make me smile.

Lately, though, another category of great brews has hit the scene.  Wet hop, or fresh hop ales, made with hops that are harvested and rushed to the breweries without drying, are becoming more numerous and tend to feature the grand flavors of hops without pouring on the bitterness.  Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Wet Hop Ale and Full Sail Lupulin Fresh Hop Ale are two fine examples.  If you're lucky enough to be close to Yakima, WA next Saturday, October 2, you can even take part in the Fresh Hop Ale Festival that celebrates the fact that 77% of all U.S. hop production takes place right there in the Yakima Valley.

What's your favorite time of the beer year?

Friday, September 17, 2010

FLBC and Sapore Teaming Up in Missoula

Since the news broke in late July that Flathead Lake Brewing Company would be teaming up with a local restaurant to put a new taproom in Montana, I've been keeping my eye on the space formerly occupied by Higgins Alley on North Higgins Street in Missoula.  There's plenty going on at the site with extensive renovations well under way.  Now you can follow the progress along, too.

Flathead Lake Brewing Company of Missoula and Sapore Restaurant have started facebook pages to keep everyone up to date on the progress. Sapore will occupy the ground floor while FLBC of Missoula is putting the tap room on the second floor in the space previously used for special events.  According to FLBC of Missoula, the taproom will feature beers from the Flathead Lake Brewing Company and other Montana breweries, a full menu and four plasma televisions for sports and other entertainment.  No word yet on what the menus will be.

UPDATE:  For a review of our first visit to Flathead Lake Brewing Company of Missoula, go here.

Simcoe Pale: Blacksmith Knocks One Out of the Park

As a malt-head, I'm much more in tune with the wonderful variety of flavors a brewer can create from the infinite combinations of base malts and specialty grains.  From biscuit and grain to caramel, toffee, coffee and nutty flavors, the world of malt awaits. When it comes to hops, it took me a while to get past the notion that there is more to a hop-forward beer than just mind numbing bitterness.  Even with my start in homebrewing 15 years ago, I'd rarely brewed a beer that did more than subtly engaged the aroma and flavor side of hops.

After a round of golf three weeks ago, we stopped in at Blacksmith Brewing to see what might be new on tap.  Actually, that's a bit of a lie. It doesn't really matter whether there's something new on tap, we're going to stop there anyway. On tap was Simcoe Pale Ale an orangish colored brew with a white head that features the simcoe hop.  The balance in this beer between the piney hop flavor and a medium level of bitterness was extremely well done allowing the pine and a touch of citrus flavors to shine. It was an excellent beer and one of the many fine brews Blacksmith has produced.  Why am I just posting this now after the beer is likely all gone?  Truthfully, I forgot to publish the post until reviewing my notes, but still thought it deserved recognition.

Also on tap (and still on tap) was a return of Blacksmith's Imperial Red Ale, a big, bold full-bodied, cloudy red ale with an off-white head. There's an initial malt punch (7.4% abv) followed by a moderate amount of hops that transitions into a pleasant bitterness in the aftertaste.  Fortunately, the Rhino in Missoula finally has a couple of Blacksmith Brews on tap which currently includes the IRA and Amber.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Good Luck Montana Breweries!

The 29th Annual Great American Beer Festival kicks off today in Denver, Colorado, hosting more than 520 breweries and 2,200 beers in dozens of styles.  Far more beers have been entered in the competition.  Tickets to the three-day event sold out five weeks ago and some 50,000 people are expected to attend.  I've never been to the festival and it is difficult to comprehend that many breweries and beers in one place.  I wouldn't even know where to start, though I'd sure like to give it a try.

Five Montana breweries will be vying for a prized gold, silver or bronze medal in the competition and bringing great Montana beer to the throngs of beer lovers:  Carter's Brewing Co. and Montana Brewing Co. in Billings, Red Lodge Ales Brewing Co. in Red Lodge, Kettlehouse Brewing Co. in Missoula and Great Northern Brewing Co. in Whitefish.  Our Montana breweries have had excellent success over the years in the competition.  In 2009, Montana Brewing Co. won gold in the Herb and Spice or Chocolate category for its Stillwater Rye and Kettlehouse's Cold Smoke won Bronze in the Scottish Style Ale category.  Montana Brewing Company has been a perennial winner at the competition and won the small brewpub and brewer of the year award in 2007.

Good luck!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Charlie, Fred, and Ken's Bock: Sierra Nevada Celebrating in Style

It's Sierra Nevada, so you know it's going to be good. Yet, when Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. announced it would be brewing a series of special beers to celebrate its 30th Anniversary in a collaborative effort with some of the legends of American craft brewing, both the bar and the expectations were raised to great heights.

First up was Fritz and Ken's Ale, a wonderful robust stout created by Ken Grossman, Sierra's founder, and Fritz Maytag, founder of San Francisco's Anchor Brewing Co. and the godfather of the craft brewing movement.  Now Sierra brings us Charlie, Fred and Ken's Bock an Imperial Helles Lager which Sierra describes as "a testament to the ever evolving brewer's art. Bold yet balanced with distinct toasted malt character, moderate sweetness and clean and floral hops."

Charlie Papazian is well known to every homebrewer and craft brewer around thanks to his classic book "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" that introduced most of us to the craft with his detailed instructions and reassuring words "relax, don't worry, have a homebrew."  He later founded the American Homebrewers Association (which eventually merged to form the the Brewers Association) and continues to be one of the most involved and tireless promoters of the craft beer industry.

Fred Eckhardt is another long-time advocate of great craft brewing and an undisputed expert on beer styles.  Without question, he opened up the world of lagering to homebrewers with his 1970 book on the subject and later authored The Essentials of Beer Styles which still forms the basis for judging many beer competitions.

When you bring these three giants together to brew a beer, who am I to judge it? No one. Fortunately, I don't have to do anything more than pop it open, drink, ponder, enjoy and give thanks to the pioneers of craft brewing.  Sierra's 30th Anniversary series of brews is packaged for celebrating. Twist off the gold metal cage and you're ready to pop the cork champagne-style. The beer is a medium gold color with a thick white head.  It poured a little hazy, which is not customary for a lager. I picked up a light grain/malt aroma with some floral hops. The flavor is full and rich with potent biscuit and toasted grain malt flavors. A bit more hop bitterness comes through after the first couple of sips, but ultimately the malt predominates (as it should) as the beer warms.  I pick up a slight astringent (in a good way) flavor in the aftertaste that is typical for helles bocks, though I've never been able to identify it. It is packed in 22 oz bottles and on draft and I found a bottle at the Good Food Store in Missoula.