Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kettlehouse Fresh Hops a Winner With Garden City Pale Ale

We stopped in at Kettlehouse Brewing Co.'s old school Myrtle Street location this Saturday to try their new pumpkin ale. The brew is good. Quite good, with flavors of pumpkin, nutmeg and ginger.  But we also spotted a new pale ale on tap and decided to grab a sample before heading out the door to finish our errands.  One whiff of it and we knew there was something good going on here. One taste and we sat back down and ordered a pint.  Then a growler for the road.  Well, not the road, actually.

Kettlehouse Brewing Co.'s Garden City Pale Ale is a fresh hop ale brewed with hops picked in a few locations in Missoula not far from the brewery.  They're not sure what kind of hops they are, though cascade is a good guess for at least some of them.  The brew is a hazy pale yellow color (never trust my pictures) with a nice thick white head. The aroma is wonderfully full of floral hops. There is a light grain/biscuit flavored malt base that simply serves as a delivery vehicle for the floral hop flavor balanced perfectly with a medium hop bitterness.  It is a smooth beer with certain crispness and does indeed taste fresh.  It is a great showcase for hop flavor and aroma - exactly what a fresh hop brew should be.

The downside?  By the time you're reading this, the beer is likely gone.  It was an instant hit and is flying out of the kegs. Get down there early this week and you might still have a chance to try what is one of the best brews to come out of Kettlehouse. And that's saying a lot.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Missoula (Beer) Runners Raise $5,400 for Raramuri

Stretched out along the length of the Higgins Avenue Bridge Wednesday evening, more than 110 runners set out on Run Wild Missoula's monthly beer run for a chance to run with Micha True, better known in running circles as Caballo Blanco.  The run preceded an "interactive discussion with beer" led by the man himself to raise awareness of Mexico's Tarahumara Indians (Raramuri, in their language), their culture, and the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon.

Due to rough terrain, widely dispersed settlements, and a history of nomadic life, the Raramuri developed a practice of running long distances which in turn became celebrations integral to their culture. Micha True began living with the Raramuri as part of his own spiritual and running exploration and evolution.  Along the way he acquired the name Caballo Blanco (white horse) from the locals who witnessed his near daily runs of 20 to 40 miles around the lakes and canyons of the region.  He also gained an appreciation for the tribes spirit based on Korima, or the circle of sharing.  To help raise awareness and preserve the culture, Micha began organizing the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon in 2003 which later became the subject of the New York Times' best seller "Born to Run."  Four Run Wild Missoula members are headed to Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains to run the race on March 6, 2011.

Following the beer run, more than 600 people turned up at the Wilma Theater for Micha's presentation which began with a 9 minute video introduction to the race and the culture behind it.  Big Sky Brewing Company donated plenty of Moose Drool and IPA which the beer loving attendees quickly bought out as part of the night's fund raising efforts.  Raffle tickets flew off the rolls for some great and some . . . uh. . .curious . . . running related prizes.  By the end of the night, Missoula's beer runners, running enthusiasts and other generous members of the community raised $5,400 for the Norawas De Raramuri - Friends of the Running People. 

As for the beer run, the beautiful blue skies, setting sun and crisp, cool fall temperature provided the perfect setting for a 5 mile run along the banks of the Clark Fork River. Unfortunately, Caballo Blanco wasn't among the colorful throng of runners who took over the local trail.  It seems that a chilly morning run in Missoula's Rattlesnake Recreation Area did what the Copper Canyon's of the Sierra Madre have not. One strained calf later and we were content with a Caballo Blanco send off to "run free."  So run free we did. It's not hard with great beer waiting at the end.

Great thanks is due to the sponsors:  The Wilma Theater, Run Wild Missoula, Garlington, Lohn & Robinson, Momentum Athletic Training, Runners Edge, and Big Sky Brewing Company.

Note:  This version updates the amount raised.  It had originally been reported as $7,500. Regardless, it remains a great amount and another impressive show by the Missoula community.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great Northern's Frog Hop Fresh Hopped Pale Ale

Continuing our discussion of fresh hop ales, I popped open a bottle of Great Northern Brewing Co.'s 2010 Frog Hop Fresh Hopped Pale Ale, one of Western Montana's versions of these brews featuring freshly picked - and not dried - hops. The hops for this brew come from the Purple Frog Gardens outside Whitefish, MT and only a few miles from the brewery.  According to Great Northern "each Chinook, Mt. Hood, Cascade and Nugget hop cone was plucked from its stem by a member of the GNBC family."  Now that's cool.

The beer pours a pale golden color with a hint of green. There is a excellent, thick white head. The aroma is very delicate with a bit of grain malt and some light grass and floral hops. The flavor, too, is delicate. Those needing an explosion of hops will want to look elsewhere.  In fact, when I reviewed this beer last year, it is clear that my expectations ruled over reality. Sometimes what we want or expect a beer to be gets in the way of enjoying a beer for what it is actually trying to be.  Great Northern's version is light bodied beer with a balance of grain malt and light hops with a touch of citrus fruit in there as well.   It doesn't feature the locally grown hops as much as I'd like, but is a very pleasant, easy drinking, lighter brew that provides a nice counter to the heavier fall brews that tend to dominate this season.  Enjoy it now. It won't be around long.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quarry Brewing Putting on Brewer's Dinner in Butte

Here's another opportunity for you to get some great food and beer while learning about food and beer pairings. On Wednesday, November 3, 2010, beginning at 6:00 p.m., you can enjoy appetizers, dinner and dessert paired with brews selected by Chuck and Lyza Schnabel, Brewmaster and owners of Quarry Brewing. The event takes place at Metals Sports Bar and Grill in Butte and tickets are $35 each.  I've been in Quarry Brewing a couple of times and heard Chuck talk about beer and brewing with great knowledge and passion and this is sure to be a fine event. I found their Mica Mai Bock to be the best-in-show among the 60+ beers at the Garden City Brewfest back in May.

For more information and to reserve one of the limited tickets, call Quarry Brewing at 723-0245.

Note:  Quarry Brewing is putting on another one, tomorrow, Wednesday, October 27 at Sparky's Garage in uptown Butte if you're lucky enough to be around and don't already have plans.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

'Tis the Season for Fresh Hop Ales

Sure, the fall season brings us great rich, malty brews in the form of oktoberfests, bocks and the like, but fresh hop ales are staking a claim to the most anticipated fall releases.  Unlike most beer styles, for which the "seasons" have blurred so much that you can find nearly anything at any time, fresh hop ales are tied directly to mother nature's whims and blessings.

The vast majority of hops - those wonderfully aromatic flower cones that provide aroma, bitterness and flavor to beer - are harvested, dried, and packaged in pellet or whole leaf forms for later use throughout the year.  A choice few, however, get to skip the drying and packaging process and get rushed to brewers who brew "fresh hop" or "wet hop" ales resulting in a fresher and richer taste from the hops.  It is something that must be done quickly.  Hops begin to spoil within a day or so of being picked and need to be dried or used right away. The release date of these brews varies each year because they're obviously tied to when the hops mature in the field. Because the characteristics of the hops also vary each year, so do the beers.  You're guaranteed a new experience, one of the great features of the fresh hop ales.

I've seen a couple of local fresh hop ales and I'm sure there are more.  Blacksmith Brewing Co. in Stevensville, MT, has a Fresh Hop Pale Ale out now and also available on tap at the Rhino in Missoula.  Great Northern Brewing Co. annually produces its Frog Hop Fresh Hopped Pale Ale which is available around Western Montana (and beyond) in 22oz. bottles.

Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, OR, again released its Lupulin Fresh Hop Ale (5.8% abv, 70 IBUs), a great beer that showcases the spicy hop flavor of crystal and cascade hops.  I first had a pint last year and it is back on tap at the Rhino. It is a beautiful, clear medium gold color with a thick white head.  The aroma is of earthy, woody, piney hops.  A moderate hop bitterness follows an initial malt base that is stronger than expected. There's a medium body and wonderful earthy and spice hop flavors.

Sierra Nevada's Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, available in bottles at better beer stores, uses wet hops and is a wonderfully balanced hop-forward beer using Cascade and Centennial hops from Washington's Yakima Valley.  Sierra Nevada annually releases their Southern Hemisphere Harvest ale and Celebration Ale which they call fresh hop ales, but both use dried hops (though ones that are used soon after they're picked.)  Many, many more local breweries in the pacific northwest brew small batches of fresh hop ales, typically available only on tap at the breweries or in a few select locations.  Probably the best way to try these beers is to head to the Fresh Hop Ale Festival in Yakima, WA held annually on the first Saturday in October.

One thing is certain, with the exception of Sierra Nevada and a few others, these fresh hop ales are typically made in small quantities and are not available for long.  Find them now before the long wait until next fall leaves you sad.

Hale's O'Brien's Harvest Ale: A Great Introduction to Fall

Over in Spokane a couple of weeks ago, we stumbled upon Hale's O'Brien's Harvest Ale brewed by Hale's Ales of Seattle. It pours a hazy, unfiltered orangish, auburnish, brownish color with a whitish head.  That's a lot of "ishes," but that's the way it goes sometimes. For flavor, it has an American pale ale base with a wealth of hop spices floating across the tongue. Both citrus and pine flavors appear from the hops from time to time.  There's a medium-full mouthfeel and it is surprisingly rich with a substantial malt base. It uses fresh hops and the recipe changes from year to year.

What struck me most about this beer is the depth of flavors which change as ou move through the pint, never settling on any one profile. Hops and malt switch places as do the citrus and earthy hops. I can see why Hale's Ale's calls this one of the most anticipated releases of the fall. It is a fun beer that gives you something to ponder and provides a great blend of malt and hops that is perfect for fall as our tastes trend away from the crisp hops of summer to the rich malts of winter. We found it on tap at the Steelhead Bar and Grille in Spokane. It is also available in 12 oz bottles.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Speaking of Beer Runners . . .

Don't forget about this special opportunity for a beer run with one of the celebrities of the running world. Caballo Blanco (Micha True) of "Born to Run" fame will be in Missoula next Wednesday, October 27, 2010, for an "interactive discussion with beer" as a fundraiser for the Tarahumara Indians and the Copper Canyon epic trail race.

The fun kicks off at 6:00 p.m. with Run Wild Missoula's monthly beer run, followed at 7:30 p.m. by the discussion at the Wilma Theater. Bring along $7 (or more) as a donation.  These beer runs have proven to be quite the hit and this one promises to be the biggest yet.  The press for the event has been quite good with this excellent article in the Missoula Independent and another great one in the Missoulian.   Head to Run Wild Missoula's website for more information.

A Beer Running Update

By the time I was done with the the Missoula Half Marathon back in July, I knew this running thing would be a regular deal, not a one shot thing.  I like the way my new level of fitness feels.  Remember those old BowFlex commercials that ran nonstop on television back in the 90s (maybe they're still on)? The ones with the guy saying "I'm 40 years old and I'm in the best shape of my life"?  Well, I can say the same thing without hesitation. (Not the BowFlex part.)  It feels good. Running feels good. And taking on the challenge of trying a wealth of new craft beers is a much less guilty pleasure. It almost seems like a reward.

I needed a new goal after the Half Marathon and adopted a rather modest one: 1000 total miles in my first year of running.  As of today I'm sitting on 840 miles with a little more than 2 months to go.  From a pure statistical standpoint it should be no problem.  But statistics ignore life.  Thanks to work and mother nature (not to mention this earth rotation thing) my running plummeted in September and October.  What had been 100 to 120 mile months (when not being bludgeoned by pneumonia) dropped to 90, then 70. Now I'm sitting on (gasp!) only 40 for October.  Even with a long run planned for tomorrow morning, it is going to be an ugly month.  My Garmin 405 is feeling lonely.  Bad weather is on the way.  Still, I'll get there!

A couple of lessons learned in 840 miles:

1. Adding distance is way easier than adding speed. I went from 2-3 miles in January to 13+ miles by mid-April and it never really seemed that hard.  A lot of that was simply the excitement and determination of seeing if I could do it. Some of it was fear. I didn't want to fail at the half marathon, so I made sure the distance would be no problem by the time July rolled around.  But speed?  Whole different story.  Sure, there was a huge initial drop from 10:30/minute miles to 9:00 minute miles in that same time frame as my fitness improved, but gaining more speed has been a much bigger challenge. I will never be fast, but I do want to improve.  I've managed to drop to sub 8:00 miles for 5K distances and sub 8:30 miles for 7-8+ mile runs.  Eventually I'd like to get down closer to 8:00 miles for a half marathon distance, but that is a huge challenge. Perhaps I started this running thing too late. Regardless, it isn't interfering with my enjoyment of it all. 

2. Heat sucks. My favorite temperature for running is somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees. I don't even mind 30 to 45 as long as the wind isn't blowing. 55 to 65 is pretty good, too. Start getting over 70, though and I start to not like it.  Over 80? Uggh. It completely saps your energy and makes you wonder what the hell you're doing. You start to wonder why you're having so much trouble running, though the answer is obvious. I don't do heat. 

Any other beer runners out there?  Drop me a line.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Lost Coast Gets Found At The Rhino

I had a little time on my hands last Saturday afternoon and found myself within a short walk to the Rhino in Missoula. I know, I know. Lucky me. Someone needs to see what's new on tap.  This time, it was two brews from the Lost Coast Brewery of Eureka, CA. 

First up was Lost Coast's 8 Ball Stout.  I've seen this one in 12 oz bottles at various beer stores, but had never given it a try. It pours black with some slightly red highlights at the edges and a nice light tan head. The aroma is of roasted malts and a touch of chocolate.  The flavor is of a relatively robust stout with roasted malts, a bit of milk chocolate and a splash of coffee. It has a bit of a creamy mouthfeel to it and a touch of hop bitterness in the finish.  It is a good stout that is very drinkable and carries 6.3% abv.

Next on tap is Lost Coast's Double Trouble IPA.  As the name suggests, this beer is an imperial IPA and packs a punch at 8.5% abv.  I can't find any info on the IBUs, but I've been surprised to find that imperial IPAs generally don't rise to the point of having tongue curling bitterness.  Sure, the IBUs are often very high, but the tons of added malt (to bring it up to imperial level) provides a moderating effect with a somewhat sweet backbone.  This one fits that profile. It is a hazy gold color with a touch of orange and a thick white head.  There is a substantial grain malt backbone that transitions into a very pleasant floral and slightly citrus hop flavor. I'd call the citrus grapefruit. The bitterness level is balanced and not overwhelming, but strong in the finish.  I definitely enjoyed it.

Growler Fills Anniversary Beer

With the one year anniversary of Growler Fills arriving last Thursday, I've had a number of people ask me what beer I pulled out of the fridge for the celebration. The answer, ironically, is none.

Oh, I had grand plans. The weather was great and I pictured myself coming home after work, throwing on the jeans and heading for the fridge.  Thanks to my recent trip over to WA, the beer fridge is nicely stocked with a variety of new things to try.  Plus, there's still quite a few bottles of Abyss, Jubel 2010, Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout, Black Butte XXI and others I've picked up over the past year for that "special occasion."

Hitting one year of blog life and 140 plus posts definitely counts as a special occasion. But life sometimes gets in the way.  Work started at 7 a.m. and unexpectedly didn't stop until 10 p.m. By then, the celebration needed to wait.  I'm sure I'll have no trouble finding a substitute time. On the plus side, the fridge remains well stocked.  Almost too well stocked.  Let me know if you'd like to help make some room.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Growler Fills' 1st Anniversary!

One year ago today, Growler Fills was born out of a desire to keep a log of the beers I'd tried and wanted to remember. As you can see from the first couple of posts, I had no interest other than to keep a few notes.  It didn't take long before that evolved into a little beer news here and there while spreading the word about a good new beer from our great Montana breweries. 

When I started the blog I had no idea whether I'd still have an interest one or two months later, much less one year into the fun. Over 140 posts later, I've digressed into running adventures, traveled to my home state of Virginia, sought out new styles, breweries and great places to find beer, and had a great time telling the tales here on the blog. Well, most of the tales.  Some are better left to quiet memories.   No doubt the blog will continue to evolve.  Thanks to a weekend trip into different beer territory last weekend, we've got a freshly stocked fridge of new beers to try.  An upcoming trip to points east will provide a chance to explore more of Montana's breweries.  I'm sure there's more running adventures on the way, too, and I'd love to hear from more Beer Runners.

I hope you've enjoyed Growler Fills.  If so, send me a little love on this 1st Anniversary and let me know what you'd like to see during the next year.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Alaskan Brewing Double Black IPA

I've been waiting to find this new Pilot Series brew from Alaskan Brewing Company since I first saw the news release back in July. It is one of the reasons I stopped in at Bottles in Millwood, WA on our way over to Spokane last weekend.  I had not yet seen it in the Missoula area, but spotted it right away amongst Bottles' nice selection of 22 oz bombers.  As has happened a number of times in my search for beer, I was lucky enough to find it on tap soon after picking up a couple of bottles.

After settling in to our home for the weekend, we ambled over to the Post Street Ale House (corner of Post Street and Sprague Ave. in Spokane) for a beer before heading out to find some dinner.  Post Street Ale House has about 26 taps with quite a few of them rotating some fine brews.  There's a nice mix, too, running the gamut from IPAs to Stouts. I instantly recognized the Alaskan Double Black IPA tap handle, but had to think twice.  I knew the beer packs 8.5% abv and wasn't sure how smart it would be to start the night out with one of those.  But we weren't driving anywhere and the beer beckoned.

True to its name, Alaskan Double Black IPA, a " black imperial india pale ale" according to Alaskan Brewing Co., is solid black with a light tan head.  It has a roasted hop aroma.  Yes, I know I made that up, but smell it for yourself and you'll see. There's a little chocolate in the aroma, too.  The initial taste is of roasted chocolate with some coffee, but it transitions into a moderate piney hop finish with a bit of coffee thrown in.  The hop profile and bitterness isn't as strong as I expected, but this is the first imperial IPA I've tried.  The black IPA style continues to evolve with the common thread being a wonderful marriage of American IPA and dark roasted malts. This one, perhaps due to the extra malt backbone to make it an imperial version taste a bit more like a hopped up porter.  But that's not a complaint.  The mouthfeel is quite full, with a bit of creaminess. It is a rich, interesting beer that I definitely call a winner.  And I've got two bottles hanging out in the fridge.

You know those beers that draw you in from the very first sip? Yeah, this was one of those beers. It had us right away and we sensed we were in trouble.  We managed to escape for dinner, but headed back for another one when we were done.  If you do the same, be forewarned.  Sure, we've had more potent beers, but there was something about this one that sneaks up and makes you happy. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where to Find Beer: Bottles, Millwood, WA

Travel north of I-90 for a mile on Argonne Road into Millwood, WA, a small town sandwiched between Spokane and the City of Spokane Valley, and you'll come across a wine and beer shop that, frankly, isn't much to look at from the outside.  But what they haven't spent on sprucing up the exterior, they've put in to a rather fine inventory. As usual, I didn't spend much time perusing the wine, but I did fill up an empty wine box with a nice selection of 22oz bombers.

I stopped at Bottles on my way in to Spokane for a weekend trip recently after finding it in a google search for a new place to seek out.  On my last trip back in June, I scoped out Enoteca in Post Falls, ID. Where Enoteca focused largely on 22oz bombers, Bottles has a nice mix of both 22oz bombers and 12oz singles ready for mixing and matching. I'm always seeking new-to-me places like Bottles on my trips out of state because they've always got things I can't get in Montana.  And Bottles did not disappoint. Sure, there's quite a few I've had before and can get in Missoula, but there were more than enough new ones to make me smile.

Check it out for yourself and you'll find beer from Rogue, Dicks, Great Divide, Flying Dog, Anderson Valley, Lagunitas, Oskar Blues, Victory, Dogfish, Bear Republic, Red Tail, Mad River, Beer Valley, Ninkasi, Stone, Hopworks, Old Schoolhouse, Iron Horse and many more.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Brewmaster's Dinner in Helena, Sunday Oct. 10

If you're in the Helena, MT area this weekend you won't want to miss this opportunity to get some great beer paired with great food and all the fun that goes with it.  Blackfoot River Brewing, Lewis and Clark Brewing, Topper's Cellar and Bert and Ernie's Saloon and Grill are sponsoring a Brewmaster's Dinner to support Ryan United, a charity dedicated to providing safe communities for children. Great handcrafted brews from Blackfoot River and Lewis and Clark (the brewery, not the explorers) will be paired with Bert and Ernie's always delicious food. Tickets are $35 per person and the event gets going at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at all four sponsor locations and more information about Ryan United is available at the website here.