Saturday, November 27, 2010

When You're Tired of Turkey

I do love a good traditional turkey dinner.  We always make sure to get a big enough turkey to have plenty of leftovers for turkey sandwiches.  Yet, there's only so many consecutive meals you have have with turkey before you're craving something else. That point hit last night. Yes, I know that was only the Friday night after Thanksgiving, but we'd already had Thanksgiving dinner, evening sandwiches and sandwiches for Friday lunch.  In much the same way, after a series of new deliciously malty brews, it was time for some hops.

We piled up a mess of nachos with plenty of cheese, tomatoes, onions, black beans, cilantro and jalapenos - whatever was in the fridge - and broke out a couple of IPAs. First up: Old Schoolhouse Brewery Ruud Awakening IPA. I'd first been introduced to Old Schoolhouse Brewery, of Winthrop, WA, through their very good Hooligan Stout.  Ruud Awakening IPA pours a very clear orange/amber color with a thin white head that disappeared quickly. The aroma is of floral and some grapefruit citrus hops.  Flavors trend from a fairly substantial malt backbone to pine and resin hops and a touch of citrus. Bitterness levels are moderately high, though not as strong as the 100 ibus would suggest.  Then again, with 7% abv, the malt is providing some balance.  It has a medium full body with a bitter finish.  We enjoyed it quite a lot and are sorry we only had one bottle which we'd picked up over in Spokane back in October.

Next up was Laughing Dog Brewing's Dogzilla Black IPA. Laughing Dog barks out beers in Ponderay, ID and despite being around for five years, this was the first I'd run across one of their brews.  Looks like a trip over northern ID is in order.  Dogzilla Black IPA pours a very dark brown with lots of red highlights and a good off-white head. The aroma is a mixture of coffee like roasted malts mixed with cascade hops. The IPA base, with simcoe and cascade hops, has a fairly substantial amount of malt, but the hops are the showcase along with some wonderful roasted malt flavors. It is quite good and, like the Ruud Awakening, we were sorry we only had one bottle. It boasts 6.9% abv and 68 ibus.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More Thanksgiving Goodness

Next up on the Thanksgiving-open-up-that-special-bottle of beer fun was Iron Horse Brewery's Brass Ass Brown Ale.  Iron Horse Brewery is over in Ellensburg, WA and I'd picked up a couple of 22 oz bombers at Bottles to try last time we made it over to Spokane.

Iron Horse calls describes their Brass Ass Brown Ale as "bold malty goodness." It is a medium brown color (lighter than the picture suggests) with some amber highlights on the edges and a big biscuit colored head.  There is a slightly fruity malt aroma. It has a very smooth caramel malt flavor, almost sweet, with a slight touch of fruit. The finish is a combination of biscuit and caramel malts with a slight touch of bitterness after things settle (6% abv).

I also had room to try out a bottle of Dick's Lava Rock Porter which I also picked up on the same trip.  Dick's Brewing Company is in Centralia, WA. It is an English style porter with "a good helping of caramel, chocolate and black malts. . . . . plenty of Magnum hops to balance the malty wort and two additions of Mt. Hood hops for lots of hop flavor and great aroma"  It poured a very dark brown to black with a thin white head that disappeared fast. I picked up a light roasted malt aroma.  The flavor is earthy with bittersweet chocolate. I found it to be rather reminiscent of New Belgium Brewing Co.'s 1554 Black Ale.  It is a good, smoothing drinking, medium bodied ale.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Celebrating Thanksgiving With Fine Brews

Happy Thanksgiving!  Growler Fills is thankful for great craft beer, friends, family, good fortune and a host of other things on this snowy Thanksgiving morning in Missoula, MT.  I hope your Thanksgiving day is filled with good times and, of course, great beer.

The holiday season is filled with opportunities to reach into the beer fridge and pick out a few bottles you've been saving for a special occasion.  I kicked things off last night while working on pecan tarts and smelling the pumpkin pies in the oven by opening up a bottle of Great Divide's Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout.  It is an imperial stout aged on oak chips with a "generous infusion of espresso."

This beer pours a solid black with a dark tan head. Just the appearance screams "rich."  The aroma is strong with roasted malt, toffee and chocolate.  The taste is full, rich and complex with a ton of rich roasted malts and a thick, intense coffee like bite. Reminds me of a perfectly brewed mocha featuring a great rich espresso backbone and subtle chocolate undertones.  Excellent.  A perfect way to kick off the Thanksgiving holidays.

What's your special brew for the holidays?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Fresh Hops and a Classic Doppelbock

On a recent frigid, blustery day in Missoula, I felt the need to seek out a little variety in the beer world and stopped in at my favorite set of taps also known as The Rhino. What did I find?  One excellent example of the fresh hop world along with a classic German doppelbock.

As both my regular readers now know, I'm really digging the fresh hop ales.  They're not a new variety, but they've exploded in number over the past couple of years and are highly anticipated each fall. I've found them to be a great celebration of hop flavors, generally with only a moderate amount of bitterness to provide balance while letting the flavors shine.

Deschutes brewing has their own version as part of the Bond Street Ale Series.  Hop Trip - A Fresh Hop Pale Ale - features Crystal hops picked from a farm near Salem, OR and added fresh to the brew kettles along with some dry kilned whole hops. It pours a slightly hazy orange/amber color with a white head that disappears fairly quickly. The aroma is of pine resin and woody hops.  Flavors of pine hops dominate the brew with a moderate, well balanced bitterness level. It is an excellent brew (5.5% abv, 38 ibus). 

On the other end of the spectrum was Ayinger's Celebrator Doppelbock.  This is a beer than is widely available year round in bottles at better beer stores, but I've rarely found it on tap.  On Beer Advocate it rates an "A" for outstanding and the Bros (creators of Beer Advocate) consider it a beer of world class distinction.  I humbly agree.  I found this beer early on in my craft beer exploration and have loved it since.  It is a dark brown brew with ruby highlights at the edges.  There is a very light-tan, thick head.  The aromas are filled with sweet caramel malt and the flavors are dominated by an earthy, woody, caramel malt combination and hints of toasted brown sugar.  It is smooth and crisp and far too easy to drink (6.7% abv).  Head down to the Rhino in Missoula for your own chance to taste this classic.

Montana Brewing Co.'s Brown Ale

I recently drove over to Billings, MT to give a couple of presentations and had grand plans of taking the time to check out the local breweries.  My last trip to Billings was several years ago and, by coincidence, was only a few days after Carter's Brewery had opened its doors.  I was looking forward to seeing how Carter's had developed in the interim as well as revisiting the award winning Montana Brewing Co. and the much-friendlier-than-the-name-would-suggest Angry Hanks Brewing Co.  Montana Brewing Co.'s Custer's Last Stout remains one of my favorite beer names and is a darn fine brew, too.

Unfortunately, as it often does, life got in the way.  The best I was able to do was to walk over to Old Chicago for a quick bite to eat and see what might be on tap.  To my surprise, the place has a nice selection of 20+ taps including several local brews. I only had room for one and picked Montana Brewing Co.'s Brown Ale.

This brown ale is a rich brown color along with some ruby highlights and a thick, light tan head. There are light aromas of caramel malt.  The flavor is of a classic American brown ale.  Good caramel malt and biscuit like flavors in a smooth, easy drinking package. Perhaps even a bit creamy. It finishes with a slight hop bitterness. Want an excellent example of a brown ale? Give this one a try. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Widmer Brothers' Barrel Aged Brrrbon

Joining the Brothers' Reserve Series this year from Portland, OR's Widmer Brother's Brewing Company is Barrel Aged Brrbon, considered a winter warmer style brew.  To make it, Widmer took their annual Brrr seasonal winter warmer and aged it for four months in Kentucky bourbon barrels.  The result is a smooth bourbon infused beer that packs a punch and warms the taste buds - as well as the rest of you.

And that's exactly what I needed on the first truly cold day of Montana's winter season.  Yes, I know it is still fall, but when the temperature is 18, the winds are heavy and pushing the wind chills below zero and the light snow is drifting into the storefronts, I have no need for technicalities.  My ears were freezing and the Rhino happened to be half way between where I was and where I was headed. Darn.

Widmer Brother's Barrel Aged Brrrbon pours a clear dark amber color that even looks like bourbon. Well, if you poured a pint glass full of bourbon, which I don't recommend. It has a fairly which white head. The aroma was fairly faint, but with whiffs of malt and bourbon. There is an almost creamy, full mouth feel with a pronounced bourbon flavor and hints of caramel and vanilla.  I get a mild hop bitterness in the dry finish. Most barrel aged beers I've tried have been stouts and porters, so it was interesting to taste a one without the roasted malt undertones.  At 9.4% abv (and 40 ibus), this is a beer to be careful with and the color certainly belies the punch that awaits.

If you stop in at the Rhino in Missoula soon, you can try both Widmer's regular Brrr seasonal and the Brother's Reserve Series Barrel Aged Brrrbon on tap.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Where to Find Beer: The Flying Goat, Spokane, WA.

Every once in a while you run across a funky new place that is serious about its beer, atmosphere and good food too.  That's one of the great things about a short excursion to a bigger city or even an out of the way town.  The Flying Goat in Spokane fits the bill and we stopped in during a trip in October on a never ending search for great places to find beer.

The Flying Goat is a new joint, built with a modern industrial feel on a busy northwest Spokane Street. The neon-back-lit goat logo above the taps is way cool.  It opened in June and features a nice selection of regional taps (and beyond) and plenty more in 22 oz bombers in the fridge. The list is updated regularly on The Flying Goat's facebook page.  The menu, featuring specialty pizzas, sandwiches, and appetizers appears to change seasonally and the beers rotate frequently. I can tell you we'll be back the next chance we get.

On tap for me was Georgetown Porter from Seattle's Georgetown Brewing Company.  The beer poured very black with a light tan head.  The aroma is of chocolate and roasted malt which matches the flavor.  It was medium bodied and smooth while being fairly robust.  There's a nice hop bitterness level in the finish.  This was my first introduction to Georgetown's brews and I was rather impressed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First Beer Bloggers Conference Deemed A Success

About a month ago I stumbled upon an article previewing the first ever Beer Bloggers Conference which was held this past week in Boulder, CO.  The 108 attendees maxed out the available space for the conference and included a mix of brewery-associated bloggers and "citizen bloggers," those unaffiliated with any business. Growler Fills fits into the later category and is one of an estimated 600 citizen beer bloggers in North America.  Unfortunately, I found out about the conference too late to take part this year, but another is planned in Portland, OR for 2011. It's hard to think of a better location for the next conference.

Why have a beer blogger conference?  That was the first question I asked, but I was quickly convinced after reading the initial article.  The craft beer industry continues to grow in ways and at a rate that doesn't make sense in the general state of the economy and demonstrates there is something unique - and certainly accessible and satisfying - with craft beer. The Brewers Association is an excellent organization in support of the industry, but as a whole the industry lacks the major, centralized advertising and outreach such as that in the wine industry. Thus, the "new media" that is citizen bloggers has become a critically important avenue for spreading the word about craft brewing.

The conference featured speakers from the Brewers Association, Stone Brewing, Draft Magazine, and many others with topics ranging from why blogging is important to technology tips to the science of beer and food pairings, to the dos and don'ts of a successful blog. All things I could use as I march forward as a member of the new media. Coming along for the ride?  If so, suggest this blog to your fellow beer lovers, breweries and others in the beer world. If there's one thing I know I stink at, it's self promotion.