Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

2010 was a great year for craft brewing and there's every reason to think 2011 will be even better. So let's toast the new year and look forward to many more craft beer journeys to come. As luck would have it, the Rhino in Missoula tapped a keg of Deschutes Brewery's The Abyss on new year's eve providing an excellent celebratory beer to close out 2010.  Cheers!

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 7

For Day 7 we're staying local again with beer from Blacksmith Brewing Co. in Stevensville, MT. It had been a while since we'd taken the drive down from Missoula and a couple of extra days off to start the New Year's Eve weekend seemed like the perfect time.

As is common for Blacksmith, the place was lively and social and we ordered up a couple of pints while waiting for our pizza to arrive from Kodiak Jax's just down the street. I chose Ahh La Nina Pale Ale (6.2% abv), Blacksmith's ode to the weather phenomenon that is bringing above average snow to Montana this year. It has a medium reddish/copper color with a nice off-white head.  There are full aromas of floral hops.  The flavors run from floral to pine hops balanced expertly on top of a nice amount of caramel malt flavor.  It finishes with a bit of a hop bite that lingers pleasantly.  This is a very good brew, but unfortunately we hear there not much left.  Sorry to do that to you, but the new winter ale wasn't on tap yet.

I also chose some of the most recent round of Blackout Stout (8.0% abv), a rich, excellent beer with a variety of flavors to enjoy.  It is jet black with an off-white head.  The aromas are of roasted malts, a bit of sweet chocolate and hints of charcoal (in a good way).  The flavor is wonderfully robust, super smooth and mellow all at once.  I get flavors of coffee, milk and dark chocolate and quite a bit of molasses.

These are two more great examples of the excellent beer we've come to expect from Blacksmith. 

Helena's Topper's Cellar Featured

Topper and Topper's Cellar, a fantastic place to get great beer and wine in Helena, MT, are featured in this article in the Helena Independent Record, including a quote from your's truly. Topper truly has the passion and knowledge for great beer and wine and an amazing ability to communicate that passion to everyone who walks into his store.  Take your own trip there and you'll walk away with much more than just beer and wine.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 6

Ahh . . . the holidays. The perfect excuse to overindulge and only feel slightly guilty about it. Though it does tend to make the reality of January suck a little bit more.  The Christmas weekend brought meals of crab, steak, country ham, warm apple crisp and lots more. With the new year's weekend on the way, there's still a great festive feeling in the air.

For me, the holidays have been the perfect excuse to "clean out" the beer collection by finally opening up some long held bottles and a few new, big and bold ones I hadn't found the right time to try.  I'm also hoping to get out to the local breweries sometime this week and sample the various winter ales.

Day 5 of the 12 Days of Christmas Cheer brings us one from Hood River Oregon's Full Sail Brewing Co.:  2010 Reserve Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale.  Though available year-round, this rich, deep barleywine is a great sipping beer while watching the snow fall from the warm side of the window.

Old Boardhead Barleywine (9% abv, 91 ibus) has an orange/copper color and appeared a bit hazy at first. There is a nice off-white head that doesn't stick around for long. I picked up faint aromas of resin hops, though it was competing with some wonderful cooking smells in the kitchen.  The flavors start out with a deep malt followed fairly quickly by a good pine hop punch.  From there it transitions into a solid, but balanced full-bodied beer.  The hop flavors and bitterness sit on top of a substantial malt back and the finish is comprised of swirling malt and hop bitterness.  It sweetens a bit as it warms, but stays nicely balanced with a good hop finish.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 5

For Day 5 of the Growler Fills 12 Days of Christmas Cheer we're keeping it local with an awesome sipping beer from Missoula's Kettlehouse Brewing Co. I stopped in at the Myrtle Street location while running errands to try a couple of new ones on tap.  Sadly, I was a day late for Kettlehouse's Nutt-Cracker Winter Ale which was all gone.  I guess I need to get out more.

Fortunately the Road Rash Imperial Red Ale is still pouring and is quite a brew to behold.  Aged 4 months in bourbon barrels, this huge 13% abv beer is not for the faint at heart. Or tastebuds. It pours a very dark reddish brown color with an off white head. There are pronounced aromas of bourbon. Initial flavors of strong alcohol and bourbon transition to strong bourbon and a candy sweet malt finish.  I got slight hints of hop bitterness somewhere in the background popping up from time to time, but this one is malt and bourbon all the way. It is a rich, potent, powerful sipping beer ($4.50/snifter and $18/growler).

For those looking for something more mellow, Joe Bong Coffee Porter is back on nitro. I also got a small sip of a new dopplebock due out as soon as the yeast settles a bit more. From the taste I got, it looks to be another winner from Kettlehouse.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 4

I've been waiting for over a year to try this one I picked up in 2009. With a "best after" date of October 2010, I figured I was just about right on time. Deschutes Brewery calls Black Butte XXI a "masterpiece" and a "tribute to Black Butte Porter, the revolutionary Deschutes Brewery beer that has excited beer enthusiasts since 1988."  I've been enjoying Black Butte Porter for more than fifteen years and it is one of my favorite standby beers.

Black Butte XXI, a "colossal version of Black Butte Porter," is enhanced with cocoa nibs from Seattle, locally roasted (to Bend, OR) coffee, and about 20% of it aged in whiskey barrels.  The result is a deep, complex, rich, chocolatey taste experience. It is a solid black brew with a thin, tan head which disappears quickly as one would expect. There are aromas of milk chocolate and sweet, roasted malt. The flavors are well blended mixtures of roasted malts, milk and dark chocolate, and hints of coffee and bourbon. The finish has lots of roasted malts, a bit of coffee and some alcohol.  It is a potent brew at 11% abv and worth every sip.

Unfortunately, this year's version, Black Butte XXII, was destroyed after the experimental chocolate failed to fully dissolve in the beer.  Here's hoping that problem is fixed for next year.

Merry Christmas From Growler Fills

It is most definitely a white Christmas in Missoula, Montana where the temperature is 10 degrees, the house smells like baked goods and more great beer awaits in the fridge. And in the snow banks.  A great Christmas Eve dinner of crab legs and crab cakes provided a great reason to break out some bottles that were waiting for a special occasion.  Santa dropped off a couple of books on beer.  I'll have to toast him later. There's only one thing wrong with this picture, but I'm betting we can get that growler filled tomorrow.

What craft beer related item did you find under the tree?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 3

Sure, I'll admit it. Sometimes all it takes for me to try a beer is a great name.  Not that it is ever a challenge to get me to try something new.  One of my favorite beer names is Montana Brewing Company's Custer's Last Stout. In addition to being a great name, it is a great beer. So, when I saw another of Ridgeway Brewing Company's holiday beers in the cooler I knew I had to give it a try based on the name alone:  Insanely Bad Elf.

Insanely Bad Elf is Ridgeway's Imperial Red Ale and pours a brilliant copper color with a thin white head from an 11.2 oz bottle. There is a faintly malty sweet aroma.  As for flavor, this is a full bodied, malty beer with lots of candied fruit flavor and alcohol heat, which is particularly present in the aftertaste.  There are enough hops to avoid it being sticky sweet, but malt is definitely the focus and you'll want to sip it. At 11.2% abv, this is a brew to be careful with or you might end up taking a picture like this.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 2

Day two of our 12 Days of Christmas Cheer brings us two brews from Ridgeway Brewing of South Stoke, United Kingdom.  For years, Ridgeway has been brewing up some creatively named brews for the holiday season that are fairly widely available.  We picked these up at Worden's Market in Missoula.

First up was Reindeer's Revolt, an "English Christmas Ale," which for style might be considered an English Strong Ale given its 6% abv.  It has a pleasant medium gold color with hits of red and a rather thick off-white head. The aroma is of candy caramel malt with perhaps a touch of butterscotch.  There is a well balanced grain malt flavor with touches of caramel and biscuit malts.  Hints of hop bitterness sit in the background around the edges. Overall, it has a rather pleasant, mild, thin to medium bodied, typical English ale set of flavors.

For our second round we chose Ridgeway's Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout. It pours a dark brown with lots of ruby highlights and an off-white head. The aroma is faint and slightly sweet. It has a medium body with some lightly roasted malt flavor and a touch of chocolate. Frankly, it tastes much more like a brown ale with a hint of roasted malts than a stout.  I'm not familiar with traditional English stouts, so perhaps this is the norm.  I do prefer my stouts to hit you with a punch of roasted malts. I'm surprised to read on the bottle that the brew has 8% abv.  I not sure where that amount of alcohol went given then rather thin, medium body of the beer. A pleasant beer, but nothing to write home about.  Maybe I've been bad this year and only really deserved a lump of coal.

Have you been bad?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 1

'Tis the season for big bold beers and plenty of of holiday spices and just about everything in between. One look in the fridge reveals a nice mixture of barleywines, imperial stouts and a few styles I'm not quite sure how to identify. The tough part is figuring out how to enjoy most of them without . . . um . . . overindulging and waking up with a bit less cheer than the night before.

Fortunately, the holidays are all about sharing and these big beers and perfect for that. For Day 1 of our 12 Days of Christmas Cheer we thought we'd keep it a little lighter and chose one with a holiday theme simply because it seemed like the right thing to do. Oregon's Rogue Ales brings us Santa's Private Reserve Ale each holiday season and we popped open a 22 oz bottle to enjoy the start of a short week.

This brew is a nice, rich copper color with a thick biscuit colored head.  The aroma is of a slightly sweet, light malt.  The initial flavor is of grain malt, followed quickly by a fairly sharp hop bite with pine and resin hop flavors.  The aftertaste is moderately bitter.  There was less malt flavor in this one than I expected from the description, but the bitterness does moderate somewhat and the balance gets better as the beer warms.  It checks in with roughly 6% abv and 65IBUs.

For later this week, I'm eying some Big Sky Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout ('08 and '09) and a bottle of Black Butte XXI I've been saving for a while. What's on your holiday wish list? 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Coming Soon: The 12 Days Of Christmas Cheer

Since we're a little late to do an advent beer countdown for the holiday season, we're gearing up for a 12 days of Christmas Cheer beer extravaganza.  Well, extravaganza may be a bit of an overstatement, but what better excuse to try a new beer each day to wind down the holiday season?  The traditional 12 days of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and runs for . . . .well . . . . er . . . . 12 days.  Perhaps we'll get started a few days early.

So I ask you, dear blog fans. What should be on the list?  Here's two I'm looking for:  Deschutes' Brewing's 2010 release of The Abyss and Full Sail Brewing Company's new Bump in the Night cascadian dark ale/black IPA/IBA, or whatever they're supposed to be called. I've still got a couple bottles of the 2009 release of The Abyss and I'm anxious to try it against the 2010 release. I've enjoyed many of Full Sail's brewmaster reserve beers and the cascadian dark ale style of beer is really winning me over. I haven't seen either in the stores around Missoula yet, so let me know if you find them. 

What's on your list for the holiday season?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bayern's Face Plant: A Doppelweizen Revival

As a malt lover - albeit with increasingly hop leaning tendencies - Missoula's Bayern Brewing Company has long been right up my alley.  From Killarney to Maibock, Oktoberfest to Doppelbock and even the new Dump Truck, an extra pale summer bock, Bayern consistently delivers great tasting, smooth, crisp, brews with plenty of rich malt flavors.

Face Plat continues this lineup with a twist, being an unfiltered, top-fermented, wheat bock beer.  Though a bit simplistic in description, Face Plant is essentially a wheat version of Bayern's doppel bock, featuring five types of malt - wheat, pilsener, carmel, munich and chocolate - along with German Hallertauer Perle hops to produce a complex, rich, earthy taste. Bayern is one of the few breweries in the world making this style of beer due in part to the extra time, energy and labor that goes into it.  You can read more about it at Bayern's website.

If you're one to shy away from wheat beers served with a slice of orange (ugh), put aside those notions and pick up a Face Plant.  The wheat malt makes quite a statement, but it isn't fruity. Face Plant pours a murky, dark brown with a thin, off-white head that disappears quickly.  The aroma is largely caramel malt with grain. The flavors are an earthy mix of wheat/grain, caramel malt, and a touch of roasted chocolate.  It is smooth and easy drinking and, at 7.5% abv, can quickly get you into some trouble.  Even my largely domestic macro drinking friends anxiously await the arrival of Face Plant each December and dive in with happy faces. We enjoyed pints at Sean Kelly's in downtown Missoula this week and six-packs are showing up in the grocery stores.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Where to Find Beer: FLBC Opens in Missoula

Flathead Lake Brewing Company of Missoula opened last week to big, happy crowds. One step inside and it is easy to see why. With obvious care and attention to detail, the new FLBC marries the comfortable nature of Montana's tap rooms with a modern, inviting atmosphere and nods to the historic past of the building.  Oh, and there's great beer, too.

Located on the second floor above the space once housing Zimorinos', then Higgins Alley and now Sapore, FLBC of Missoula is an impressive addition to Missoula's beer scene. We've long been fans of the beer created by the brewery in Woods Bay, MT and there were 10 on tap and pouring freely. Four other taps provide a selection of other Montana brewed beers.  We stopped in on Saturday afternoon to check out the new digs and enjoy a couple of pints.  Our choices?  Brown Ale, Espresso Porter, Porter, Pale Ale and a growler of IPA2 to go for a party later that night.

The menu is limited for now, but don't let that stop you from getting a bite to eat.  We started out with some chips and salsa and couldn't get enough of the fresh, perfectly spicy salsa.  For lunch we split a spinach salad and bar burger.  The combination of caramelized onions, bacon, and cheddar on a perfectly cooked burger was an excellent pair with the roasted malts of the robust porter.  It left us anxious to check out the full menu when it arrives.

You'll find FLBC of Missoula at 424 N. Higgins in downtown.  It is open Tuesday through Sunday and you can get more info and follow all the news at their facebook page.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Help Shift Montana's Tap Room Hours

Montanans love their craft beer and turn out at their local tap rooms in great numbers. But when 8:00 p.m. hits we've got to set down the glass and head out. Why? Montana state law limits sales in tap rooms for on-premise consumption to between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.

The Montana Brewers Association wants to do something about that and needs your help. They are supporting a bill to be introduced in the 2011 Montana legislative session to shift - and not increase - the tap room hours from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. To show your support, head over to the Montana Brewers Association's website and sign the petition.

Montana's breweries are a fantastic growing industry that uses Montana agricultural products, employs lots of Montanans, and makes damn fine beer.  All the tap rooms I've visited have been family friendly, wonderfully social places to gather and enjoy craft beer and good friends.  Sign the petition, spread the word and lend your support to Montanan's great breweries.