Monday, January 31, 2011

Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. Black Widow Oatmeal Stout

I don't get to Billings often enough to keep on top of the very good beer scene there, but occasionally the beer comes to us.  Worden's Market in downtown Missoula recently started carrying (again) three varieties of Yellowstone Valley Brewing's beer, including my favorite, Black Widow Oatmeal Stout.

Black Widow is solid black with a good medium tan head. Lots of roasted malt greets you in the aroma. There a creamy initial mouthfeel with smooth malt transitioning quickly to roasted malt and a bit of bitterness in the finish.  This stout is very well balanced with oatmeal providing the creaminess and the roasted malts and hops providing a pleasant robust stout bite. (5.9% abv.) 

At Worden's you'll also find six packs of Yellowstone's Renegade Red Ale and Grizzly Wulff Wheat (a krystall weizen, a filtered wheat beer).  I seem to recall seeing the Wild Fly Ale Draught Amber in the past.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Montana Growler Fill Legislation Clears First Hurdle

On an 11-0 vote Tuesday, the Montana Senate's Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs committee passed SB 203, without amendment, sending it to the full Senate for consideration later.  SB 203 would allow non-brewery sale of beer in growlers for off premises consumption (i.e. a bar could fill a growler from its taps).  The bill needs to pass two votes in the full Senate (second and third reading of the bill) before being transmitted to the House for its consideration.  While not a guarantee of success, an 11-0 vote is a pretty good indication the bill should find smooth sailing.

At Tuesday's committee hearing, Senator Zinke characterized SB 203 as a "non-contentious," "clarification bill," a phrase echoed by the four other persons who spoke in support.  Bills seeking to clarify existing laws often face less scrutiny than those establishing new laws.  Tony Hebert, Montana Brewers Association, Mark Staples, Montana Tavern Association, Neil Peterson, Gaming Industry Association, and Brad Griffin, Montana Restaurants Association, all spoke in favor of the bill.  There was no opposition and the hearing lasted approximately 20 minutes.

While noting support, Mark Staples of the Montana Tavern Association made an interesting remark, foreshadowing a discussion likely to take place when the committee takes up SB 202 to shift tap room hours. Agreeing with Senator Zinke that the bill is not contentious, Mr. Staples mentioned there are issues regarding how far "sampling" should be allowed to go into "retailing," which are left for another day.  The beer you buy from breweries is legally classified as a "sample" to distinguish it from the "retail" beer you buy from your favorite bar.  

All speakers agreed filling growlers from non-brewery sites is an existing practice, but Senator Tropila questioned whether retailers who did were nevertheless breaking the law. In response, C.A. Daw, Chief Legal Counsel for the Department of Revenue, stated the Department never completed its determination of whether the practice violated state law, thus it isn't possible to say that the practice was legal or illegal.  SB 203 would answer the question and looks to be on track for success.

UPDATE:  On Thursday, Jan. 27, the Senate passed the bill on Second Reading by a vote of 48-2. On Jan. 28, the Senate passed the bill on Third Reading by a vote of 49-1 and transmitted the bill to the House of Representatives.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Quest for 26.2

Miles. Not beers.  The beers come easy. Not the miles. There's gifted athletes and then there's me. Much more content drinking and writing about beer than pounding out the miles on the pavement. Still, from somewhere unknown comes a primeval need to compete.  Not against others. Against me. For me, actually.

I've written before about my choice to get off the couch and start exercising, somehow finding a joy in running for the first time. Ever. The Missoula Half Marathon proved to be as much excitement as challenge. Along the way, I discovered beer runners - runners who appreciate both a healthy lifestyle and craft beer.  Run Wild Missoula, our local running club extraordinaire, now hosts a monthly beer run.  Turns out, running and beer do mix.  Though perhaps not at the same time.

My goal for 2011?  To run the Missoula Marathon on July 10, 2011.  All 26.2 miles of it. My longest run to date is 14.2 miles. November and December did nothing to further the cause, but now that January is here, the excitement of the challenge is fresh and inspiring.  Or is that fear? Either way, I've spent January getting my legs back under me.  Come March 6, 2011, I'll be among the hundreds taking part on the first day of Run Wild Missoula's training group.

I'm neither fast nor slow and am comfortable with my spot in the middle of the pack.  Lower than the middle of the pack for my age group, actually, but hey, I'm out there. I've set up a page in this blog to compile my challenges and successes. This year I'm hoping to avoid both getting hit by a car and catching pneumonia.  Neither do much for your training regimen.

Want to join in the fun? Taking part in the training group? Fellow beer runners?  Send me a note at growlerfills @ gmail . com.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench, to Attend Black Star Barter

Now you have another reason to take in the Black Star Barter on Feb. 5, 2011, during the Whitefish Winter Carnival. Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench, is joining the fun as the the Black Star Barter official reporter, following up on her gig as the Chief Beer Blogger from the recent Beer Blogger's Conference. She will be conducting live interviews with the participants, spectators, judges, and the folks at The Great Northern Brewing Company.

Ashley, author of one of the finest beer blogs, Drink With the Wench, is a new-media beer evangelist, working hard to advance the craft beer industry through education, inspiration and advocacy. Her addition to the Black Star Barter should be a lot of fun, though someone might want to warn her to leave the Ohio State jerseys at home.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tap Room Hours and Growler Fill Legislation Introduced

Senator Ryan Zinke of Whitefish, introduced two bills yesterday in the Montana Senate which will have quite an effect on the Montana beer scene if passed.  SB 202 (Senate Bill 202) would shift the hours of operation for a tap room at a small brewery from 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. -10:00 p.m.  It would also clarify that all brewery samples must be consumed by 11:00 p.m.  Currently, it isn't clear whether beer must be purchased AND consumed by the 8:00 p.m. cutoff.

SB 203 would fix a controversy which arose last year over who could fill/sell growlers for off-premise consumption.  The Montana Department of Revenue determined it was not legal for an non-brewery establishment with an on-premise retail license (i.e. a bar) to fill growlers.  SB 203 would permit an on-premise retailer to fill growlers for off-premise consumption. The bill defines a growler as "any refillable, resealable container complying with federal law."  When I get a minute, I'll look up the federal rules.

These bills have been referred to the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.  If you'd like to support these bills, contact your legislators which you can do by clicking here. It really does make a difference.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Missoula the next Asheville of Beer?

Asheville you say? That'd be Asheville, NC, a city in the mountains of western North Carolina that bears a number of similarities to Missoula.  It has an active and healthy population with a thriving cultural scene and an abundance of outdoor recreation.  Oh, and great beer, too.  Sound familiar?

I ran across this article in the Citizen Times explaining how Asheville went from zero to Beer City USA in a mere sixteen years. The city's beer scene has grown from one brewery in 1994 to nine today.  Having grown up not far away in Virginia, I can attest to what an impressive feat that is. The craft beer renaissance hit Montana well before it found most of that part of the country.  Missoula's Bayern Brewing Co. got its start in 1987.

The article got me thinking.  Which city in Montana could claim the title of Beer City Montana?  Billings has the most at five.  Missoula has three - or four, if you count both Kettlehouse locations. Missoula's new Hellgate Brewing Co. is reportedly opening sometime this year.   Bozeman has two (I'm including Belgrade) with a third soon to open (406 Brewing Co.).  If you add in the brewery specific taprooms, Missoula has two more with Flathead Lake Brewing Co. of Missoula and the new Tamarack Brewing location currently under construction.  Of course, Bozeman boasts a great set of taps at the Montana Ale Works restaurant (40 or so) and Missoula has the king of all beer selections with The Rhino and it's 50 taps.

It matters much more to me that we continue to encourage the craft beer industry in Montana no matter where it is rather than crowning any one city as the beer capital.  Asheville has a population of around 75,000 which compares closely to Missoula's 65,000.  Then again, Asheville boasts a regional population of over 400,000, four times the amount of Missoula's 100,000 or so.  That speaks well for Missoulian's love of beer and their ability to support three breweries, two new brewery specific taprooms and more on the way.

I don't believe for a second that the additional breweries and taprooms will dilute the ones who pioneered the way.  Rather, so long as the newcomers can live up to the quality Missoulians have come to expect, there's every reason to think they'll help make Missoula and the rest of Montana a great destination for craft beer.

What do you think?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Where to Find Beer: Lone Peak Brewery, Big Sky, MT

A business related matter took us to Montana's Big Sky Resort this past weekend and that was good for a couple of reasons. We got to ski some of the 150 great runs at Big Sky Resort after an extended absence from skiing.  And we got to pay a visit to Lone Peak Brewery. 

Lone Peak Brewery sits just off the main highway in the Meadow Village area of Big Sky. As we pulled up, a light snow started to fall and a young moose was browsing the plantings just outside the entrance. I looked around to see if someone was orchestrating the scene from behind a curtain, but these kinds of welcomes are common at Big Sky.

We sat down at the bar and ordered up a couple of pints. One Lone Peak IPA and a brand new Sheepeater Bock.  They'd put the bock on tap 20 minutes before our arrival. (I love it when that happens). The IPA is a slightly hazy, medium copper color with a small off-white head (the head might be bigger, but these were FULL pints being poured).  Floral hop aromas precede a medium-bodied IPA featuring balanced floral and citrus hop flavors over a good caramel malt base. The light, lingering hop bitterness in the finish contributes to a pleasantly rich IPA that we enjoyed several more times during our stay at Big Sky.

The Sheepeater Bock was a deep copper color with a cloudy complexion and a small off-white head.   The aroma is of slightly sweet caramel malts. The flavors are smooth caramel malt with a slight toasted flavor in the finish. Hops are present only to keep this one from getting too sweet.

I also ordered up a Bourbon Barrel Stout because . . . well . . . I'm a sucker for those kinds of things.  Lone Peak made their Bourbon Barrel Stout by taking their flagship Hippy Highway Oatmeal Stout and aging it for three months in bourbon barrels.  The barrels are 18 year Elijah Craig bourbon barrels from the Heaven Hills Distillery in Kentucky. The result is a wonderfully smooth stout with tons of vanilla flavors riding on top of bourbon undertones and a stout base with light hints of chocolate. It is jet black, medium/full bodied with a dry finish.  Excellent.

Like most of Montana's breweries, the place is very lively and social. Lone Peak is structured in the same way as Tamarack Brewing, where the brewery sits in a separate space and is a different business from the taproom/restaurant, but maintains the feel of a traditional brew pub. That's a good thing because the taproom is able to stay open later.  We struck up a conversation about Big Sky and beer with some folks visiting from Vermont and later had a great conversation with Andy, the assistant brewmaster.  You'll find Lone Peak's brews all around the Resort, even at the top of the Ramcharger lift at 8,800 feet elevation at the Pinnacle Restaurant.  They're perfect after a day on the slopes.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Neptune's Brewery Stout

At Livingston, Montana's Neptune's Brewery, they say "Don't drink like a fish . . . drink like a god." Unfortunately, we've not yet had an opportunity to visit the brewery. But thanks to a fortuitous meeting with new Growler Fills friend Andrew over in Bozeman, we got to try out a growler of their Stout.

A little continuing education requirement took us to Big Sky this past weekend for a few classes and some time on the slopes.  (Tough duty, eh?)  On the way to Big Sky, we ran into Andrew after a nice long lunch with some family in Bozeman and struck up a conversation about beer and Neptune's Brewer. On our return back to Missoula, we stopped back in Bozeman and Andrew surprised us with a growler so we'd be able to give it a try. Awesome.
Neptune's Stout pours a solid black with a medium tan head. (Not sure what's up with some of my pictures these days.)  The aromas are of roasted malt with a hint of earthiness and perhaps a touch of dark roast coffee. The flavors are nicely robust and primarily of roasted malts and a slight touch of earthy dark chocolate.  There is a nice dark coffee bite that lingers in the finish.  Overall, the stout is smooth with a medium-full mouthfeel and a bit of creaminess.  We're looking forward to getting over to Neptune's and trying out a few others.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2010 Growler Fills Beer Awards

While enjoying a couple of pints at The Rhino in Missoula on new years eve, we came up with the idea of handing out a few 2010 Beer Awards to mark another great year in craft brewing. One of the primary purposes of this blog is to generate discussion and interest in craft beer. Whether ranking college football teams, handicapping elections, or choosing Oscar nominees, there's no quicker way to ignite discussion than to create a subjective list. So, with pints in hand, we bring you the first annual Growler Fills Beer Awards.

Categories: When trying to pick a "beer of the year" we immediately recognized the almost impossible task of picking just one.  There's far too many worthy beers out there these days and picking just one didn't seem like much fun anyway. We decided to create three main categories: Montana Year-Round Beer of the Year, Montana Seasonal Beer of the Year and Non-Montana Beer of the Year.  A year-round beer is one you expect to find bottled, canned, or on tap at the brewery a majority of the year.  A seasonal beer might be a one-and-done, a regularly recurring limited release, or one that appears multiple times at odd intervals. For non-Montana beers we decided to limit it to beers we were able to find for purchase in Montana. We threw in some other fun categories and will happily accept other suggestions. To help spread the wealth, I invited Cheryl to name her own winners.

Criteria: There really isn't any. Call it largely a gut reaction after looking back across the beers that crossed our path in 2010. We took into consideration which beers we rushed to stock up on and which ones we routinely looked for, craved, or ordered up when out and about. Since taste is fickle and ever changing, we tried not to let the beer of the moment carry undue weight. There's no science or statistics involved and the choices were not limited to beers featured in Growler Fills.

Montana Year-Round Beer of the Year

Alan:   Single Malt IPA, Blackfoot River Brewing Co. I think I've turned more people on to this beer than any other.  From the domestic drinkers to the craft brew lovers, this beautifully balanced beer with big hop aroma and delicious hop flavor has captured the taste buds of them all.  It is crisp and refreshing, rich without being over the top, and simple, yet full of flavor (6.9% abv).  The blend of simcoe and cascade hops create a full hop flavor and a bitterness level that perfectly compliments the underlying Maris Otter malt, creating a beer I reach for often. It is Blackfoot's best selling beer, and that's saying a lot given their other excellent beers like North Fork Organic Porter, Double Black Diamond Extreme Stout and Tartanic Scottish Ale.  


Cheryl:   IPA2, Flathead Lake Brewing Company. Frankly, we could have flipped a coin on these two beers and been happy selecting either one as our beer of the year.  This big beer (8.9% abv) is full of rich malt and and equally rich hop flavors and we recently reviewed it here. Fortunately, the newly opened Flathead Lake Brewing Co. of Missoula makes this beer and their other great beers that much more accessible.

Also considered and very worthy (a/k/a Honorable Mention): Hat Trick Hop IPA, Tamarack Brewing Co.; Espresso Porter, Flathead Lake Brewing Co.; Pulaski Porter, Blacksmith Brewing Co.

Montana Seasonal Beer of the Year

Alan:   Black Iron Black IPA, Blacksmith Brewing Co. There's no hotter trend in beer right now than Black IPAs and there's an equal amount of controversy over what to call them.  The three main choices are Black IPA, American-Style India Black Ale and Cascadian Dark Ale. Black IPA creates an odd conflict thanks to the dichotomy of calling a PALE ale "black."   The Brewers Association official designation as an American-Style India Black Ale hasn't caught on in the least. Cascadian Dark Ale has raised the ire of brewers and beer drinkers outside the pacific northwest who argue the name is an attempt to claim credit for a style arguably originating in Vermont.

Whatever you call it, Blacksmith's Black Iron Black IPA is an excellent example of this refreshingly new style and we're hoping to see it back on tap soon.

Cheryl:  Garden City Pale Ale, Kettlehouse Brewing Co. We're not the only ones who thought highly of this fresh hop pale ale, but we almost missed it. From the moment Kettlehouse put this on tap at the Myrtle Street location it was flying out the door. We asked for a sample almost as an afterthought before heading out the door. One sip and we immediately ordered full pints.  Then a growler to go. Then called a friend to pick up a second growler.  It was that good and it was gone fast. Made with locally grown hops of generally unknown variety, this fresh hop ale will never be entirely recreated. Perhaps next year's version will be even better.

Also considered and very worthy (a/k/a Honorable Mention): Simcoe Pale Ale, Blacksmith Brewing Co.; Mica Maibock, Quarry Brewing; Bobo's Porter, Big Sky Brewing Co.; Face Plant, Bayern Brewing Co.

Non-Montana Beer of the Year

Alan:  Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager, Rogue Ales, Newport, OR.  This was the toughest choice for me.  I very nearly picked Alaskan Brewing's Double Black IPA, but I never found it in Montana and that would violate my self-imposed rule.  A couple of Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Ales could easily land here.  In the end, I picked Dirtoir Black Lager, a wonderfully interesting schwarzbier.  The molasses aromas are followed by coffee, toffee and molasses flavors in a rich, earthy brew that is chewy and smooth. My only regret is that I only had one bottle.

Cheryl:  Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR. We liked this beer so much that we ended up buying a couple of cases worth and even that didn't last long enough.  This new Bond Street Series brew from Deschutes is a real winner, expertly blending earthy, smooth, roasted malts with a cascade hop focused IPA. This one definitely needs to come back in 2011. 

Also considered and very worthy (a/k/a Honorable Mention): Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, Great Divide Brewing Co.; Mojo Risin' Double IPA, Boulder Beer Co.; Full Sail Imperial Stout, Full Sail Brewing Co.; and many others. It was a great year for craft beer.

Most "Out There" Beer Tasted This Year

Without a doubt, this award goes to Capsicum Stout, Shooting Creek Farm Brewery, Floyd, VA. This stout brewed with habanero peppers was a fun beer to try. The chocolate-focused stout base doesn't do much to hide the increasingly hot chili peppers as you make your way through the pint. It is not a combination I want to repeat, but I've seen more than a handful of brewers adding chili peppers to some experimental brews over the last year.

Goof of the Year

Big Arm Strong Ale, Tamarack Brewing Co. I'm guessing you'll never see this beer again, but this is no dig at Tamarack. We love the place and regularly look forward to getting to Tamarack whenever we head up to Flathead Lake.  Tamarack's IPA (shown here) is top-notch and we like it best among their regular line up.  It's the IPA that opened Cheryl's eyes up to the IPA world and made IPAs accessible. 

On one of our trips up to Flathead Lake this summer we stopped in at Tamarack on a Friday evening anxious to get our Tamarack IPA fix.  One sip and I knew there was something wrong. The beer was the right color, but had a bit of a sour note to it. Convinced one of the excellent bartenders had poured the wrong beer, I asked for a replacement. Same thing. Bad beer line? Something wrong with the keg? We had the bartender try a taste and then watched over the next hour as bartenders, servers and others each took turns sampling the beer - and the resulting looks of curiosity on their faces.

We later learned that the keg had been switched over shortly before we arrived to the first keg of a newly brewed batch of IPA. As it turns out, Tamarack had inadvertently used the wrong yeast which led to an entirely different flavor in the beer. What to do?  Change the name from Tamarack IPA to Big Arm Strong Ale and voila, a new seasonal on tap.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Great Northern Brewing Adds More Sizzle to Whitefish Winter Carnival

The Whitefish Winter Carnival is already one of the best winter events in Montana.  Now, Great Northern Brewing Co. and Black Star Beer are hosting the Black Star Barter where the most awesome, thoughtful and enthusiastic contestant will win a year's supply (52 cases) of Black Star beer. The event takes place on February 5, 2011 at the Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish. 

To take part you'll need to get creative in answering the question: What would you do or trade for a year’s supply of Black Star Beer? Black Star is looking for contestants to barter their most over-the-top, outrageous submissions, and share their fantastic creations to try and win more beer than even Growler Fills takes in during the year.  Win and you'll definitely pick up a few new friends.

Want to participate? According to Black Star, "contestants must show up with their barter submission at the Great Northern Brewing Company on February 5, 2011 at 11:00am MST. The Black Star Barter will begin promptly at 1:00pm MST and end at 3:00pm MST. Contestants will be given an entry number and will be asked to present their barter entry to a colorful panel of judges."

For more information go here:  http://www.blackstarbeer.com/barter.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 12

For the final day of the Growler Fills 12 Days of Christmas Cheer we're heading down Montana's Bitterroot Valley to Hamilton's Bitter Root Brewing Co. for their annual Winter Ale.  It is a bit of a winter warmer style brew with some nice light spices added in. In Western Montana, there's no question it's winter this year.

Bitter Root's Winter Ale is a deep mahogany color with some bright red highlights and a nicely thick biscuit colored head.  The aromas are of light caramel malt with light spice.  The flavors are of warm caramel malt, a hint of spice, candied fruit and just enough hop bitterness to keep the malt in check.  I get a hint of roasted malt in the finish. It is available in 22 oz bottles all around Western Montana.

We opened up a few more during the holidays including a bottle of Chicago's Goose Island Beer Co.'s Demolition Belgian Style Brown Ale.  I admit to not being a fan of sour ales, but thought I'd give it a try. The color lives up to the name with a brilliant, clear, light golden color that shows off the bubble rising up through the beer.  There's a nice white head that disappears quickly. The aroma is of nice floral notes and some grain malt. The flavor is a very nicely balanced grain malt and floral hops with a traditional slightly sour Belgian characteristic.  It is medium bodied with good character and finishes light and dry (7.2% abv, 40 IBUs).

One I didn't get around to opening yet is an interesting one called Home for the Holidays, a 7.2% abv unfiltered brown ale fermented with Trappist Ale yeast and aged in oak barrels.  Brewed by the High and Mighty Beer Co. of Holyoke, MA, profits from the sale of this beer are donated to the Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans of America organization.  I picked up a bottle at the Good Food Store in Missoula.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 11

A warm welcome. That's an image that goes hand in hand with the holiday season. It evokes "over the river and through the woods" kind of imagery, though my grandmother's house never had any craft beer in it.

So, for Day 11 of the Growler Fills 12 Days of Christmas Cheer we popped open Ridgeway Brewing's Warm Welcome Nut Browned Ale. Yeah, we reviewed too many Ridgeway beers for this 12 day project, but I'd grabbed a bunch of holiday themed beers without paying attention to what brewery they were from.  Hey, marketing works when you're not paying too close attention.

Warm Welcome (6% abv) is more orangish than brown in color and has an off-white head.  There are aromas of caramel and biscuit malts. The flavors consist of a pretty traditional caramel malt base with some nutty undertones and a touch of hop bitterness in the finish. There's a bit more depth of flavor to this nut brown ale than many.  I did rather enjoy this one and it tastes quite a bit better than it looks.

Truth be told, the color is within the BJCP style guidelines for a Northern English Brown Ale, but still.

UK Set to Approve Schooners

According to this article from the BBC the United Kingdom is set to allow the sale of a new measure of beer known as a schooner, an Australian two-third pint measure.  Current UK law allows the sale of beer only in pints, halves and thirds.  A UK pint is 568 milliliters, or about 19.2 ounces. A schooner is 400 ml, or about 13.5 ounces. I wonder what these folks have to say about that. Who knew pints have been an official UK measurement since 1698?

You've probably noticed from most of my pictures that I'm using British pint glasses, but I rarely fill them up.  That's because I'm usually pouring a 12 ounce bottle of beer into them or splitting a 22 oz. bomber into two glasses to share.  I like the way the British pint glasses feel in my hand and the extra space helps to concentrate the aromas, an essential part of the beer drinking experience.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 10

Day 10 at Growler Fills' 12 Days of Christmas Cheer is a beer from Red Lodge Ales of Red Lodge, Montana, named for a run at the local ski resort.  Originally brewed in celebration of Red Lodge Mountain Resort's 50th Anniversary, Widow Maker Lager is available in 22 oz. bottles for the first time this year.

Widow Maker Lager is a golden bock brew that pours a beautiful, clear, light golden color - almost sparkling - with a white head. Aromas are of light floral and citrus hops and biscuit malt. Flavors of biscuit and a touch of caramel malt blend nicely with some light citrus hops. Finish is slight bitter with some good lingering biscuit malt.  It is a crisp, refreshing beer with some very nice depth. The amount of malt in this 6.5% beer creates a smooth warmth that belies the light golden color.

Pick yourself up a bottle - or three - but you might want to wait until after the skiing to enjoy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 9

Okay, so a double IPA might not qualify as a typical holiday beer, but we're featuring it anyway because we can.  Plus, there's something about the rich, warming flavor of Flathead Lake Brewing Co.'s IPA2 that just tastes so good on these cold, snowy cloudy days that are in abundance in Western Montana this year.

Flathead Lake Brewing's IPA2 is a double, or imperial india pale ale, that packs a lot in to its 8.9% abv frame. I've heard it is their best selling beer and it's not hard to taste why. IPA2 has a rich copper color with a strong white head.  There are aromas of light caramel malt mixing with floral hops.  The flavor is full and rich with an almost creamy mouthfeel until the hops take over.  An initial strong malt backbone is replaced quickly by full hop flavors primarily of pine and resin hops.  The bitterness level is moderate. It stays in check by the additional malt used to bring this IPA up to an imperial level and never gets overpowering.  There is a lingering hop bitterness in the finish.

It is an excellent brew, but be careful with it. At 8.9% abv, IPA2 doesn't make a good session beer, though you may well want it to be.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas Cheer: Day 8

We'll head west for Day 8 of the 12 Days of Christmas Cheer for a couple of brews with lots of roasted malts. First up is the third beer we've tried from Winthrop, WA's Old Schoolhouse Brewing: Rendezvous Porter. We'd previously enjoyed the Ruud Awakening IPA and Hooligan Stout.  Rendezvous Porter pours a solid black color with an off-white head.  The aroma was faint with hints of dark roasted chocolate.  Flavors included lots of roasted malt with a coffee bite and some dark chocolate undertones.  I'd call it medium bodied and a very good drinking robust porter. We picked this one up in Spokane on a trip back in October.

Next up is another beer we picked up on the same trip. (Hey, you've got to load up when you head to an area with different brews in stock.)  Portland, OR is the destination this time for our first run at a beer from Hopworks Urban Brewery, Portland's first Eco-Brewery:  Organic Survival Seven Grain Stout (5.3%, 35 IBUs).  Along with seven different grains, this one is infused with cold-pressed espresso.  It pours very black with a nice, light tan head.  The aroma is of a medium brewed coffee, some light roasted malts and toffee.  The taste is of a pronounced coffee bite over a very good robust stout base.

There's something about having snow on the ground, cloudy skies and cold temperatures that is perfect for the roasted malts of robust porters and stouts.  These two will definitely not disappoint.